Lexus IS 300h F Sport review – Mid-Priced Luxury Petrol-Hybrid Gets Head Start Over Rivals

Luxurious & comfy interior, good ride all-round, quiet cruiser, superb hybrid system, head-turning looks, fair price

Outdated sat-nav graphics, some not-so-nice interior trim pieces, not as fast as it looks

Lexus IS?

Lexus IS 300h F Sport

In 1998, the first generation Lexus IS (pronounced I.S., not ‘is’) was launched, as an entry level into their range. I didn’t like it then, and I still don’t like the first-gen version. It just didn’t appeal on any level. To me, it was never Lexus-like enough, too far away from the luxury you associate the manufacturer, while the square-edged styling looked immediately dated to me, even as soon as it came out. That era are now known as a reliable but dull second-hand car with little to no personality.

However, now we’re onto the third generation IS, and things have changed for the better. Sporty and edgy exterior styling go with a luxurious interior, once again making sure the L in Lexus stands for luxury. We were sent the Lexus IS 300h F Sport for review, to find out if that’s actually the case…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

Lexus IS 300h F Sport

If Lexus’ designers of the IS 300h F Sport were striving to make the car look dynamic, sporty and yet expensive, then the IS 300h F Sport certainly fulfilled that role. In that way, the IS shares similarities with the Jaguar XF 3.0 Supercharged Portfolio I reviewed, and it is a real head-turner. From the very first journey I took in the IS, I noticed drivers would speed up or slow down to take a look at the Lexus, and pedestrians crane their heads around to view the car as it passes them.

While the IS is already a decent-looking car in SE, Luxury and Premier specifications, the F Sport is much more purposeful. The F Sport’s chrome-edged ‘spindle’ 3D front grille is very avant-garde, and further pokes the already notably-aggressive and sharply-cut front end right into your vision. A hunched and muscular bonnet slides down in a V to that big grille, while razor-sharp cuts form the light clusters blade-thin LED running lights below.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport

The tough overtone of the F Sport’s face is finished well by the gunmetal-coloured 18″ F Sport wheels, which, although not filling the arches completely (19″ or 20″ would do that better), they still allow a comfortable ride. Certainly the better way to go than fitting larger wheels resulting in an overly-firm ride.

Rear view of the Lexus IS 300h F Sport

A glance at the rear three-quarter of the IS F Sport and you’ll notice the sills next to the back wheels flick up and out. Only a small touch piece of design flair, but it makes the view far more interesting than a standard straight piece would. This also acts as a leading line for the edge of the rear bumper, where the panel gap reaches up to the sharp back lights. I’m 50/50 on the look of these, as were a few others I talked to. While they fit in with the car, their slightly weird design looks a bit… melty, if I’m honest. But then other times I simply like them.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport

What I am one hundred percent on is the lower cut-out sections of the bumper, which actually act to provide downforce at the rear. All said, my thoughts are that the Lexus IS 300h F Sport is good looker, with the combination of high-end marque and sheer sporty bellicosity done in just the right amounts.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Lexus IS 300h F Sport interior

Open the door to the Lexus and you will find an immediately impressive-looking cabin. One which was apparently inspired by the Lexus LFA supercar, and when you view the images of it, there are absolutely elements of the LFA within the IS 300h interior. For example, the flat-topped dash which cuts underneath itself to the glove box looks similar, as does the long, high centre console and thin satin-silver finished air vents. If it’s related to a supercar in any way, then the IS F Sport is already cool in our book.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport front seats

Slide yourself into the drivers hugging F Sport seat, and straight away that, plus the almost snug close-quarter surroundings make you believe you’re going to be driving a sports car. A few people who’ve sat inside the Lexus say it’s a bit like piloting an aircraft as all the controls surround you and are highly driver-orientated.

