My disappointment with the Lexus IS 300h

A short while ago, I attended the launch of Lexus’s new IS range. Located at Bruce McLaren racetrack in Taupo, it was a great event that got me behind the wheel of the new improved IS cars as we conducted various exercises and whizzed around the track with 200t’s and F-Sports. However, I didn’t get enough time with the 300h Hybrid – thanks to Lexus; this has just been rectified.

From a powertrain point of view, the 300h has a 2.5L and two generators (one for starting and the other to drive the front wheels). Being hybrid it runs on both fossil fuel and Nickel-metal Hydride battery (that sits under the boot floor) and combined they deliver 164kW, a satisfying 0-100 time of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 200kph. During high revs, the sound from the 4 cylinder is a little uninspiring but as you can see, the results just fine.

In the looks department, the new IS is less expressive than other Lexus models which in my opinion is far more appealing on the eye. With its dark metallic paint; the spindle grille seems more compact, the headlights are squinty but blend in beautifully with the flow of the front and are underlined with the hook designed daytime running lamps. Along with a strong shoulder line, the IS’s profile has swoosh theme that starts at the sills below the driver door and flicks up to join the angular ’Layered L’ rear LED lights. Like I said, the design cues are more subtle but really attractive.

The interior has a more regimented appearance but still modern and very upmarket. All the controls are readily accessible and seldom require hunting for with luxurious and tactile materials. The sports seats are body enveloping and haptic controls mix in well with more classic dials. Infotainment (including a powerful stereo, reversing camera, Sat Nav etc) is presented via a full colour screen and the instrument cluster is clear and informative with a mixture of analogue and digital display. However; the Eco driving indicator had me double check the actual indicators, the green EV car logo flashes up on the instrument panel and I thought I was accidentally indicating right.

The push button start up is in the ever confusing ‘silent electric’ mode. I’m sure if I drove a hybrid or full EV all the time I would get used to it but I can’t seem to shake the need for a fossil fueled roar – it just feels better that way. Gear selection is via the leather and brushed chrome crafted knob, foot pressed parking brake (yes it did catch me out) and I was off.

Not surprisingly, the IS 300h feels and drives like the prestigious Lexus sedan that it is. Yes it’s silent on slow acceleration but the engine kicks in very quickly when needed (and disappears just a rapidly when not). It’s a car that you feel instantly at home in and from a family (or executive) point of view, it’s roomy and plush. Around town it will juggle power sources and gears (via the ECVT) without you giving it a second thought and out on the open road in sport mode it has the ability to give you quite the engaging ride. With its low centre of gravity, cornering is great and steering feels precise and responsive (but does lack a little bit of road communication).

To me, Hybrids are less of a lifestyle interference, you don’t have to (even subliminal) stress over range and you don’t have to go hunting for a wall socket whenever you park. The power sound diagram on the cluster lets you know when the petrol pump or the brakes are feeding the battery or the battery is powering the wheels, all while the conventional fuel needle barely moves – which brings me onto what irked me about this car.

The IS 300h looks great, is luxurious, embraces the environment and actually drives/handles very well – So, why the disappointment? Basically the petrol tank. Over the time I had it, I managed to rack up more than my fair share of kilometres. Plenty of commuting and a couple of long runs (one included a trip from Auckland to Hamilton) but the petrol gauge needle barely moved. I generally like to return cars with only a sniff of fuel left, (it shows I’ve used it) so imagine my disappointment when I returned the (4.9L/100k) IS 300h Hybrid with nearly three quarters of a tank left!

Tsk Tsk I really must try harder when road testing a Lexus Hybrid.

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