Things we like
- Lots of standard equipment
- Strong engines
- Quality and refinement
Not so much
- Tight rear legroom
- Foot-operated park brake
What stands out?The Lexus IS is a sports sedan from Japan that brings you more luxury for the money than alternatives from Europe. It is beautifully put together, rides and drives very well, and offers a hybrid drivetrain among three engine options. Standard auto braking operates at city and highway speeds.
What might bug me?The foot-operated park brake: it can dig into your shin when driving.
Finding somewhere in the cabin to rest your phone. There is nowhere convenient to put it, except in one of the cupholders.
Dealing with flat tyres. All IS300 and IS350 models come with a space-saver spare, which is limited to 80km/h when fitted. The IS300h has run-flat tyres: in the event of a puncture you can drive on them for short distances. But generally they can’t be repaired (so you will need a new tyre), and there is no spare at all.
What body styles are there?Four-door, five-seat sedan only.
The Lexus IS is rear-wheel drive and is classed as a medium car, higher priced.
What features do all versions have?A 10.3-inch colour touchscreen and inbuilt satellite navigation. A sound system with CD/DVD player, digital radio reception, Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming, and at least eight speakers.
Smart key entry, which lets you unlock the doors and drive away without removing the key from your bag or pocket.
Dual-zone climate control, which allows different temperatures to be set for each side of the cabin.
Active cruise control, which can slow you automatically to the speed of a vehicle in front on the highway.
Powered height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, which carries buttons for operating the cruise control, the sound system and your phone.
Leather upholstery, with both front seats power-adjustable and heated.
Headlights that use long-lived LEDs, come on automatically in low light, and dip automatically at night for oncoming drivers. LED taillights and daytime running lights. Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains.
A reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors. A tyre pressure monitor, which alerts you if a tyre is going flat (it can give you time to get a slow puncture seen to before it ruins your day).
Ten airbags. Automatic emergency braking that works at city and highway speeds, and lane-departure warning. (For the placement of airbags, and for more on Lexus IS safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skid. All new cars must have this feature.
The Lexus IS is available with different colours and finishes inside the cabin: buyers of the Luxury and Sports Luxury get the choice of four interior colours, while buyers of the F-Sport can choose from three colours.
The IS is covered by a four-year, 100,000km warranty.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?The 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain in the IS300h is the most fuel efficient, consuming 4.9 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined). That’s less than many small city cars.
The petrol engine teams with electric motors and batteries, which boost acceleration and capture energy normally lost during braking.
One reason you might not buy the hybrid is that it does not have a spare tyre. As well, its boot is slightly smaller (450 litres versus 480 litres), because the boot floor is raised to accommodate the batteries.
Another is that the fuel saving (compared with the other engines) is much greater in city driving than on long runs in the country. And the hybrid cars cost more than equivalent IS200t models.
The IS300 uses a very nice 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that is arguably the most balanced and satisfying of the three powerplants available. On the official test, it uses about 50 per cent more fuel than the hybrid. (And it requires more expensive premium unleaded petrol.)
The third engine option is the 3.5-litre V6 petrol that comes in IS350 models. It has a pleasant character and can offer much more power when worked hard than even the quite strong 2.0-litre turbo, but it also drinks a lot more fuel.
Every Lexus IS comes only with an automatic transmission. In the IS300 and IS350 it is a traditional eight-speed unit. The IS300h uses a CVT (or continuously variable transmission): rather than a set number of gear ratios it has an infinite number. The idea is to give the driver better access to the engine’s best power.
What key features do I get if I spend more?The least costly Lexus IS is the IS300 Luxury, which has the 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol engine and 17-inch wheels. You can spend more on a different engine, more equipment, or both.
On the engine side, you can pay more for an IS300h, which has the petrol-electric hybrid engine, or more again for an IS350, which has the 3.5-litre petrol V6.
On the equipment side, each engine comes in three equipment levels. The least costly is Luxury (perhaps Lexus is trying to convince you that Luxury is standard on its cars). You can spend more for F-Sport, and more again for Sports Luxury.