After a few minutes sat in the passenger seat, one of our testers made an observation. He said the interior is like the inside of managing director’s briefcase. After a short and bemused silence, I thought about this and concluded that to a degree they are correct. The reason? That everything in the cabin is high quality, made of good materials and it’s all very well designed and neatly laid out. But the fact remains that whilst in its approach Lexus has done a superb job in these departments, there is still very little soul to it all. A bit like a nice briefcase.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport review front passenger seat

You’ll note as soon as you open one of the weighty doors – as any good luxury cars have – that this is a real Lexus, well-deserved of the badge, and while for the most part the interior is a good place to be, there are some things that I wasn’t so keen on. Let’s get the critical stuff out of the way first eh. Firstly, the main central panel for the heating controls does not look too good in the plastic it’s made out of.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport heating controls

It just doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the car, as everything else looks nice, and the materials well-chosen, this cheap looking plastic for the centre console appears out of place and there’s not a good look considering you are paying a premium price for this car. This plastic panel reminds me of the stuff on the Citroen DS5 I reviewed, as the interior on that car is a very nice and yet spoiled by the cheap-looking plastic buttons.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport door

I’m also not keen on the analogue clock in the Lexus, as it reminds me of a tawdry Next (as in the UK store) watch. Finally, myself and others thought the satellite navigation graphics were completely outdated, and looked like they’d been taken from an early sat nav device. In fact, the navigation side of things as a whole was ungainly and awkward to use, and I’m surprised Lexus went with it, as it really is rather terrible.

Aside from those three points, I think the Lexus IS cockpit is a rather pleasant place to be. This is clearly a high end car, and the surprising £34,000 pricetag suggests that is the interior shouldn’t be as nice as it is. Possibly my favourite feature is the LFA-inspired digital dials. Press a button on the steering wheel and the whole centre dial slides mechanically across. This is super cool and never fails to impress. Once the dial has moved you come then select from various screens showing the audio on the satellite navigation and also fuel economy.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport review screen modes meda radio MP3 SatNav hybrid system

Instead of a normal touch screen system for 7″ media system there’s a small joystick for controlling whatever you need to on it. It’s easy to use for the driver, and the screen is clear and crisp and the graphics are up to date and modern (aside from the Pac Man sat nav, that is). The media system also includes DAB radio, bluetooth for phonecalls and music, plus it’ll connect to WiFi if you can get in range of a signal, and importantly, the sound from the speakers was utterly brilliant.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport joystick

The heated and cooled front seats in the Lexus are decidedly comfortable, and on a long journey we could not find any problem at all with the comfort level. Any passengers I had found the rear seats – or the side ones at least – to be decent. Room in the boot is 450 litres – much more if you drop the rear seats. That’s plenty for a couple of suitcases and large bags.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport review rear leather seats 2

I think this Lexus IS F Sport delivers on three fronts. One, that it feels sports-car like. Secondly, it has a good comfort level. And thirdly, that it doesn’t disappoint on the luxury side of things.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport review boot space

Overall, I really liked the IS 300h F Sport interior. For a £37,000 car, it feels really high end and much more luxurious than the pricetag suggests. Can this new IS be considered a ‘real’ Lexus though? Absolutely.

Engine & gearbox

The IS 300h has a petrol hybrid unit powering the Lexus. On the engine side of things, there’s a naturally-aspirated 2.5 litre, four-cylinder, dual VVT-i, DOHC unit putting out 178 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 163 lb ft (221 Nm) of torque between 4,200 and 5,400 rpm. While you’re more than likely thinking that that’s a rather weak attempt in a car that looks as sporty as this, there’s also the electric motor generator to take into consideration.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport petrol electric hybrid engine

The permanent magnet, synchronous motor is a 650 volt system giving 141 bhp and 221 lb ft (300 Nm) of torque, and a total system output figure of 220 bhp (when both petrol and electric motor are in use together). While a 0 – 62 mph time of 8.4 seconds won’t exactly set your heart racing, the IS 300h gives very respectable ‘rolling speed’ acceleration, and while this is a smooth process over harshness, a glance at the speedometer shows the 300h F Sport is no slouch, and its 125 mph top speed is decent enough as well.

The batteries for the electric motor are charged from either the engine when it is running, or from regenerative sources during deceleration and braking. The battery level gets topped up extremely efficiently, and I was impressed at just how quickly you can go from just a couple of bars to nearly full. Obviously the system must work just as good as Lexus’ engines do then, and surely it’s partly a sign of both high-end technology and a quality system. For more information on the Lexus hybrid systems, I’d recommend having a gander at this official Lexus Hybrid page.

