The hybrid Lexus IS 300h Executive Edition serves to remind us that there is civilised life beyond the BMW 3 Series. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Lexus IS 300h Executive Edition builds on the long specification list of the Luxury model, adding £3,390 worth of satellite navigation and leather upholstery for no additional charge. That means that for £30k, you're getting a car with a huge spec list, 220bhp worth of power output, 103g/km emissions and 64.2mpg economy. That's hard to better.
Imagine you've landed a new job, you've wangled a new Macbook Pro on expenses, figured out where the best coffee is to be had and an email from the firm's fleet manager pings into your inbox letting you know you've got a £30k company car allowance. Like most people, your first port of call will be BMW's website. You quickly realise that the ActiveHybrid3 models are well out of budget and that your allowance will only stretch to an unspectacular 318d in workaday SE trim. You're not prepared for life with just 143bhp under your right boot.
Mercedes' price list isn't any more encouraging. Here you can only afford the base model C Class. Audi? A bit less depressing; here you can get a 177bhp A4 quattro SE. What about Lexus? It's a long shot but worth a look. For £29,995 you can get yourself a hybrid Lexus IS 300h Executive Edition with leather, satellite navigation and a combined 220bhp power output. Lower emissions than all the others, more gear and much more power. What's not to like?
With over 50 per cent of the compact executive market being diesel powered and that figure growing year on year, diving straight in with no diesels on offer in the IS range would appear to be an act of the grossest folly but the IS 300h is Lexus' preferred alternative to a diesel. It makes decent numbers. Between its 178bhp 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and its 105kW electric motor, you end up with a peak power figure of 220bhp. The engine benefits from a D-4S fuel injection system, Dual VVT-i intelligent variable valve timing and a high-efficiency exhaust gas recirculation system for maximum power and efficiency and the rear wheels are driven through the hybrid powertrain's E-CVT transmission. It'll get to 62mph in 8.3 seconds and run onto a 125mph top speed.
The suspension and steering have been revised to improve how the IS drives, and there's a new Drive Mode Select system that allows the driver to choose between Eco, Normal and Sport modes the latter sharpening throttle response and offering a sportier steering setting. With a petrol-powered car you enjoy quieter running, no clatter on start up, quicker defrosting in winter and cleaner refuelling.
Design and Build
The IS 300h follows in a line of really handsome IS models. You can see the DNA from the basic proportioning of the second generation car but everything is sharper, tauter and more muscular than before. It's a striking piece of metalwork. The front end features two different front grille treatments - a more sedate take on the Lexus spindle grille in this Executive Edition. It rolls on 17-inch rims which offer a decent ride quality. Go for larger rims on the Lexus IS and you start to feel a little more road noise being transmitted into the cabin.
The IS features a number of design cues first seen on the LF-CC concept car including the extrovert rear lights that swoop downwards into the flanks of the car and the F-Sport's curved front spoiler. The interior features a chunky centre console and elements borrowed from other models in the Lexus range, such as the analogue inset clock and big LED display. It's a conspicuously more styled interior than the rather functional cabin of the second generation car and the mix of materials used as well as the contrasts of colour and texture generate a far more upmarket feel. Design literacy is taken for granted in this sector.
Market and Model
The Executive Edition is based on the Luxury trim level but delivers a £30,000 asking price that'll save you £1,000 over that variant. It includes a full leather interior and Lexus Navigation as standard. These extras would normally tack £3,390 onto the asking price and are two of the most requested options by Lexus IS customers. Aside from these refinements, you also get the Drive mode select system (Normal, Eco & Sport - additional EV mode on IS 300h), cruise control, smart entry and start system, dual zone air climate control and power-fold heated mirrors. Then there are HID headlights with dusk sensing, eight airbags, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
It doesn't stop there though. There's also Lexus Park Assist, rain-sensing wipers and those 17-inch alloy wheels. It's hard to find direct rivals from Mercedes, Audi and BMW to this car. The 3 Series ActiveHybrid is a much more powerful model and costs over £10,000 more, so it's doubtful you'd cross-shop these two vehicles. Perhaps the closest rival is in fact Audi's A4 ultra diesel model which is just as quick and gets similar fuel economy but can't match the petrol-engined Lexus on emissions or, come to that, refinement.
Cost of Ownership
A small word of warning is perhaps due when looking at the Lexus IS 300h Executive Edition. You may well have seen advertisements for the IS 300h trumpeting its sub-100g/km emissions. Unfortunately the IS 300h can only dip under the 100g/km barrier if it's fitted with the lightweight 16-inch wheels of the entry-level car. Step up to the bigger wheels and extra weight of the Executive SE model and emissions edge up to 103g/km which has a number of significant cost repercussions. Nevertheless, it's better than any of the diesel cars from the big German trio, so it's churlish to complain.
That figure translates to fuel economy of 64.2mpg and yes, the IS can be driven in a full electric mode if you want ultimate smoothness and a handy ability to terrify dozy pedestrians. Residual values of the IS have always been good, propped up by the models brilliant reliability and customer satisfaction metrics, as well as modest insurance ratings. This model looks set to continue that form line.
You might well be unconvinced by Lexus' attempts to sell us hybrids as opposed to the turbodiesels we find ourselves wedded to in the UK. In that case you need to try the IS 300h. It's entirely convincing. Not only is it as quick as its diesel rivals, it's smoother, it'll likely prove more reliable, fuel consumption is much on a par and emissions are usually quite a lot lower. This Executive Edition model is a welcome inclusion to the range, offering a full leather interior and satellite navigation for under £30,000.
The biggest challenge facing Lexus will be to get bums on seats. Just breaking through that initial preference for a German badge takes some doing but if buyers can see beyond the marketing efforts of Mercedes, Audi and BMW, they'll find an entirely credible rival. As a nation we've always prized a certain independence of thought. Maybe it's time to exercise the grey matter a little harder when choosing your next compact executive car.