Lexus IS front exterior

Lexus IS review

The Lexus IS is a high-tech compact executive saloon with hybrid power. It’s beautifully built, likely to be exceptionally reliable and offers something a bit different to its mainstream rivals.

Pros

  • Powerful and efficient hybrid model
  • Luxurious and well-equipped interior
  • Excellent quality and reliability

Cons

  • Headroom a bit tight in the back
  • F Sport models have a stiff ride
  • Petrol-only cars not very fuel-efficient

Summary

“Beautifully built, comfortable and packed with useful gadgets.”

The Lexus IS is an interesting – and appealing – alternative to big-selling compact executive saloons such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series

Sharp-edged styling sets the tone for a car with a pleasantly futuristic character. This is reflected in the interior design, and also by the fact that most models (those called IS 300h) have a hybrid power system that combines a petrol engine and electric motor. Running costs are helped by the hybrid’s low emissions, while standard equipment is generous for all models.

While it’s not as sporty as some cars of this type the IS is a good car to drive and makes an excellent long-distance tourer. The interior is very comfortable, beautifully built and packed with useful gadgets. Lexus has earned a strong reputation for reliability and this is reflected in the brand’s numerous wins in customer satisfaction surveys.

Lexus IS rear exterior

What's the interior like?

“The interior of the Lexus IS looks and feels luxurious. It’s extremely relaxing over long distances.”

Distinctively styled and with a faultless fit and finish, the interior of the Lexus IS looks and feels luxurious. The low driving position and a dashboard that wraps around you gives a cosy feeling that’s fitting for a sporty saloon. The large infotainment screen at the top of the dashboard is operated by a rotary dial that sits between the front seats: it can be a bit fiddly but it’s much like using a mouse and laptop and is easy enough to get used to.

The seats are supportive and make the Lexus extremely relaxing over long distances. There’s also a wide range of adjustment for the driver’s seat and steering wheel so it’s easy to find the right driving position. Legroom in the back seats is good but taller passengers might find headroom restricted because of the sloping roofline.

The interior is packed with useful storage compartments, while the 450-litre boot is up to the standards of rivals’ and is easily able to swallow three medium-sized suitcases. All models apart from the entry-level version have a useful split/folding back seat, which allows you to carry longer loads and still have room for a passenger in the back.

Lexus IS interior

What's it like to drive?

“There’s a focus on comfort and quietness, while Lexus’s well-proven hybrid power system provides lively performance.”

With a focus on comfort and quietness, the IS is a particularly relaxed and comfortable motorway cruiser. Light controls and a smooth automatic gearbox make it hassle-free to drive, while standard parking sensors and reversing cameras make parking easy. 

Its relatively compact exterior dimensions, rear-wheel drive layout and powerful engines mean that the IS can be fun to drive if you’re in the mood, if not as rewarding as a BMW 3 Series. F Sport models have stiffer suspension that makes them feel more responsive, but some might find the ride a bit uncomfortable. 

About 90% of used IS models are the IS 300h version. This uses Lexus’s well-proven hybrid power system, which combines a 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor. There’s no need to plug it in to charge it: the battery recharges itself as you drive. While it’s not hugely powerful the hybrid gives lively performance and combines well with the standard automatic gearbox. You might find some older non-hybrid models called IS 200t: these have a turbocharged petrol engine that drives nicely but uses a lot more fuel.

Lexus IS side exterior

Is it cost-efficient to buy and run?

“The hybrid system pays dividends when it comes to running costs, with zero road tax for some cars registered before April 2019.”

Ownership costs for the Lexus IS are on a par with rivals such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with a couple of caveats. The cost to buy is on the high side, partly because Lexus only sells high-spec cars and partly because most models are hybrids, which are inherently more costly. 

The hybrid system pays dividends when it comes to running costs. Entry-level IS 300h models have official fuel economy of 67.3mpg. Even better, they emit just 97g/km of CO2 which means zero road tax on those cars registered before April 2019. Hybrid models also have an EV driving mode that can deliver pure electric running for up to a mile at 30mph.

Lexus IS boot space

How reliable and safe is it?

“The IS is extremely well built and few manufacturers have scored as highly in independent customer satisfaction surveys such as Lexus.”

Lexus has an enviable reputation for reliability, with all of its cars being extremely well built and generally very dependable. Few manufacturers have scored as highly in independent customer satisfaction surveys such as the Auto Express Driver Power Awards and J.D. Power UK Vehicle Dependability Study.

Safety is also a strength for the IS and it was awarded the full five-star rating by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP. All cars have eight airbags and all the latest electronic driver aids. Post-2016 models above the entry-level SE come with the Safety System+ set-up that adds lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, which automatically maintains a safe distance to the car in front on motorways.

Lexus IS rear seats

Which one is best for you?

Best for economy- 300h SE 

Best for family - 300h Premier 

Best for fun - 300h F Sport 

All versions are well-equipped with the entry level SE coming with heated seats and climate control. The Premier versions add leather trim, sat-nav and xenon headlamps. The top-of-the-range Takumi trim (known as Luxury for pre-2015 models), also has a Mark Levinson stereo and keyless entry. The F Sport adds some sporty visual additions such as a body kit, as well as a stiffer suspension set-up.

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