For many buyers, the difference between the Lexus and its Teutonic rivals will be judged from the driver’s seat.
In the past, Lexus has proven more than a match for European build quality but equally incapable of replicating their snug and stylish ambience. That affliction, apparently passed down the Lexus bloodline as readily as refinement and durability, is clear to see in the new IS.
The standard of the cabin’s assembly is beyond reproach and its layout is clean and accessible. But the brand’s designers are apparently incapable of freeing themselves from the straitjacket of basic functionality.
Although it is admirable to ensure that the buttons, knobs, bells and whistles all work faultlessly – even Lexus’s loopy joystick-operated Remote Touch interface has slightly improved – a premium saloon must aspire to be more than a big, expensive calculator.
In spite of a patent lack of panache about the surroundings, it is very easy to get comfortable in them. The hip point of the front seats is now 20mm lower and the steering wheel’s reach adjustment has increased by 23mm, thus creating a bigger space in which to find a comfortable driving position. That said, it could still be bigger.
Back-seat occupants aren’t served quite so well. Despite the longer wheelbase – and an extra 35mm recovered through a thinner seat back design – the 85mm improvement over its predecessor delivers only a competitive, rather than class-leading, amount of rear legroom.
It’s a similar story in the cargo bay. In the hybrid, replacing the spare wheel with nickel-metal batteries has kept intrusion into the boot at a minimum but has still limited the load space to 450 litres (compared with 480 litres in the IS200t). Again, that makes it a viable alternative to its close rivals, but not one to lavish praise on.
There are seven trim levels to choose from when speccing your IS, with only three - Sport, F-Sport and Premier available on the models fitted with a 2.0-litre petrol engine. Opt for the entry-level SE model and expect to find keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and a 7.0in infotainment system with DAB radio. Upgrade to the fleet-friendly Executive Edition and you'll find sat nav and leather seats included, while the Sport models get bigger alloys, parking sensors and auto wipers.
The mid-range Luxury models don't come with the sporty attire found on the Sport models, while the Advance IS gets electrically adjustable, heated and cooled front seats, and a reversing camera. The F-Sport models get a truly aggresive bodykit and styling inspired by the LFA, while the range-topping Premier trim comes with a Mark Levinson stereo system and Lexus's premium navigation system including a DVD player.