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Monday 22 September 2014

The Lexus IS300 is a worthy rival to BMW and Audi

Philip Hedderman

Published 04/11/2013 | 13:04

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The Lexus IS300 petrol version which has the running costs of a diesel supermini
The Lexus IS300 petrol version which has the running costs of a diesel supermini
The interior of the Lexus IS300
The interior of the Lexus IS300
The Lexus IS300
The Lexus IS300

Meet the 2.5-litre petrol Lexus with MPG of a diesel supermini.

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IT'S a massive gamble but Lexus may just have pulled it off.

What you see before you is a 2.5-litre petrol car that has the running costs of a diesel supermini.

And so confident is the luxury arm of the Japanese marque that it has dropped the oil burning version all together.

Yes, the all-new IS compact executive will only come in petrol or petrol/electric hybrid powertrains and brings a whole new dimension to eco driving.

Now, regular readers of this column will know that the last generation of Toyota hybrids left us cold, if not feeling a little cheated.

They're not what we'd call a driver's car – lacking any semblance of dynamic, handling or indeed fun.

The Auris, Prius and Prius+ were designed to sit in traffic or do short city runs and, if pushed, one was greeted with an almighty racket, akin to a pen full of squealing piglets.

Lurched

The automatic gearbox was unresponsive, sluggish and lurched hideously while the steering lacked any kind of connectivity with the road.

Thankfully that’s not the case here as Lexus looked to its more successful luxury models for inspiration – namely the prestigious GS, but more about that later.

Styling-wise the third generation IS gets bold new lines taken directly from the blistering LFA supercar, with the same spindle grille complimented with a set of fabulously sexy arrowhead daytime running lights embedded in the bumper.

Sharper, crisp lines are a major feature giving the new offering  a much more aggressive stance, while the almost-3D rear lamp clusters complete the new sporty look.

It's bigger too gaining an extra 80mm in length and 10mm width and, because the battery packs are buried beneath the luggage deck, the boot is now a decent 450 litres.

But it’s inside where the magic begins to unfold, with the driver-focussed cockpit dominated by a 7in LCD colour monitor which manages all of the car's functions including satnav, music, and Bluetooth.

On the central console beside the handbrake is the Drive Mode Select  controlled by an i-Drive-style circular mouse.

It allows  you to choose several settings including Eco, Snow, Sport/Sport S and Sport S+.

Subtle changes are made to the gearbox, suspension and steering that suit certain road conditions, while the dash lights change from blue to a wicked red.

In Sport mode the eco-metre, which monitors how efficient you are, suddenly switches to a sporty rev counter that bottoms out at 8,000rpm.

But would we even get remotely close to the red line given  how reluctant previous hybrids were to perform?

The CVT (Con stant Variable Trans-mission) box in the Lexus, while not perfect, is a massive improvement on the Toyota.

Open the taps and the 223bhp powerplants snort into life and despite being a little gruff it is pretty impressive.

Acceleration is brisk hitting 0-100kph in a touch over eight seconds.  She handles pretty well too with exceptional  body control (thanks to the  same suspension as the GS) and plenty of feedback through the steering. On the motorway it comes into its own as an accomplished cruiser tipping along at 120kph with ease.

This proved the litmus test for the IS as the 2.5-litre simply sipped fuel – returning an excellent 64mpg.

And because it’s so efficient the emissions are sub-100 with the entry level Eco coming in at 99g/km – meaning annual road tax of just €180.

During our six-day test a mix of city and motorway jaunts saw us clock up 674km and still manage to have well over a quarter of a tank left.

All-in-all I’m confident that we’d have hit the 1,000km per tank which you’d be hard pushed to get out of any diesel.

A worthy rival to the BMW 3 Series and the mighty Audi A4.

It might even change your outlook on the petrol v diesel debate which is really hotting up.

The Lexus IS300 starts at €37,780.

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