Up until now, people that call themselves petrol heads have treated the Lexus brand with a certain degree of scepticism. Sure enough they were able to give us cars that were well crafted and utterly reliable. They were brimming with kit and powered by silky smooth engines. But something was always missing. Whether it was design that was too bland or contrived, or handling that lacked spirit the Lexus was something of an ‘also-ran’. But this has all changed dramatically. This year’s GS300 is a fantastic car to drive and the only car that could persuade us out of a BMW 5-Series.
The new GS was our Car Buyers Guide Large Executive Car of the Year. Could the new IS do the same thing? This is a remarkable car to look at and that is for many executive buyers in this segment a hugely important starting point. Cars in this segment are talked about and boasted about like no other. The golf club car park becomes a gladiatorial arena where specs and horsepower are traded like sword strokes. These cars are as much about image and what they have as their technical ability. The BMW 3-Series has been the car to choose in this segment because it was as beautiful to look-at as it was to drive. But in applying caution to the designer’s pen this time around, the new 3-Series has lost some of its edge. They made it a little too tame. But the Lexus is stunning. It is edgy yet elegant, with its tight panels gaps, prominent wheel arches and muscular stance.
The L-finesse design which has become the design signature of Lexus is eye-catching whether in motion or at a standstill. This car is bigger than before, stiffer than before and finally looks the part. And then you get into it. The inside is a masterpiece. Everything Lexus have learned not to do from the mess that was the interior of the previous car has been applied. The plastics are better, the controls are beautifully made and the use of wood is discreet rather than trashy. Quite quickly after starting the car you are aware that you are in the most refined car in its class. It is like mixing the feelings you get in a Mercedes with the clinical “Bang & Olufsen” feel you get in an Audi. T he IS250 V6 was the first car we sampled at the launch and the noise from the engine; or rather the lack of it was astonishing. The 250 uses a 208bhp 2.5-litre V6 power plant and our test car was mated to an automatic transmission with paddle shift functionality, which actually worked very well. But the real fuss has been over the arrival of the first diesel car from Lexus. The firm always said they would only introduce a diesel to the range when one that was refined enough became available. But with diesel sales in mainland Europe now in the majority in the segment the pressure was on.
Thankfully the 2.2litre engine, which has already appeared in another form within the Toyota range, provided the perfect starting point for the Lexus unit. With 177bhp and 400Nm of torque this is the most powerful diesel engine in its class, that of course being the 1.9-2.2litre range. And this quiet and refined 2.2-litre diesel will return 6.3 l/100km or 44.8mpg.That is impressive. But unlike some turbocharged units that give you a whoosh of power, the Lexus engine lacks that sense of urgency. Anyone used to kick-in-the-backside diesels will be waiting in vain. This is all about quiet and refined progress. Plus Lexus choose to mate the IS220D to a manual gearbox, rather than the automatic that this car is crying out for. The handling is accurate and poised but a touch uninvolving.
Perhaps in keeping the car so quiet they have muted out some of the fun. But this is easily the most refined car in the segment and Lexus has done an incredible job with this new car. It is going to appeal to a new breed of customers to the brand because not only is it going to win new customers, thanks to its stunning looks and the addition of a diesel engine, but existing customers will flock to the new car too.
The new car is 175mm longer and 75mm wider than its predecessor, with a track increased by 40mm to the front and 60mm to the rear.
Torsional stiffness, increased by 20% over the current model, is achieved by extensive use of high tensile steel sheeting throughout the bodyshell, allied to a brace installed between the front attachment to the rear sub-frame and the front door reinforcement.
With a drag coefficient of just 0.27, the new car is one of the most aerodynamically efficient cars in the segment
The new Pre-Crash Safety system (PCS) available on the IS 250 uses a millimetre-wave radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car and to determine, in advance, whether a collision is unavoidable. If the system determines that this is the case, it will pre-emptively activate the PreCrash front seatbelt pretensioners and simultaneously prepare the emergency Brake Assist.
The entry level model boasts a comprehensive standard equipment package that includes a Smart Keyless Entry System, driver and passenger front and knee airbags, side airbags and curtain shield airbags, electronic climate control, electric windows and electric heated door mirrors, improved absorption and dissipation of kinetic energy. The standard audio system in the IS has an impressive 13 speakers and is iPod compatible, but here is also the option of a breath taking Lexus Multimedia and Navigation System. It comprises the new Lexus navigation system, the Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound System and the Lexus Parking Assist Monitor.
Engine 2,231cc 4-cyl, 177bhp,
Boot Capacity 378 litres
Acceleration 0-100km/h 8.9secs
Top speed 215 km/h
Price €43,790 (available January)
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Economy 6.3 litres/100km (44.8mpg)