• Low consumption and emissions for urban/suburban driving; smart interior; comfortable seats; generous rear legroom
  • Performance not as effortless as rival diesels; consumption not so convincing on open road; transmission drone; ride can be busy

7 / 10

Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
by Jez Spinks

Diesel power is out for Lexus – even in Europe – so its riposte to the economical mid-sized oil-burners from German luxury car rivals is the Lexus IS300h.

Hybrids are available in most other Lexus models, including the RX SUV, GS sedan and LS limo, but the IS300h is the first petrol-electric model to be offered in an IS model, which is now into its third generation since 1998.

Its status as the freshest variant of the all-new Lexus IS is elevated by the fact the IS250 and IS350 models both carry over their engines from the previous-generation released in 2005.

The Lexus IS250 sticks with a 2.5-litre V6 now a decade old, and the Lexus IS350 continues with a 3.5-litre vee-configured six-cylinder that at least swaps from the former six-speed auto to a new eight-speed auto.

The IS300h edges ahead of the IS250 in the power stakes – with 164kW produced collaboratively by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder ‘Atkinson cycle’ petrol engine and a single, rear-mounted electric motor.

That leaves the IS350 as the kilowatts leader, with 233kW.

Both the Lexus IS250 and Lexus IS350 are relatively thirsty for the segment, however. The smaller V6 model officially consumes 9.2 litres per 100km, with the bigger-capacity V6 closer to double figures at 9.7L/100km.

This is where the IS300h steps in.

Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review

Its efficient hybrid drivetrain brings consumption below 5.0L/100km at 4.9L/100km, with CO2 emissions of 113 grams per kilometre notably better than the IS250’s 213g/km figure and half the IS350’s 225g/km.

On paper, that puts the Lexus IS300h ahead of the most economical Benz C-Class (the 5.4L/100km C200 CDI) and in touching distance of the most frugal German diesel auto competitors – the 4.8L/100km Audi A4 2.0 TDI and benchmark 4.7L/100km BMW 318d (which drops further to 4.5L/100km with a manual gearbox).

Can the IS300h driving experience, however, match the renowned torque-driven driveability of the diesel-powered Germans?

The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that it lacks both the effortless throttle pick-up and mid-range oomph of, say, a BMW 320d.

The hybrid’s economy advantage slips out of the city as well, with our trip computer reading 9.2 and 9.3L/100km on two separate stints that mixed town, country and spirited driving. We’d expect diesels to be lower over the same routes, but the IS300h would have the advantage in cities and towns.

Even four-cylinder diesels from the Germans, especially Mercedes, aren’t that quiet, however, and at low speeds or light throttle the IS300h offers a hushed experience.

Refinement would be even better, however, if it weren’t for the characteristic drone of the drivetrain’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) that imitates a slipping manual gearbox clutch.

Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review

Drivers can flick a button on the dash to activate a so-called Active Sound Control speaker, attached to the firewall, that emits a sound mimicking engine induction noise.

It helps to mask some of the drone, though it can also be a slightly surreal experience because the amount of noise coming from the ASC doesn’t always correlate with the actual road speed.

The Lexus IS300h still provides smooth progress, though, and is capable of decent open-road space without offering accelerative excitement.

It’s also well balanced on winding country roads, and the steering is accurate, though this is not the IS variant that can challenge a 3 Series for dynamic honours. (An F Sport grade brings a sportier, variable suspension, which we didn’t get to test.)

The IS300h feels its extra weight over the petrol V6 models, and a brake pedal that – as is common to hybrids with regenerative braking – is overly firm and sensitive.

Ride quality isn’t in graceful Lexus tradition of old, either. A generally firm suspension set-up combines with the stiffer sidewalls of the run-flat tyres used exclusively on the hybrid variant of IS – to help create more boot space – to bring a busy behaviour to proceedings.

A comfortable driving position, however, is afforded by a multi-adjustable (electrically in F Sport and Sports Luxury grades) steering wheel and low-set seat.

Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review

Lexus has also successfully shrunken the interior design of the bigger Lexus GS for the new IS.

The bamboo trim of one IS300h Luxury model we tested certainly helped lift the cabin image beyond that of a mere base model – or one the could be linked with a product from parent company Toyota.

As we’ve come to expect from Lexus vehicles, options lists are short and standard equipment columns are long.

You can read our detailed Lexus IS Pricing and Specifications article for more details on which grades get which features.

Lexus’s Remote Touch makes its debut in the IS. The computer-mouse-aping controller on the centre console offers an alternative to touchscreens or similar menu-operating systems from other makes, though the joystick can still be a touch sensitive and overall it doesn’t feel as sophisticated or intuitive as BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI.

Out back, the 2013 Lexus IS addresses a key flaw of its predecessor to take on its German rivals in rear seat legroom.

Lexus has increased the IS’s wheelbase by 70mm in a body now 75mm longer, using 50mm of that extra space between the axles to boost knee space.

The company claims the new IS offers 170mm of clearance to the front seatbacks compared with 136mm for the A4, 113mm for the 3 Series and 104mm for the C-Class.

