2017 Lexus IS Review

Introduction

Calling the Lexus IS the Japanese 3 Series is pretty accurate – ever since the 1999 original, the IS saloon has been aimed right down the throat of BMW’s big seller, from the rear-drive chassis to the proportions to the attempts to please the keen driver. Now available with either a turbocharged petrol or a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain, the Lexus IS is closer than ever to being a serious rival to the Munich maestro.

 

Body Style: Saloon              Seats: 5                         MRP from £29,995 - £39,745

 

Did you know? The original Lexus IS was sold as a Toyota Altezza in Japan because, before 2005, Lexus didn’t exist in the Japanese market.

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Verdict: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7.25/10)

The Lexus IS can’t quite match the likes of the BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 for overall appeal, but it gets a lot closer than you might think. It is genuinely rewarding to drive, and the hybrid IS 300h has temptingly low tax and running costs for business users. The IS 200t is more the enthusiast’s choice, but with either car you’re getting something with amazing quality, peerless reliability prospects, and a dash of styling difference and Japanese craftsmanship in what is usually a homogenously German executive car park.

Design & Exterior 

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10) 

Interior & Comfort

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)   

Technology & Connectivity 

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)   

Performance & Handling

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Safety Features

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Specs & Trims

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Running Costs & Fuel Economy

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Pricing

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

 

2017 Lexus IS

We Like

Dramatic styling

Gorgeous cabin

Hybrid efficiency

We Don't Like

Not quite as sharp to drive as rivals

Hybrid CVT can be annoying

Petrol turbo version heavy and thirsty

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Design & Exterior: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

2017 Lexus IS

The first thing to say is that we, genuinely, like the way the IS looks. Fair enough, for many people that ‘spindle’ grille with its vampire-like fangs and the way the lower body sweeps up to meet the rear lights just won’t be appealing. But amongst the hordes of me-too BMWs and Audis, the Lexus IS really stands out and that is to be applauded all on its own. Lexus gave the IS a mild update in 2016, with slightly revised lights, grille and bumpers, and faintly improved aerodynamics.

As far as image is concerned, the story for Lexus is a mixed one. Few, if any, people would say anything but that the brand is famed for quality and reliability, but equally few would be prepared to say that it’s a match for the Germans in the fashion stakes. The spectre of Alan Partridge hangs ever over the Lexus brand, but those who can see past that are buying into something good.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Interior & Comfort: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 Lexus IS

The IS’s cabin is without question its strongest suit. Lexus, ever since it first rocked up to the Detroit Auto Show in 1989 with the first LS400, has been rightly famed for the quality of its cabins, and the IS is no exception. There are one or two cheap, old-school-Toyota style switches tucked in around the place, and some of the ergonomics are less than perfect, but overall this is a great cabin in which to be. The seats are supportive and comfortable, the dials big, bright and clear (and expensive looking), and the controls all move with a pleasing heft.  

Practicality

By the standards of the class, the IS is decently practical, but one must remember that the sports saloon segment is full of cars built, effectively, around the driver and no-one else. So, space in the back is adequate but nothing more, while those up front get stretching room.

The 450-litre boot (the IS 200t gets a 480-litre boot because it doesn’t need the hybrid’s extra batteries) is also nothing to write home about, although it’s likely practical enough for most owners’ purposes.  

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Technology & Connectivity: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 Lexus IS

The 2016 update brought with it a new 10-inch central infotainment screen (a 7.0-inch screen is standard), which lifts the IS’s tech count up to match those of its German competitors. Lexus likes to think of itself as a tech-friendly brand, so there are features such as touch-sensitive heating controls (a bit fiddly but you get used to them), climate control that detects which seats are occupied and even a laser-cutting technique for the interior wood trim.

You can’t have things such as Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto, but the Toyota-based smartphone interface is just about good enough, and usually connects to your phone without much fiddling. The infotainment’s screen graphics look a little old-fashioned, but you do get 3D mapping for the satnav, with connected traffic information and Google Street View, voice control, a reversing camera, and the option of an ear-melting 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.

F Sport models get the digital instrument pack, inspired by the Ferrari-rivalling LFA supercar, while the hybrid IS 300h gets an active sound system that tries to convince you that you’re actually driving a big, meaty V8-engined sports saloon.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Performance & Handling: ★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 Lexus IS

As with image, the Lexus IS can’t quite match the Germans when it comes to handling and performance, but it does come closer than you might expect. Ultimately, it’s a slightly softly set-up, which rewards main-road cruising with impressive refinement and comfort, but which leads to too much body roll and a lack of steering feedback when cornering. The lightly tuned F Sport model introduces a touch more sportiness, but it’s still not quite a match for an M Sport 3 Series. Pleasant and hugely capable and competent, then, but not quite a pure driver's car.

The hybrid drivetrain is, realistically, the one to go for. That statement comes with the caveat that the hugely annoying CVT (Constant Velocity Transmission) leaves the engine revving its head off at high rpm for ages when you want acceleration, but it’s very refined around town and has impressive environmental credentials. The 200t turbo petrol engine is smooth and has decent power, but it’s overweight compared to rivals, which blunts both performance and handling.

Recommended engine: IS 300h hybrid

0-62 MPH

8.3 seconds

Fuel economy

67.2mpg

Emissions

97g/km

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Safety Features: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

2017 Lexus IS

Tested in 2013 by Euro NCAP, the IS got a full five-star score, with a 91 per cent rating for adult occupant protection, 85 per cent for child occupant, 80 per cent for pedestrian protection, and 66 per cent for safety assist.

