The Lexus IS is the Japanese luxury brand's offering in the highly competitive compact executive car class. It faces daunting opposition in the form of a big-selling German trio: the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. The Lexus sets itself apart from those rivals by not offering a diesel engine. Instead, buyers have a choice of the conventional Lexus IS 250 petrol or the Lexus IS 300h hybrid, which is exempt from road tax.
Striking looks and sporty handling are among the IS’ most appealing features, along with a great reputation for reliability and top-notch customer service at dealers. On the downside, the hybrid's unusual CVT automatic gearbox results in a less-than-satisfactory driving experience, while the petrol-engined model is a long way off rivals when it comes to fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Boot space is also disappointing, particularly in the hybrid model.
The IS 250 petrol comes in a choice of four specification levels: SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier. The IS 300h adds a fifth option: the well equipped Executive Edition, which is primarily aimed at company-car buyers looking to minimise their Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax bill. All get plenty of standard kit, but we think the Luxury has almost everything you'd need: Premier is a bit too expensive and the F Sport's large wheels and firm suspension result in a crashy ride.
On the plus side, both safety and reliability should be impeccable, so while the Lexus IS isn't quite as elegant as a Mercedes C-Class and not nearly as much fun to drive as a BMW 3 Series, it should at least give you many miles of refined, comfortable and worry-free motoring.