LEXUS IS (2012-2016)

By Jonathan Crouch


Saloon – IS 300h - 2.5 petrol/electric hybrid / IS250 – 2.5 V6 petrol / IS 200t – four cylinder 2.0 turbo


When Lexus launched the third generation IS saloon in 2012, it had a simple mission. It needed to be a car that potential buyers would enjoy owning more than a Mercedes C Class, an Audi A4 or a BMW 3 series, the three leading choices in the compact executive saloon segment. That was a tough objective, so in trying to realise it, the Japanese premium brand tried to get away from merely copying the winning Teutonic formula in this sector, primarily through offering petrol/electric hybrid power rather than the kind of 2.0-litre diesel engine business buyers were used to. It proved to be a refreshing approach for people in search of something just that little bit different.

* The History

Here’s an interesting car, the Lexus IS. For many potential buyers, its main appeal lies not in what it is but in what it isn’t. Namely a BMW, an Audi or a Mercedes, these being the three Teutonic heavyweight brands who dominate the compact executive saloon sector in which this Japanese contender competes. If though, you want something that reinterprets what a car of this kind should be, then this, we’d suggest, is where you need to start your search.

With the first generation version of this IS model, launched back in 1998, Lexus messed around with different bodyshapes. With the MK2 design of 2005, the brand dabbled with diesel power. When this third generation arrived in late-2012 though, you sensed that at last, Lexus was more comfortable in itself, content to concentrate on its strengths. Sure enough, almost everything about this IS proved to be different, the styling, the single saloon bodystyle, absence of manual transmission and, perhaps most notably, the fact that now,, there was no diesel engine on offer. Instead, buyers were offered a unique four-door look, an auto gearbox and an overwhelming emphasis on petrol/electric hybrid power with its sensible running costs and limo-like silent start-up.

Buyers who didn’t like hybrid power were offered a conventional petrol engine alternative, first a 2.5-litre IS 250 V6 model, then, in 2016, a replacement four cylinder petrol turbo IS 200t derivative. This car is primarily a hybrid product, that powertrain key to a unique approach we nearly didn’t get. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and what we ended up with was much more than that – a car intended to change your mind: about hybrid power, German brand domination - and Lexus itself. The original version of this third generation IS sold until early 2016 when it was replaced by a facelifted version.

* What To Look For

We really struggled to find too many dis-satisfied Lexus IS owners. Not that we expected to find many. The brand has an enviable reputation for reliability and dealer service and that appears to have been continued here. We did come across a few reports of drivetrain vibrations. On the IS 300h models affected, this apparently sets in between 1,200 and 1,400rpm, so look out for that on your test drive. We did come across a couple of owners who complained that on one occasion, their 300h models wouldn’t start. In one of these cases, this was because the car had been left for a few weeks. Finally, in one instance, an owner reported a problem with the auto wipers not working. Otherwise, there’s little else to report.

* On The Road

When the original version of this third generation IS was launched in 2012, Lexus offered an IS 250 variant featuring a conventional petrol 2.5-litre V6 with 204bhp. This was replaced by a more efficient 245bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo IS 200t variant in 2015. The IS 250 is a pleasant enough thing, with decent refinement and crisp acceleration that’ll see you to 62mph in 8.1s en route to 140mph – but you’ll almost never see one. These days you see, few people buy thirsty V6 petrol engines in cars like this – which is why the UK importers never offered the 3.5-litre V6 variant that was available in the States.

So forget conventional petrol power in this car and focus on the version of it that buyers from new almost all wanted; the IS 300h petrol/electric hybrid. Unlike the brand’s slightly smaller CT 200h hybrid model, it’s more than a smartened up Toyota Prius, instead based on a proper large Lexus, the BMW 5 Series-sized GS 300h. True, the 2.5-litre engine used may only offer four cylinders but it does develop 178bhp, with a further slug of power contributed by an electric motor, resulting in a combined 220bhp output. That’s enough to easily match the performance of the rival 2.0-litre diesel models at which this car was aimed.

The ride’s good too, even if you choose a variant fitted with 18-inch wheels and the F Sport model’s firmer suspension, with enough suppleness about it to cope with our hopeless road surfaces. Plus the stability control system is one of the best in the business, intervening gently and almost imperceptibly. Get this car on a test track with all its electronic aids disabled and you'll find a chassis that's as playful and talented as you'd expect for a car that's enjoyed thousands of hours of honing around that infamous bit of tarmac in Germany. As good as anything in the class? We’d say so.

* Overall

Thinking of buying a compact executive saloon from the 2013 to 2013 period? Well, maybe you need to try this car. It looks right, it feels good and it makes eminent sense on the balance sheet.

Nothing else in the compact executive saloon segment from this period is quieter, cleaner, better equipped and as affordable to tax. Add in the arresting looks and a dealer network routinely steeped in praise by every survey going and it all adds up to a car that, for the right kind of buyer, might prove to be a very desirable thing indeed.