Urban myths abound as to how Toyota’s engineers and their marketing types originally came with the name for what has become Japan’s best selling premium, nay luxury, car brand: Lexus.
Some say the name is derived from LE which refers to Luxury Edition, and US, as in USA – their biggest market. Others claim it was actually 80’s advertising gurus Saatchi and Saatchi, together with image consultants Lippincott and Margulies that came up with the name. After developing a list of prospective monikers that included the likes of Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis, it was Alexis that soon became the favorite. The realization that their preferred choice was also the name of one of the lead characters in the now legendary US “drama” series that was Dynasty, meant Alexis was swiftly altered to become Lexus; or so the story goes. Shaky sets and urban myths aside, the official line is the brand name has no specific meaning, it simply denotes a luxurious and technological image.25 years after it was first used on the luxury flagship that was the LS400 few we wonder would argue with that, especially when faced with the latest Lexus offering; The IS300h.
Aimed squarely at the likes of BMW’s 3 series, the new Mercedes C-Class, and Audi’s now ubiquitous A4, the IS300h, complete with it’s mixture of origami-sharp creases and sensuous curves, as well as a pinched “spindle” grille a la Lexus’s very own LFA supercar, does appear to be on first impressions at least, the very essence of the consummate executive saloon.
Entry is keyless, and a glance inside only echoes that sentiment. Heated soft leather sports seats, a thick-rimmed multifunction steering wheel, piano black trim, touch sensitive controls for the dual zone air-con, and even a very BMW-esque I-Drive-like “mouse” that controls everything from the DAB to the sat-nav, (which incidentally has the ability to perform Google Street View searches) are all to be found. And, needless to say, being a Lexus the quality of the materials used, and the way everything has been laid out and screwed together is utterly impeccable.
It’s only when you press the large blue Start button to the left of the dash that you realize that in the IS300h, power-plant wise, it’s not exactly business as usual. Whereas Lexus’s European contemporaries would choose to fit a 2.0 litre 4 cylinder diesel motor in a bid to keep power and performance up, and emissions and all-important (well in this class anyway) BIK tax charges down, the Japanese solution is altogether different.
It’s the “h” that makes all the difference: The IS300h is a Hybrid. Lexus readily admit that they don’t have the same oil-burning expertise as their main (read German) competition so instead they’ve fitted a 2.5 litre four-cylinder petrol mill and coupled it to a 105kW electric motor. The engine runs on the Atkinson cycle, uses direct injection, and lots of friction reduction technology too, and has been designed work best at medium revs allowing the motor to do the rest. 0-62 takes 8.3 seconds, CO2 is under the magic 100g/km threshold and the claimed combined mpg is a diesel rivaling 64.2.
Ask yourself: What’s not to like?
Well for starters the IS300h is just too quiet. The engine doesn’t even fire until you’ve reached 20mph, so when you select drive and release the foot operated parking brake, first thing in the morning it feels like you’re free-wheeling off the drive. When the engine does wake up, because it’s mated to a CVT transmission rather than a more conventional automatic, it seems to rev of its own accord, rather than obediently following your commands, an idiosyncrasy that’s only amplified by a delayed the throttle response.
On the whole despite such attributes as beautifully weighted and direct steering, rear wheel drive, brilliant brakes, and a supremely comfy yet reassuringly taut ride, as a driver you never feel totally involved. And for the first few miles at least, strangely disconnected. I’m all for a little serenity on the daily commute, but for my tastes at least, the IS300h takes things a little too far. The fact that I never managed more than 39mpg during my week’s tenure of the IS300h probably didn’t do it too many favours either.
As undeniably attractive and beautifully constructed as the IS300h is, it’s not without its flaws. Yes, it does offer something different both in appearance and mechanically, and it’ll certainly cut a dash rather than just simply just blending-in when it’s parked outside the office or where business cars really matter – on the gravel at the Golf Club. Once you’re behind the wheel though it leaves you feeling a little numb.
For some the IS300h will offer an unrivalled blend of technology and engineering, yet for others that exact same blend makes it feel rather soulless. If like me you prefer to feel like you’re actually drive your executive saloon rather than just simply riding in it, then the more conventional offerings of Bavaria will probably mean much more to you than the Lexus IS300h ever could.
Engine: 2494cc, 4Cyl, 16V Petrol Hybrid with 650V 105kW synchronous motor
Transmission: Epicyclic CVT. Rear Wheel Drive
Power & Torque.
Engine: 181bhp @ 6,000rpm, 163lb ft @ 4,200rpm
Motor: 143bhp/221 lb ft.
Total system output 223bhp
0-62mph: 8.3 sec
Max Speed: 124 mph
MPG: 65.7 combined. (SE Only)
CO2: From 99g/km (SE Only)
VED Band: A
Price: from £24,495