9 Oct 2013

2013 Lexus IS300h first drive review

Matt Hubbard reviews the 2013 Lexus IS300h

2013 Lexus IS300h

The Lexus IS300h is a 2.5 litre petrol engined hybrid.  The engine has 178bhp and the electric motor has 41bhp.  It has a CVT gearbox, costs £38,495 and does 0-60mph in 8.3 seconds.

The exterior design follows Lexus' recent foray into the world of the mad.  The grille is that bonkers Predator-style mouth and the rear lights are sharp and cut into the rear three-quarter panel.  Elsewhere the side profile and general proportions are conventional.  It's about the same size as a 3-series.

I quite like the look of the IS300h, although the test car was painted white.  I'd have preferred Atlantic Blue.  It sits well and stands out from the crowd more than a BMW, Vauxhall or Ford. Although Mercedes' handsome C-Class is a good match.

The IS300h's interior is quite simply one of the best.  Leather and aluminium formed into pleasant shapes that are easy on the eye and nice to touch.  Frankly, not having driven a modern Lexus before and with preconceived ideas about Japanese car's interiors, I was blown away.  It is simply superb.
2013 Lexus IS300h

The seats are also superb.  Amongst the best I've sat in.  Sculpted, squishy yet supportive and adjustable any which way.  They are on a par with the best in the business.  Jaguar's seats are the best I've tried and the Lexus' seats were very nearly as good.

The touchscreen is controlled via a mouse which is overtly sensitive but sensibly laid out and easy to use.  The dials ahead of you are strange.  No revs (unless you select Sport), but speed, mph and a gauge which shows how hard you are driving - Power, Eco, Charge.

The only aspect of the interior I didn't like was the stalks.  The indicator in particular doesn't click and returns to centre each time you use it.  You find yourself indicating left, then right, then left.  A classic case of breaking the  'if it ain't broke don't fix it' rule.

On the road and the IS300h pleasantly surprises again.  The ride is well damped and smooth, it doesn't roll in corners too much and the steering is well-balanced, if a little lacking in feel.

The hybrid system integrates well.  It starts off on electric power, unless you floor the throttle when the engine starts up with hardly a whisper.
2013 Lexus IS300h

The CVT gearbox makes for a strange power delivery, and noise.  The engine is quiet but the revs rise exponentially.  Throw aside your conventional gearbox, manual and auto, thoughts and just get on with the business of driving it and you soon tune in with it.  There are flappy paddles to simulate normal gear ratios but these are almost useless and ignore your inputs if it thinks you are too close to the red line.

The brake pedal feel is a little odd.  It's a bit grabby - I presume something to do with regeneration of electricity.

The Lexus IS300h is rear wheel drive but you'd be hard pressed to tell.  It stays neutral through corners and doesn't misbehave.  It's a confidence inspiring car to drive.  You can judge its performance and limits pretty easily.

Overall I was hugely impressed with the Lexus IS300h.  Its trick hybrid system takes away none of the feel of a conventional engine, and sounds better and delivers power better than a diesel.  Its USP is 60mpg and 109 g/km of CO2.  It would be hard to match these figures in anything but a diesel.

This is one of the few cars you could drive 500 miles in and get out ready for another 500.  It's refined, has a decent stereo with digital radio, a pleasant ambience and a great ride.

For £39k this is a fantastically capable car, that I would recommend.
2013 Lexus IS300h

2013 Lexus IS300h interior

Article by Matt Hubbard