Official E.U tested fuel consumption UK miles per gallon figures state both urban and extra urban as 57.6, and combined as 60.1. These are more than slightly optimistic, and in reality you’ll be getting around 40 – 45 mpg on a motorway run, and should you be driving hard in Sport mode, you’re looking at mid-20’s. However, a short twenty minute stint on 30 and 40 mph routes in a careful driving style in Eco mode saw the electric motor cutting in and out a lot, easily returning 50 – 55 mpg averages.

Finally, you will be as shocked as I was to find out that you’ll pay just £20 per year in vehicle tax. Yes, I triple-checked this. 109 g/km CO2 equals just twenty quid for 12 months!

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

Lexus IS 300h F Sport

The Lexus IS 300h F Sport can be a supremely relaxing place, when you need it to be. There is absolutely a feeling that you are driving a luxury car, especially on a cold, rainy night when you’re cosseted in the heated seats, gliding silently in EV mode (full electric) along deserted, drenched roads listening to some Miles Davis. Relaxing, would be the word for that. The overall feel-good sense I had driving the IS didn’t leave me even once during the week I had the car on test. I’ve already mentioned it, but the Lexus IS 300h F Sport genuinely does feel more expensive than it actually is.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport steering wheel F port badge

With any hybrid car it must be very very well put together when running in electric mode. This is because with no engine sound to hide the little noises you wouldn’t normally notice, even the smallest of rattles or squeaks from loose trim etc will easily be heard. In my mind, the Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid I tested set the benchmark for electric-mode silence, as they had a dedicated sound-deadened room to test the car in – and it absolutely showed. Up against that high reference point, the Lexus did equally as good I believe.

The Power Control Unit, which controls what driving mode you want has Eco, normal, and Sport, as well as a button for EV (all-electric) driving. In Sport, the Lexus turns into a beast. Both the electric motor and the engine work together to produce a hell of a high amount of torque. Put your foot down and you’ll hit a kind of stopper, but push it past that point and the IS 300h finds its second wind, before sprinting forward with glee.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport review Power Control Dial.

There is an exhaust noise through the speakers should you want it too, as the Lexus doesn’t produce goose-pimple making sounds of its own accord. The speaker sound is not the noise of a four-cylinder hybrid, but that of a big V8 engine, oossibly from the Lexus LS-F. I am a traditionalist and always prefer the sound of a real exhaust note, but I was (almost) won over with this one. It has a wonderfully warm burble under hard acceleration, and decelerating there’s the (digital) popping and crackling of a sports exhaust system.

Acceleration when in sports mode is really a very good. The power is put down well, and although the 0 to 62 mph time is a fairly tame 8.4 seconds, this is actually a decently quick car once you’re rolling. From 50 mph upwards the IS 300h F Sport gather momentum quickly, the acceleration strong, and though it’s not brutal you’ll see a decent-enough surge and the speed readout figures will flit upwards swiftly .

Lexus IS 300h F Sport steering wheel and console dials

Suspension and handling set up is a good combination of sports and comfort. Push hard on a winding road, and there’s enough in it to have some fun, while a long motorway cruise will see the Lexus flow beautifully over even poor sections. On a side note, noise into the cabin is minimal and the IS 300h is very well insulated from any outside din, allowing chilled-out long-distance trips.

Should you give the accelerator a good shove from a stop and turn in hard at the same time, chance are the back end will try to step out. This will almost immediately be curbed by the stability and traction control electronics to stop things going awry, but I found it to be a little too harsh though, killing almost all acceleration without hesitation. You can turn the traction off, but I’d rather a system that let a little bit of wheel slip with the driver aids still on to save your bacon if things get out of hand.

Lexus IS 300h F Sport.

The auto gearbox is described by Lexus as a ‘Hybrid drive transmission, incorporating Electronic – Continuously Variable‘. I found a positive and slight negative aspect to it, with the good point being its super-fluid changes are barely noticeable, if you can tell at all, while the not-so-good are that when using the paddles shifters, the Lexus is very specific and annoyingly bossy in when it will let you down-shift, and even when I let the revs drop to where I would normally assume I could change, frustratingly it still wouldn’t. This takes away a lot of the joy that downshifting brings, and makes the car feel unemotional towards the more spirited driver.

