Lexus IS saloon
Price £28,995 - £36,750
- Low running costs for hybrid
- Unimpeachable reliability record
- Smooth, quiet and comfortable ride
- Performance not as strong as some rivals
- Lack of diesel option will hurt popularity
- Some rivals more fun to drive
At a glance
“It might be a bit of an outsider in such a competitive class, but striking design and impressively low running costs make the Lexus IS worth a look.”
There's no doubt that the Lexus IS has its work cut out for it in what is an exceptionally competitive class. It needs to be seriously good to go head-to-head with seriously good cars like the BMW 3 Series saloon, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, Jaguar XE and even the Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Superb. Each of these has its own particular appeal; the Lexus’ is the fact that it's almost defiantly, proudly different.
For starters, there's no diesel option – akin to heresy in a class dominated by cars that drink from the black pump: only a petrol-electric hybrid and a turbocharged petrol. That said, the hybrid – which combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and an electric motor – does offer diesel-esque running costs.
Lexus claims it's capable of averaging around 67mpg and – in entry-level SE trim at least – has CO2 emissions of 97g/km. This means that for private buyers, it's exempt from road tax and company-car buyers should like it thanks to a low 19% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax rating.
If running costs are your main concern, then you may want to ignore the turbocharged petrol IS 200t. At best, it won’t return any more than around 39mpg and CO2 emissions of 167g/km means it’ll cost you £210 a year to tax, while a 30% BiK rating means it's not even really worth thinking about as a company car.
It's considerably quicker than the hybrid, though, boasting 242bhp versus the other model's 220bhp and completing the 0-62mph sprint in seven seconds exactly, whereas the hybrid can only manage it 8.3 seconds. This extra performance doesn’t make up for the much higher running costs for most people, however.
At cruising speeds, both models are impressively smooth, quiet and comfortable, although the way the CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic gearbox works does make the hybrid quite noisy when accelerating, while the 200t's conventional eight-speed automatic isn’t a fantastic example of the breed, either, being jerky and rather slow to respond.
All versions of the Lexus IS are rear-wheel drive, but this doesn’t mean it's a fantastic thing to drive. The Jaguar XE and BMW 3 Series are more entertaining, while the IS is more of a comfortable cruiser in the mould of the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4.
Standard equipment is decent, with all models getting alloy wheels, an infotainment system controlled by a seven-inch screen on the dashboard (and an infuriatingly fiddly touchpad system on the centre console) DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and all-LED rear lights (including brake and reversing lights).
A five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and a wide range of standard safety kit, means safety shouldn’t be a concern, while Lexus's reliability record is fantastic. The brand came first in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, as did the Lexus IS itself, topping a list of 200 cars. A third-place finish for reliability seals this reputation, with only the Lexus NX and Toyota iQ ahead of it on the list.
The Lexus IS hybrid promises some very impressive economy numbers, but they can be difficult to match in the real world
Handling is better than in previous versions of the Lexus IS, but it still won’t be the keen driver’s choice
As we’ve come to expect from the brand, the Lexus IS is spacious and comfortable inside
There’s plenty of passenger space in the Lexus IS, but hybrid’s boot capacity is reduced
These are two particularly strong areas for the Lexus IS