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[January 24, 2014]
This IS it for new Lexus Lee Gibson [Western Mail (Wales)]
(Western Mail (Wales) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) LEXUS has been at the forefront of the development of petrol- electric hybrid technology for many years.
So it is perhaps a little surprising that it has taken until now to produce a version of the IS saloon that is powered by its hybrid drive.
The arrival of the 300h, though, along with a sharp new look will give the IS fresh impetus as it competes with some of Germany's big hitters in a market relying heavily on business buyers who will find it's tax breaks appealing.
With carbon emissions of just 99g/km the entry level SE version is exempt from road tax and resides in the lowest company car tax bracket.
If you prefer the more dynamic styling and performance of the F Sport specced car I drove, emissions rise to 109g/km and mean a minimal road tax charge but, crucially, the company car tax band is no higher than it's numerous diesel competitors.
The SE also offers potential fuel economy of 65.7mpg on average, dropping slightly to 60.1 in the F Sport but still very competitive against the IS's European rivals.
A comprehensive re-design has given the IS a more athletic presence which is enhanced further by the F Sport trim.
An imposing interpretation of the new Lexus 'spindle' grille dominates the front end while a strongly defined waistline rises along the flanks, above muscular wheel arches, to an elevated and powerful looking rear.
And while it may not match the class-leading BMW 3 Series for excitement - and, let's face it, few do - this is still an engaging and enjoyable car to drive.
The 2.5-litre petrol engine and 105kW electric motor offer a total output of 220bhp and are mated with a smooth constant variable automatic transmission.
A 0-62mph sprint time of 8.3 seconds is not the quickest in class, but it's far from pedestrian, and a top speed of 125mph while, again, bettered by some rivals is surely enough unless you are an avid collector of penalty points.
I certainly found that it had plenty of pace to handle overtaking and get me out of the occasional tight spot - although the electrical drone you hear when you hit the gas hard is, admittedly, a lot less satisfying than the growl of a traditional engine.
A lighter but more rigid body shell and revised suspension have improved driving dynamics, with the steering and suspension further tweaked in F Sport versions to offer what is a suitably sporty drive with nimble handling, impressive grip and excellent body control in corners.
The sporty treatment of the suspension and large 18-inch alloys mean that you do feel some bumps on poor roads but generally the ride is as smooth and refined as you'd expect from Lexus.
A simple to use drive mode selector gives the choice of eco, normal and sportier set-ups and there is also an electric only setting for totally emission-free town driving and a snow mode which claims to improve grip on icy roads - notoriously challenging for rear-wheel drive cars such as this.
Lexus, of course, prides itself on giving customers a certain level of luxury and the interior fixtures and fittings do not disappoint.
F Sport trim boasts plush leather upholstery with electronically adjustable and heated sports front seats, aluminium trim and sports pedals, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, multi-function sports steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors and rear-view camera, satnav and a seven-inch multimedia display and stereo with aux-in, USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
Most functions are accessed by Lexus' computer-mouse style Remote Touch system which proves user-friendly for the most part but can be slightly distracting on the move if you have to navigate deeply into the menus.
The new IS is both longer and wider than its predecessor so space is good and head and legroom has improved in the rear in particular, although six-footers may still feel the pinch on long journeys.
There is an abundance of safety kit including eight airbags, stability and traction control, hill-start assist and a tyre pressure warning system.
And with an enviable reputation for reliability and customer service, there is certainly plenty to commend the IS300h to executive buyers who, perhaps, want something a little different to the Teutonic norm.
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