The F-Sport brings an adaptive suspension that adjusts the car’s ride automatically to the road conditions and to the way you are driving. You can also adjust it manually from the driver’s seat (to make it firmer, so that the car rolls less in corners). Wheels are bigger, at 18-inches, and the tyres have a lower profile, which makes the steering feel slightly more direct (and for many people looks nicer). The rear tyres are wider, too, for more grip. Front seats in the F-Sport have more substantial side bolsters, and the driver’s seat remembers adjustments for up to three people. There is blind spot monitoring, and a rear cross-traffic alert.
F-Sport visual touches include bare aluminium alloy pedals and a unique front bumper and grille. The instrument cluster swaps the two traditional dials for a customisable tacho, which encloses a large digital speedo. (The tacho tells you how fast the engine is spinning, which is information keen drivers will value.)
The Sports Luxury does without those F-Sport aesthetic changes but gets all of the F-Sport’s extra equipment. As well, it has a sunroof, and an electric blind for the back window. Audiophiles will appreciate the premium Mark Levinson sound system.
Lexus also offers enhancement packs for Luxury and F Sport models that allow you add the sunroof and premium sound system, among other Sports Luxury features.
Does any upgrade have a down side?All hybrid models have a smaller boot and no spare tyre.
All F-Sport and Sports Luxury models ride a little less comfortably than the Luxury models, especially at low speeds around town, because they have slightly firmer suspension and lower profile tyres (which leave less cushioning air between the wheel and the road).
Two colours are available standard; the other seven add about $1100 to the price of the car.
How comfortable is it?Power adjustment for the steering and seats in every Lexus IS makes getting comfortable easy. The driver’s seat on F-Sport and Sports Luxury models also remembers your adjustments, so that if you share the car with a companion you can quickly restore your preferred settings. The seats have good bolstering and support, which makes for excellent long distance comfort.
The presentation throughout the cabin is very good, too, with great attention to detail and quality materials. Stitching highlights on some leather surfaces, for example, look elegant, and the leather is supple.
A Lexus Remote Touch controller – it’s like a stumpy joystick with a flat top – controls the colour screen and takes some getting used to. While it gives feedback through subtle movements and vibrations of the controller, it is also easy to overshoot the virtual button you’re aiming at.
The Mark Levinson sound system – optional on F-Sport models and standard on Sports Luxury – has excellent clarity and can be turned up very loud for those who appreciate their tunes.
Performance from all engines is strong and effortless. And the IS is very quiet and smooth, which makes for relaxed long-distance touring.
Steering is light and direct. The IS is more about sport than plush luxury, so it doesn’t smother bumps like a limousine might. But nor does it jar you.
What about safety?The Lexus IS has excellent safety credentials, and nearly all of the available passive and active safety features come with every version.
Every IS has 10 airbags: frontal and knee airbags for those in the front seats; body-protecting side airbags for front and rear outer occupants; and a curtain airbag down each side to protect heads in a side crash.
A reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lamps, auto-on and auto-dip headlamps, and auto windscreen wipers, are also standard, as are seatbelt reminders for all five seats.
Active safety features on the IS were enhanced and extended simultaneously with an exterior facelift in November 2016. A camera was added to the radar-based Pre-Collision Safety system that is standard on all IS models, with the aim of increasing the precision with which it recognises risk. The system can apply the brakes automatically to help avoid a crash – typically with car ahead that has slowed suddenly – at speeds between 15km/h and 180km/h. The system was updated in late 2017 to detect and avoid hitting pedestrians.
The camera also allowed the extension of an improved Lane departure warning to every IS, and Lexus says this can operate effectively even when only one side of the road has a lane marking. If you begin to drift out of your lane on the highway, it triggers an alarm and a visual warning. If the car drifts further (perhaps because you are falling asleep or distracted), it will apply a light steering correction automatically. The system can be switched off from the steering wheel.
F-Sport and Sports Luxury versions gain blind-spot monitoring (which alerts you to adjacent traffic that might not be visible in your mirrors), and a rear cross-traffic alert (which warns if you are about to reverse into the path of someone crossing behind you).
