The Lexus IS is that very rarest of things – an executive car that has no diesel option whatsoever. In a moment of remarkable foresight, Lexus launched the car without diesel and has remained true to its petrol and hybrid underpinnings since. So, the IS is a quiet, well-made executive car that should be really cheap to run. You can’t argue with that.
The Lexus IS looks like nothing else in the executive car class, and it’s all the better for that. One glance and you know you’re looking at a Lexus machine, because it manages to appear hi-tech, comfortable and safe all at once - with none of the out-of-my-way brashness traditionally associated with executive transport.
The car has a prominent front bumper that has a large bowtie-on-its-side grille with the Lexus badge front and centre. At each end, the bumper has a lightning-shaped cut-out for the daytime running lights, which is unusual and eye-catching. Above these sit the headlights, which cut into the front wings.
The sides of the Lexus IS are actually quite vertical and flat, apart from a noticeable upwards sweep just before the rear wheel arch, to emphasise an impression of speed.
At the back, the boot of the four-door saloon is conventionally vertical. A neat touch is the way the ends of the tail lights merge into the seam between the bumper and rear wing.
One glance and you know you’re looking at a Lexus.
What’s it like to drive?
The Lexus is available with two engines. Early on, the conventional IS200 had a 2.0-litre petrol engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. This was ditched a while back. The brand also offers the car as a petrol-electric hybrid, which we focus on here.
As with most hybrids, the Lexus IS is at its best in town, where the innovative system can make the most of its battery power and switch off the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine at any opportunity. The hybrid system performs adequately when you ask the car to accelerate.
Most versions have conventional springs and shock absorbers, which keep the car flat during cornering and manage to avoid feeling harsh. Top-spec Premier Pack models have adaptive dampers that are even more adept at dealing with the road surface.
The steering, meanwhile, is fairly quick and doesn’t kick back, but also doesn’t tell you a huge amount about the road and grip levels.
The hybrid system performs adequately when you ask the car to accelerate.
If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that the interior of a Lexus will feel at least as good as those in most rivals, and probably better than many.
The materials used in the cabin are beyond reproach. The plastics on top of the dashboard feel dense and plush when squeezed (and you will be tempted to give it a little squeeze). The harder surfaces around the centre console feel smooth and thick. Better still, all the controls operate with a smoothness born of many hours in the development centre.
What Lexus does particularly well is making interiors that work effectively and are not showy, and that’s exactly the case with the IS. The door trims are entirely straight-edged and normal, and contain the electric window and mirror switches just where you’d expect them to be. Ahead of the driver sits an instrument cluster with the main dials and subsidiary ones, plus a central information display.
On top of the dashboard sits an infotainment screen, through which you control the sat-nav, DAB radio, and Bluetooth, phone and audio systems. In early cars, this was operated by a mouse controller, and in later cars a touchpad. Neither works as well as the systems in some German rivals.
Below the screen sits an analogue clock, and beneath that a sloped panel for the climate control and audio systems. You sit quite low in the IS, which also has a high window line, enhancing the feeling of being in a sporty cockpit.
Most trim levels have electrically adjustable seats, so finding the ideal driving position, no matter how tall or short you are, takes a matter of moments.
Pretty much everyone will be able to get comfortable in the front of a Lexus IS, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re 6ft 7 or 4ft 11 – the driving position is really adjustable.
The back-seat area is also really roomy, so even if you’re tall you won’t find yourself wedged up against the front seats. If there’s one caveat, it’s that the sloping roofline impinges on rear headroom ever so slightly.
As for boot space, there’s easily as much as you’ll find in the Lexis IS’s major rivals. All models bar the entry-level trim offer the benefit of 60/40 split-folding rear seats to enhance usability, although the Lexus remains a 4-door saloon so will never be quite as practical as a hatchback.
Running costs and reliability
This is where the Lexus IS scores very heavily indeed, as it has an average economy figure of 65.7mpg. This should improve if you use the car in town, where its hybrid system has the chance to make the most of its battery power in stop-start traffic.
Insurance groupings start from group 28 and rise to 33, helped by the car’s five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
What we love
In a world of executive cars that are all about thrusting aggression, the Lexus IS stands apart because it provides subtle, high-quality motoring without costing a fortune to run. There’s plenty of space for four normal-sized adults, and the boot is big enough to take all their associated clobber. Better still, it’s well-equipped, with all the luxury and safety equipment you could possibly need, and it drives with a quiet confidence that you’ll appreciate at the end of a long day. Keep it in its comfort zone in town and it’ll manage all this on what feels like a thimbleful of fuel.
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If you want a car that will make you feel good about driving and which won’t cost a fortune to run in the process, the Lexus IS makes a fine option. It’s quiet and comfortable, drinks very little and shouldn’t let you down.
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