One more thing. The switch from the electric motor driving the car to the engine doing the job is utterly superb, almost seamless, and the engine can virtually not be heard, apart from when it’s not been long started from cold. It’s only what you’d expect from a Lexus though, if I’m honest.

Price

While I personally think that the £33,495  (or £37.5k with options on this one) asking price for the IS 300h F Sport is decent, what else can you get for the money? You could have a BMW 328i M Sport Saloon for £34,455 before options, which’ll do 0 – 62 mph in 5.9 seconds, and puts out 245 hp and 530 Nm torque. Or, you could have a Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4MATIC for £32,500 before options, and makes 0 – 62 mph in 6.6 seconds and puts out 211 hp and 350 Nm torque, or at the IS 300f F Sport’s spec’d end of the scale, a Volvo S60 T6 Geartronic R-Design Lux with 306 hp and a 0 – 62 mph time of 5.9 seconds for a shade over £38,000.

However, the above aren’t true competitors, as the Lexus is a hybrid vehicle. Really, there’s currently only one rival to the IS 300h, and that’s the 2014 BMW ActiveHybrid 3, which has a 3.0 litre straight-6 cylinder engine and a0 – 62 mph time of just 5.3 seconds, but it starts at over £40,000 for the base SE model. So, if you want a sporty, luxurious hybrid, and your budget is below £40k, the Lexus is the only one to consider.

2014 Lexus IS 300h F Sport verdict & score

Lexus IS 300h F Sport review

Overall, my thoughts are that that the Lexus IS 300h F Sport was designed for the driver who wants sporty-sensible. The IS 300h F Sport is simply not quick enough in its acceleration or sufficiently nimble to be truly called a sports car, and there’s no rorty exhaust note save for the computerised ones through the speakers, and finally the overly-nannying electronics for the gearbox downshifts and stability control.

What the Lexus does offer on the sensible side of things are the surprisingly moderate price tag, a decidedly good hybrid system, the fact that impressive fuel economy is achievable without really trying hard, a ride quality that reminds you constantly just why you bought a Lexus, the head-turning exterior design, and a cabin which although lacking in character, makes up for with a high comfort level, superb build quality and a satisfying feeling that you are piloting something a little bit special.

Do you own a Lexus IS 300h? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8.5
Interior  8
Engine  7.5
Hybrid system  8
Gearbox (auto)  7
Price  7
Drive & ride  7.5
Overall Score  7.5 / 10 

  Specs

Model (as tested)  2013 Lexus IS300h F Sport
Spec includes  Cruise control, dual climate control, heated & cooled front seats, 7″ multimedia system with remote touch, rear-view camera, 18″ F Sport alloys, HID Bi-Xenon lights. Safety; 8 airbags, ABS, BAS, EBD, hill-start assist, TPWS, TRC, VDIM, VSC  See specs for more
Options you should spec  Leather seats with heating & cooling: £2,300. Lexus Hotspot (for WiFi): £350,
The Competition  2014 BMW ActiveHybrid 3: from £40,000
Price  (Jan ’14) As tested: F Sport £33,495 and £37,500 with options. IS 300h from £29,495 to £38,495.
Engine  Naturally-aspirated 2.5 litre, four-cylinder, dual VVT-i, DOHC + 650 volt permanent magnet, synchronous electric motor
Power, Torque, CO2  178 bhp at 6,000 rpm, 163 lb ft (221 Nm) of torque between 4,200 and 5,400 rpm. + 141 hp (105 kW) and 300 Nm (221 lb ft) electric motor | CO2: 109 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Rear wheel drive + AWD on demand | 6-speed electric CVT gearbox
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 125 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 8.3 seconds | 5-star Euro NCAP rating
Fuel economy (UK mpg)  Urban: 57.6, Extra urban: 57.6, Combined: 60.1
Weight (kerb)  1,720 kilograms (3,792 lbs)
Websites  Lexus UK, Lexus USA, Lexus International

Check out our other car reviews here

Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Jason FanthorpeMatthew Davies

Leave a Reply