Lexus IS300h Review
Lexus IS300h Review

And there is indeed vastly improved space in the back for knees, with only headroom a potential issue for tall passengers.

The leather rear bench of the Luxury model was beautifully supple and angled sufficiently to provide good under-thigh support.

There’s also a bonus for luggage capacity. Lexus’s GS and LS hybrid sedans have compromised boot space and no split-fold rear seat arrangement due to the positioning of the battery pack.

Lexus engineers, though, have managed to store the IS300h’s battery pack under the luggage deck board, creating a 450-litre volume.

There are gooseneck hinges and the boot isn’t that wide, but plenty of depth makes it usefully sized.

With only 30 litres less than the V6 petrol sedans, the IS300h’s practicality isn’t as compromised as other Lexus hybrids are to their conventionally engine siblings.

If low fuel consumption is a priority, the petrol-electric IS300h is a no-brainer over the IS250 and IS350 that can use up to double the petrol use based on official figures.

That will also help recover the $3000 premium over the equivalent IS250, though in Lexus World that’s already a relatively small gap between a petrol and hybrid model.

As for external rivals, you’ll naturally get more for your money with the Japanese luxury sedan than its competitors from Germany, including a warranty runs a year longer (four).

The Germans still have the higher badge cachet, though, and the Mercedes offers a more cosseting ride and the BMW delivers a more sporting drive.

And all three serve up a good choice of petrol and diesel engines, the latter being particularly effective for the kind of fluid motoring that should be a requisite of any luxury car.

Choosing the Lexus IS300h over a comparable A4, 3 Series or C-Class, then, is a far from straightforward decision.

But the hybrid at least moves the game forward for the 2013 Lexus IS more than the petrol V6s do.

  Submit an Owner Car Review


Lexus IS300h Review
  • 7
  • 6
  • 8
  • 8
  • 9
  Submit an Owner Car Review


    “our trip computer reading 9.2 and 9.3L/100km”. I don’t know why the reading is so high. At the motoring forums around the world, with a huge sample size 99% of the people consistently get 4.5L to 5.5L/100km with the Camry 2.5L Hybrid.

    BTW hybrid tech can’t be compared directly with diesel. One is recovering lost energy through braking and reuse that energy, preventing wastage. One is alternative fuel to petrol. A hybrid diesel would have 30% – 50% fuel economy than a straight diesel, all else being equal.

    • Jase

      Imagine that the difference in fuel usage between Lexus and Camry hybrids may be due to extra weight in Lexus – more equipment etc

      • ABCDEFG

        The Camry 2.5L hybrid is close to 1600kg. The Camry 2.4L hybrid is about 1700kg. The Lexus IS300h 2.5L hybrid is around 1700kg. Not much in it.

        • top25

          100kgs is a lot.

          Funny how people are leaping to defend the poor economy figure here yet in the Commodore and Mercedes review people blast the brand for claiming “fake” figures.

          • Darryl

            It’s only a trip computer reading, so it could be inaccurate.

    • awal

      i’d say for the purpose of the review, theyre driven pretty hard – hence the high economy. They’d also be fairly new engines so the economy would get lower as the engine gets run in.

      • ABCDEFG

        Driven hard, that’s a grey area, depends. No reason why one could not get 30L/100km from any car just by sitting in the car with the engine on and fiddle around with the radio, powered chair and satnav for sometime. But that shouldn’t be how it’s done.

        Tons of reports of people getting 5L or 6L/100km from the new Camry 2.5L hybrids straight out of the dealers.

    • John

      I’m a hybrid owner, the high fuel consumption is probably from constant highway driving, a place where the hybrid equation doesn’t work quiet as well. You’ll only get good figures in city driving.

  • Nicholas

    Would be interesting to see the reviews fr the IS250 and/or IS350.

  • KiddingMe

    I call absolute BS on your fuel consumption figures for the IS 300h. Every other car review I’ve read for this vehicle is far below that! Not sure how CA manage these stupid fuel consumption figures.

    • http://www.bryanbyrtrenault.com.au/ Modern Man

      It depends on the actual road loop.
      Hybrids like Toyota use are not good on the open road or under heavy acceleration due to a smaller petrol engine doing most of the work.
      Case in point is i hired a previous gen Prius in Melbourne and drove for three days in the CBD for a usage of about 2l/100kms due to short runs and regen etc.
      However, once i drove to the peninsula and back to visit a friend in the navy barracks it soon jumped to near enough 10l/100 due to hills and freeway never turning the electric motor on.
      Diesels are better on the open road no doubt and would be worse in the city.
      Horses for courses as they say.

      • http://www.caradvice.com.au Jez Spinks

        Exactly, Modern Man – which is why I point out that the IS hybrid would reclaim the advantage in urban driving. As for the high average consumption figure a few of you aren’t happy about, I can clarify that this was derived from driving at 60km/h town limits and 80 to 100km/h main road limits, with about 30 per cent of spirited driving, as it were. