JAPANESE luxury car manufacturer Lexus could at last be on the brink of really breaking into the market sector dominated by the German top trio led by the BMW 3 Series with their third generation IS that now has a petrol-electric hybrid power system writes Bryan Longworth.
For the company is expecting that nearly 50 per cent of their new Auris Touring Sports car sales to be the hybrid powered model and the low CO2 emissions and impressive fuel consumption could attract many new buyers to the IS making it a more formidable competitor for the Germans.
It is doubtful if the rear wheel drive IS 300h will make such a big breakthrough from fringe to mainstream as the Auris but the attractions offered by the hybrid power system of a 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine linked with an electric motor should attract many new customers both fleet and private to this model.
Emissions on the SE model are 99g/km which means no road tax and other benefits but my test car was the IS 300h F Sport with automatic transmission which had CO2 emissions of 109g/km qualifying for zero first year road tax - combined fuel consumption is 60.1mpg with a top speed of 125mph and zero to 62mph taking 8.3 seconds.
The F Sport model has very distinctive and eye catching front styling which attracted complimentary comments from admirers with a more conservative appearance in other areas including the rear where there is a very roomy boot.
Inside the car is just as impressive being spacious and very comfortable especially the optional leather seats and it has been influenced by the Lexus LFA with the central digital speedometer and other data including fuel consumption being so easy to see in all light conditions - if only more cars had such user friendly instruments.
What really impressed and made the test drive so enjoyable especially over winding country roads were the handling and road holding qualities of the IS 300h plus the very precise and well balanced steering that made for safe and sporty motoring situations - Lexus rightly say the car was designed to provide an engaging and sporting driving experience.
I was also able to drive the car in three different drive modes - EV for all electric running with the petrol engine switched off, Eco for optimum fuel efficiency plus normal and sport and the CVT automatic transmission helped to make for smooth changes whatever mode was selected.
The CVT transmission has been criticised by some motoring writers but as a lover of automatics I found it was perfectly acceptable and of course for those owners who still like DIY gear changing there are paddles on the steering wheel to enable them to do this.
One feature I thought was rather naff was an artifical noise maker or Active Sound Control which Lexus says is a new technology that complements engine sound with an audio feed through a dedicated speaker that delivers the sound of acceleration and deceleration even when the car is running just on electric power with the engine switched off.
I found the normal sound or lack of it at times in the IS 300h F Sport’s petrol electric power system to be perfectly acceptable in all driving situations without the need for an artifical engine noise which can be switched off.
Lexus is arguably the world leader in hybrid technology and the test car was a perfect example of how they have progressed the dual power system which should now start to make a real impact in this sector and take more business from those rivals at Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
My Verdict: It could be a hybrid game changer.
Model: Lexus IS 300h F Sport.
Engine: 2.5-litre petrol engine with electric motor.
Transmission: CVT automatic.
Top speed: 125mph.
Acceleration: 0 to 62mph 8.3 seconds.
Fuel consumption: 60.1mpg combined.
CO2 emissions: 109g/km.
Price: £33,495 on the road.