All cars get Lexus’ Vehicle Dynamic Control stability control system, along with hill-holder and a tyre pressure monitoring function. There are eight airbags, two ISOFIX points in the back seats, a pop-up bonnet for pedestrian protection, and anti-whiplash headrests all as standard.

SE models and above get the Lexus Safety System +, which includes adaptive radar guided cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistant with active steering, traffic sign recognition, and automatic high beam headlights. There are options for full LED headlights, a blind spot monitor, and rear cross traffic alert.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Specs and Trim Levels: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 Lexus IS

Colours

All colours are metallic (aside from F Sport White) and they are Sonic White, Graphite Grey, Mercury Grey, Satin Silver, Fuji Red, Mesa Red, Azure Blue, Sonic Titanium, Velvet Black, and Deep Blue. There’s also a broad range of interior leather and trim colours, including Black, Sandstone, Noble Brown, and Dark Rose.

Trim Levels

Buyers can choose from SE, Executive Edition, Sport, Advance, Luxury, and Premier trims.

SE comes with eight airbags, VDM, active sound control for the hybrid, LED daytime running lights, heat-insulating glass, seven-inch infotainment display with a six-speaker Pioneer sound system, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connections, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, and climate control.

Executive Edition adds 17-inch wheels, the Lexus Safety System+, heated front seats, keyless entry, satnav, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, rain sensing wipers, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Sport models add 18-inch alloys and a black-finish exterior styling kit while Advance models come with heated and ventilated eight-way electric seats. Luxury versions, oddly, delete the standard satnav but gain front and rear parking sensors.

F Sport versions also do without satnav, but get 18-inch alloys, sports seats, LED headlights, sports suspension, a sporty body kit with more aggressive styling, and the LFA-inspired instrument pack.

The Premier Pack adds F Sport leather seats, satnav with the big 10-inch display, a Mark Levinson sound system, blind spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, and (on the hybrid only) adaptive suspension.

Premier models get the 10-inch screen with satnav, 18-inch alloys, Mark Levinson stereo, LED headlights, blind spot monitor with cross traffic alert, and a memory function for the driver's seat, steering wheel and mirrors.
While it’s tempting to go for the bright, joyous Fuji Red paint job, dark metallic colours are de rigueur in this class, so stick to the greys and blacks if you want to hang on to your resale value.

Spec-wise, you can go two ways. Go for a basic (but still well-equipped) SE and add satnav and the Lexus Safety pack and bet on frugally-minded buyers wanting to pick up an affordable hybrid in a couple of years’ time.

Alternatively, go all-out and get an F Sport with the Premium pack and really spec the IS up to properly luxurious Lexus levels.

Size and Dimensions

The IS sometimes feels a little bulkier than a 3 Series or A4, but it’s actually quite tight on dimensions. Anyone with a normal garage, driveway or parking spot shouldn’t have any concerns.

Length

4,680mm

Width

1,810mm (excluding door mirrors)

Height

1,430mm

Max towing weight without brake: 750 (petrol and hybrid) *

Max towing weight without brake: 750 (petrol and hybrid) *

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Running Costs & Fuel Economy: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 Lexus IS

Again, the hybrid is a clear winner here with official fuel economy of 67mpg and 99g/km of CO2. That puts it clear of almost all its mainstream diesel rivals, and makes it a tempting proposition for company car user-choosers and those paying Benefit-in-kind taxes for their car.

In reality, the IS 300h will struggle to get 67mpg in daily driving, but you should regularly see the sunny side of 50mpg, and around town at least you can be smugly happy that you’re not adding to the current debate about diesel’s effect on air pollution.

The IS 200t is, predictably, rather less impressive. Fuel economy of 39mpg doesn’t look too bad on paper, but it’s likely to be much worse in everyday driving, while the 167g/km CO2 figure speaks, unhappily, for itself.

Reliability and servicing

The current IS has never been issued with a recall, and given Lexus’ reputation in these matters we’d be very surprised if anything on an IS ever broke at all. Reliability and quality have always been paramount at Lexus, and you can sense that in the sheer quality of the product.  

 Lexus generally works to a 30,000-mile service interval, but of course recommends that you have your car inspected at least once a year. Pre-purchased service plans are available.

 For the IS 300h model there’s also a free hybrid health check, which ensures that the batteries and electric motor are in good order, and each time you get that done you’ll receive an additional one-year or 10,000-mile warranty for the hybrid batteries up to a maximum of ten years.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Pricing: ★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 Lexus IS

Visually, the Lexus IS looks a touch overpriced compared to a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. The difference, of course, is that the Germans have cheaper entry-level cars with small petrol and diesel engines, whereas the Lexus is only available with the hybrid or 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine. When ranged against the likes of a 320d or A4 2.0-litre TDI, it looks much better priced, and is generally better equipped as standard than the Germans.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Recommendations

Green Car Buyer

Choose the entry-level IS 300h SE for super-low 97g/km emissions.

Car Enthusiast

The IS 200t F Sport looks the part and uses conventional turbocharged petrol power.

Luxury Seeker

The most expensive hybrid version is the IS 300h Luxury, and it lives up to its name.

Rivals

Audi A4

Predictable to look at, but satisfying to drive and exceptionally high quality.

BMW 3 Series

The car everyone has to beat in this class, and you can see why the instant you drive one.

Jaguar XE

Sharp looking and terrific to drive, but cabin space and quality let it down.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

A class act - no pun intended - with superb refinement and comfort and more driver enjoyment than you might think.

Infiniti Q50

Similar tech-happy Japanese appeal to the IS, but it’s not as well-rounded a product.

What others say

What Car?

The IS 300h hybrid should appeal to company car and private buyers who are looking for a left-field diesel alternative.

Car Buyer

“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.”

 

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