Now Lexus takes hybrid road with bold new IS

Third-generation IS saloon introduces hybrid power to the range for the first time.

Third-generation IS saloon introduces hybrid power to the range for the first time. - Credit: D.Fontenat

Lexus has completed its hybrid line-up with the new IS... but don't ask about a diesel, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Ask the Lexus marketing team why they have dropped a diesel from the new IS range and they will deftly turn the question on its head and query why more car-makers haven't got hybrids.

The third-generation IS sports saloon is the first to feature a petrol-electric hybrid, giving the luxury arm of the Toyota group a hybrid in each of its model ranges.

It's hardly surprising given that Toyota and Lexus are committed to the hybrid route – combining a lean-burn petrol engine with a powerful electric motor which can work separately or in tandem.

But it's a bold move with the key German rivals for the IS – the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class – some of the best and most popular diesels in a sector where diesels rule the road.

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So to drop the IS diesel is a really bold move, especially as the sports saloon accounts for half of Lexus's UK sales, albeit low volume, but then so is launching a hybrid as an environmentally-friendly alternative is such a diesel-dominant market.

Lexus freely points out the benefits of hybrid over diesel for both fleets and company car drivers – low ownership costs, low emissions of both CO2 and nitrous oxide plus no particulates and the smooth refinement of petrol power over 'dirty' diesel.

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It's all part of the Lexus philosophy for the new IS – to make an impression and promote a more dynamic brand perception... to stand out from the crowd.

It certainly achieves that with the bold, striking styling of the new IS, which stays true to the LF-CC concept car, with sharply chiselled lines and a front end dominated by the Lexus 'spindle' grille.

With no diesel, choices are a 2.5-litre V6 petrol with conventional six-speed automatic gearbox and hybrid power mated to a continuously-variable automatic transmission in the form of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol combined with an electric motor, the latter able to drive the IS in low-moving traffic with the battery recharging when braking or slowing and via the engine.

The V6 is the more satisfying to drive, though not as brisk as rivals, but the hybrid is no slouch although the engine drone is not pleasant when you boot it – hence the reason Lexus has introduced active sound control technology piping the noise of a throaty engine into the cabin under acceleration and deceleration. Better still, don't both to hustle the hybrid, just waft along and make the most of its green potential.

It's not just the looks that are more dynamic. Lexus has revamped the suspension and made the body and chassis more rigid so the rear-wheel drive IS is more of a driver's car. It's no BMW 3 Series but feels crisper and sharper on twisty roads yet the suspension, even with the firmer F Sport set-up, still irons out bad road surfaces and glides along smooth main roads.

Inside, the cabin oozes Lexus quality and attention to detail. While drivers will like the LFA supercar-inspired cocooning cockpit and the hybrid's dials that change according to driving mode, rear-seat passengers will be delighted with the extra leg and kneerom from the longer body and thinner front seats, giving class-leading roominess.

The IS 250's boot is a useful, if not expansive, 480 litres and thanks to clever packaging of the drive battery under the boot floor the hybrid's capacity is only 30 litres smaller so can still carry a decent amount of luggage.

Four trim levels are offered – SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier – and all come loaded with safety kit and attractive equipment specs as standard which adds to the IS value and contributes to strong residuals.

The new IS is a bold and daring move from Lexus, one that will get it noticed. Dropping the diesel makes a real statement but with Lexus not looking for huge volumes compared to the German giants there are enough green-minded company and private buyers out there who will relish the opportunity to be different.

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