Road Test Notes: Lexus IS 300h

Lexus-IS.1I remember the first Lexus IS being launched. It was revealed in a swanky London riverside hotel, with a gaggle of very excited Toyota people wanting to know what we thought.

And my impressions were positive. Strong design, sweet sounding two-litre six, and a six-speed transmission as standard, for heavens sake.

The world really needed a viable sporty alternative to the BMW 3 Series that thrusting junior executives were buying like sheep. The original IS worked, except that the range was always so limited. No alternative engine for years, the same true for bodystyle. When the sports estate did arrive it had just a thirsty engine and auto-only transmission.

Lexus seems determined to shoot itself in the foot. The IS is the largest segment it sells into yet its cars are its least competitive. The series two IS was blighted by nothing smaller than a 2.5-litre petrol engine for too long.

Now there’s a new IS that’s also wide of the mark.

Good points of the new IS 300h? Well, it’s a fine piece of exterior design, smart and convincingly not an Audi, BMW or Merc. It’s fast too, when you floor the throttle and utilise the hybrid along with the petrol power.

But there are woeful areas that I simply can’t accept. The ‘computer mouse’ control system is a nightmare, fiddly, inaccurate, with so many steps even to change a radio station. Why?

The dashboard is, apparently, a nod to the LFA supercar, but most passengers though it just looked dated. I continually accidentally adjusted the heating temperature by brushing the stupid touch sliders; cold air blew onto my face from the mis-directed side window vents

Driving the IS 300h, you have a choice between Eco, Normal and Sport modes. That’s not uncommon, but what did rankle was the difficulty in making a sensible choice. After a week I still had no idea.

The Lexus IS 300h is neither luxurious nor sporting. The hard ride hints at the latter, but the CVT gearbox seems old fashioned and inadequate for a quick car.

It’s rare for me not to find a positive side to a new model. But I simply cannot think of any compelling reason to choose the IS 300h over any rival.

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