New Lexus IS arrives in Ireland

Hybrid-only offering is a brave move by Japanese premium brand

Thu, Jul 11, 2013, 14:59

Several years after it took the hybrid technology route, Lexus now faces its biggest challenge to make that technology mainstream and convince buyers in the executive class to move away from the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.

The premium Japanese brand has launched the IS 300 H with selling points such as a starting price of €37,780 and a personal contract plan for €395 a month. Who would have thought Lexus would ever get to this stage? But that’s the way the market is and this car has an awful lot riding on it.

The question is whether people will be more convinced by hybrid technology - where you have an engine and an electric motor - than they have been up to now? The big German brands have been bringing down emissions (look how the BMW 520 suddenly plummeted down the tax bands) and improving dynamics to the point where expensive alternative technologies are not exactly being seen as must haves.

Lexus estimates that 70 per cent of buyers of the new IS 300 H will be coming from other brands, which is a fairly brave prediction. By definition, a large number of them will be abandoning brands they may have lived with for years. Buyers are unlikely to suddenly love the IS for its looks and they are going to take a lot of convincing about how exactly the technology is going to change their motoring style and, perhaps most importantly in this segment, their on-road status.

The IS does have a fair degree of appeal. The entry-level Eco model has emissions of just 99g/km from the 2.5-litre petrol-hybrid powertrain that puts out 223bhp and - for the moment at least - incurs a motor tax bill of €180. Most drivers, however, are likely to opt for the S-Design version at €38,780 with a better road presence on 17” wheels.

The IS does represent an attractive package but is it - as has been claimed - a “game changer for hybrids”? It may be on the basis of price and energy savings but is that enough to capture the zeitgeist for drivers of a fairly conservative profile ? Hybrid vehicles take time to get used to and new drivers need time to establish if the car meets their expectations.

Anyone looking at the IS would be advised to look for a 24-hour test drive rather than the usual drive around the block. Homework and research on hybrid technology is also essential before you even meet a sales person.

The IS has been made longer and wider, which makes a difference to comfort and accommodation. It is certainly a much nicer drive than previous IS model and this time the boot space has been given a much-needed increase in capacity. Lexus makes much of the driving dynamics and the ride is much better than on previous Lexus models, as is the steering.

The interior has also been improved considerably, with a fairly dynamic look and feel to everything and the seats are very supportive and comfortable.

Hybrid, however, does not deliver any power rush. Even moving this car into sports mode won’t make it a thrilling competitor to what’s out there. The real benefit of a hybrid is in town when you are making the most of the electric motor. Those with longer distances to travel will wonder about moving over from diesel and the flexibility it gives.