With the IS300h, Lexus has been able to transform a somewhat boring aspect of motoring into something both smart and sexy
You have to hand it to Lexus’ amazing transformation over the years.
The brand has evolved from simply smart, to stylish, and sporty, but is now genuinely sexy. Their alluring, mysterious designs are very modern Japanese but at the same time give various hints and nods to classic Japanese art with their subtle yet very complex folds and creases. The spindle grill in particular is mesmerizing and hypnotic to look into.
The current IS platform, Lexus’ champion in the highly competitive compact executive sports sedan segment, is supposed to duke it out with the BMW 3-Series, the Merc C-Class, the Audi A4 and the Jaguar XE. It’s at a disadvantage in Europe, has level playing field in the United States, but has an overwhelming advantage in the Philippines because of the JPEPA perk. ‘
The 3rd generation IS, internally designated as the XE30 has had three minor model upgrades since its launch in 2013, where we had the pleasure of driving it hard at the then newly-opened Clark International Speedway. In 350 F-Sport trim, it was a real joy behind the wheel, a willing sports sedan that wasn’t too hardcore unlike a BMW 3 Series with the M-Sport package, yet its virility. It had the same comfort as the Merc C-Class, but with better features at that time, and the same cutting edge styling on par with the Audi A4, but with the same air of exoticism of a Jaguar XE. All the while having the panache of a mighty 2GRFE V6 under the hood.
I’m proud to say that in its latest guise, none of its charms and talents have diminished, and have only aged like fine wine through the years. It’s still as sharp, agile, responsive and comfortable to drive, despite riding on gorgeous 19-inch alloy wheels and ultra high performance tires. Clearly, sporty still remains high in Lexus’ priorities in this segment.
But what’s interesting is the hybrid component. Yet again, the brand has been able to transform a somewhat boring aspect of motoring (for the typical petrol-head), into something both smart and sexy: the efficiency mated with the IS300h’s overall smoothness is like an endless wafting sensation. We took a night drive down south and covered almost 200 kilometers in one evening while the missus and I enjoyed a good conversation while looking at prospective neighborhoods to move to down south someday. The clean, cool and crisp air, matched with lush greenery in Laguna and Cavite heightened the mood. Perhaps the IS300h is for those looking for a mature spot of smart and sexy?
The engine is Toyota’s 2AR-FSE 4-cylinder direct-injected 16-vale twin-cam mill that delivers 181ps and 221NM of torque while the electric motor provides an additional 143ps and a very enjoyable 300NM of torque. It’s tricky to quote a combined peak figure for Hybrids because peak power and torque occur at different RPM’s. Suffice to say, the permanent magnet synchronous electric motor fills the 2AR’s lack of low-to-midrange grunt, making you feel like the IS300h has easily 150-200 Newton-meters more of torque all the time. A continuously variable automatic transmission delivers steeples smooth motion, driving the rear wheels. And yes, there’s a good amount of swagger from the rears, just to remind you that you’re driving a proper sports sedan.
The latest update sees a new spindle grill design, a new front bumper, the aforementioned larger 19’ wheels with 235/40R19 tires, and at the rear, a new tail lamp that spans the entire length of the car, for added visibility at night. Inside, the infotainment system comes with an 8-inch display and Apple CarPlay is included. Lexus’ proprietary surround sound hi-fi is standard, as is a power sunroof to add a bit more ambiance to an already special interior. I like the fact that Lexus’ steering wheel and column align perfectly with my shoulders, which allows you a perfect alert yet relaxed arm and shoulder position. Too many ‘sports cars’ have less than optimal steering wheel and column positions for proper long-distance and / or dynamic driving; the steering wheel is either too low or too high relative to your arms and shoulders even with reach and rake adjustment. Lexus made a big deal about this fact during its launch.
On the open road, the IS300h drives like butter especially on blacktop. The steering feels a bit nervous past 100km/h but it’s probably in need of an alignment. The tires were a tad noisy too for a Lexus but gave excellent composure at speed. AT a steady 90-100km/h, the Lexus would provide a very credible 20-22 km per liter with two adults and a dog on-board but would jump immediately to 25-27 km per liter at 80km/h. The problem is, at 80 clicks, you really risk falling asleep at how serenely the IS300 cocoons you. The tri-beam LED headlights truly cast a powerful eerie glow on the road, even when we were passing through deserted farm lands on either side with no other traffic. The brakes are amazingly powerful and get assistance from the charging capabilities offered by regenerative braking from the hybrid system, and the ride smooth but with the firm reassurance one expects from a proper sports sedan, hybrid or not.
Cars that aim to be technological tour de forces are sometimes overwhelming, devoid of aural sensation and focused simply on wowing the occupants based on specification. The IS300h is a veritable technological achievement, not for the technology, but how Lexus has captured and distilled the spirit of passion and emotion in such a technologically advanced car.
A car enthusiast through and through, Botchi Santos believes that different people have different needs. He tries to find the best car for a specific audience, and spruces things up by delving into car culture, helping make the local car community vibrant and enjoyable for all. His passion for motoring is built around a belief that cars are among the top three life purchases.