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Lexus IS five stars for safety, its maximum, in August 2014.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?Yes. The IS has always been a fun car to drive, and improvements to the suspension from November 2016 have made it even better.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the IS300 delivers good performance in all situations, and it is especially nice in gentle driving around town. Its eight-speed automatic gearbox is quick to respond to your inputs.
The hybrid in the IS300h uses its electric motors for extra low-speed oomph. It’s ultimately not as brisk at highway speeds as the IS300, but there is enough punch even there and it rewards with low fuel use.
We’re not convinced about the synthesised exhaust sound of the IS300h, though. It’s designed to simulate a sports exhaust by pumping sound through the car’s speakers. You can adjust its intensity to the point where it lets out a less-than-pleasant knock when you lift off the accelerator – in an attempt to simulate the cracking and popping of some sports cars.
If you are chasing performance, the IS350 with its 3.5-litre V6 is the quickest of the IS range. While the turbocharged IS300 will feel nearly as responsive when you first press the accelerator, an IS350 develops about 30 per cent more power if you hold your foot down – and almost 50 per cent more than the IS300h. The V6 also has the most character, emitting a satisfying snarl when driven harder.
The IS is also very agile through corners. Accurate and well weighted steering points the car nicely and it has high levels of grip and good balance. The bigger tyres on the F Sport and Sports Luxury models increase grip slightly again.
The adjustable suspension on the F Sport and Sports Luxury brings more control in its Sport setting, with less tendency for the body to lean through bends. In Sport, the steering also gets a meatier feel, and you will like the more sensitive response to throttle inputs.
At more than 1.6 tonnes, however, the IS is heavier than most alternatives, which becomes more obvious the harder you drive it.
How is life in the rear seats?The IS is the smallest sedan Lexus builds and the space has been cut from the rear, so that legroom is tight. Head room, too, won’t suit people over 185cm tall.
Leg room is less of an issue for children – three at a pinch. For two or three large adults it would be testing over long distances.
Indeed three adults across the rear is a squeeze. Apart from the shortage of seat space in the centre position, that third passenger has to deal with the large transmission tunnel that splits the rear seat floor.
At least there are air vents for those in the rear.
The low-slung nature of the IS’s body means you need to bend down to strap kids into baby seats.
How is it for carrying stuff?With a 480 litre boot, the IS has plenty of space for luggage. However, the boot has gooseneck hinges that can foul on gear in a fully packed boot.
The rear seats fold in a 60/40 configuration, so that long items can protrude into the cabin.
Where is it made?All Lexus IS models are made in Japan.
What might I miss that similar cars have?If you plan to do a lot of highway driving, perhaps lower open-road fuel consumption from a diesel engine. Lexus has never sold a diesel in Australia and it does not plan to do so soon. The Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Jaguar XE, Volkswagen Passat and Volvo S60 all have diesel options.
Voice-operated audio and phone functionality, as available (for example) on the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
A rear seat that split folds in a 40/20/40 configuration. The C-Class, 3 Series and Audi A4 have this, for example.
All-wheel drive, as available on the Audi A4.
The availability of more sophisticated active driver aids. For example, the Audi A4 offers an option that can hold your place in stop-start traffic, automatically accelerating and braking the car.
You might also consider the Infiniti Q50.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?Our reviewers like the IS300 F-Sport, for its sweet turbo engine, adaptive suspension and excellent ride-handling balance. While the hybrid engine is also a great pick, the 2.0-litre turbo is more enjoyable and costs less.
Are there plans to update this model soon?The current Lexus IS went on sale in 2013. It received a minor update late in 2015 that brought the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine among other revisions.
A facelift in November 2016 for the 2017 model year brought styling changes inside and out, the 10.3-inch central screen (up from 7.0 inches), better suspension, all-LED lighting, enhanced auto-braking, and the extension of Lane departure warning from Sports Luxury to all versions.
In November 2017, Lexus changed the name of its 2.0-litre IS200t to IS300.
Expect an all-new model about 2019.
Things we like
- Lots of standard equipment
- Strong engines
- Quality and refinement
Not so much
- Tight rear legroom
- Foot-operated park brake
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