Lexus IS 300h F Sport review: Adding sports appeal to the economical hybrid
Sporty in all places but one
- Excellent fuel economy
- Well upholstered interior rich in features
- Attractive sports styling
- Engine is not as exciting as the body/interior suggests
- Voice control needs to be more accurate and contextually aware
Price$ 65,000.00 (AUD)
Two versions of the IS 300h are available in Australia. There’s the Luxury model ($57,000) and the F Sport model ($65,000), which is the model being reviewed by Good Gear Guide. The two cars share the same petrol-electric engine and are only separated by the premium model’s sporty persona.
Can a hybrid have sports DNA?
The F Sport certainly looks every part sporty. The front bumper is aggressively styled with the sharp design of the lights clashing against the car’s growling radiator grille. Angular side skirts lead into 18-inch chrome-black alloys. For all intents and purposes, this IS 300h has the cut of a sports car.
Subtle signs reveal its secret. The Lexus badge is tinged in blue and a ‘hybrid’ nameplate runs down its sides. The move most uncharacteristic of a sports sedan is the way Lexus hides the car’s exhaust; the two pipes require serious study for them to be seen behind the rear bumper.
The sporty bravado extends to the interior. The speedometer panel has been lifted from the LFA supercar and, when in sports mode, it works in the same way. Change gears and the ghost of the rev needle lingers in blue. The veracity of the LFA’s acceleration demanded that the speedometer be electronic. The hybrid engine in the IS 300h does not.
It is concerned more with fuel economy. Two engines work in tandem in an effort to achieve a quoted mileage of 4.9-litres for every 100 kilometres. A 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine is used most while cruising, roughly from 30 kilometres per hour and onwards, while a 650-volt electric engine is used when idle and to fill in the gaps when at speed. The combined engines deliver 164-kilowatts of power and it all goes to the rear wheels.
Hybrids are uncharacteristically quiet. It’s a relief welcomed in stop-start traffic, where the loss of an audible engine eases the daily grind. The experience is more confronting when turning the car on. You press a large ‘Power’ button and nothing happens. The only noticeable difference is with a light that reads ‘ready’.
The hybrid engine directly opposes what the styling of the F Sport sets out to achieve. Drive the car enthusiastically and it will feel as though the hybrid engine is running the last leg of a marathon. It feels out of its element; overworked and exhausted. This IS simply is not meant to be driven as aggressively as it looks.
Driving hard won’t be satisfying. Power delivery is on the sluggish side and throttle response is soft. The CVT gearbox works through each gear quickly and in short ratios. The quiet hum becomes a loud out-of-tune shriek; one similar to a karaoke singer failing to hit a high note.
The IS 300h is less about performance and more about commuting. We drove just under 900km on a single 66L tank and had enough fuel spare for almost another 200km. Our average fuel consumption was higher than that of Lexus’ quoted average at 6.1-litres for every 100 kilometres.
Only once did the hybrid battery run low and it was in heavily congested traffic on Sydney’s ANZAC Bridge. The car simply ran on the petrol engine for a little while and after five minutes of fluid driving, the battery was nudging full.
There’s no need to charge the IS 300h. Rather than letting energy go to waste when decelerating, it uses it to replenish the battery. The process is surmised by a ring that runs around the rev counter, which grows to match the intensity of your driving. Decelerate or brake and the ring will recoil into the ‘charge’ part of the gauge. Putting it front-and-centre is one way of encouraging economical driving.
This is how the IS 300h is meant to be driven. With a foot pressed gingerly to the throttle, music filling the cabin and in the comfort afforded by its leather-clad seats.
Lexus describes it as a small sized sedan, though the narrow car will seat five children or four adults. Slender proportions bode well in the corners as the car feels precise and agile around bends. The F Sport variant benefits from a stiffened chassis and adaptive variable suspension, which aid the ride as much as they do handling.
Foregoing lively driving is not without its rewards. The car tiptoes comfortably through towns. It’s well upholstered and rich in features, with collision sensors and a reverse parking camera. There’s a sophisticated infotainment system versed in connectivity, such as a USB port, Bluetooth, AV, DVD and auxiliary. The only chink in its armour is an immature voice control system, which suffers from the same gripes as the RC350 we reviewed last week.
There are two ways to look at the F Sport IS 300h. The first is that the engine lacks the kind of excitement promised by the rest of the car. People who take this car on a test drive and feel underwhelmed by the prospect of exceptional mileage should lean away from the hybrid and towards its petrol siblings.
The other way does the car more justice. Traditional hybrids look whimsically futuristic or generically bland. The IS 300h differs by bringing all of the appeal of a sports sedan to the recipe. It might not be the real deal, but it does mean you’ll have a good looking ride and still spend less time at the petrol bowser.
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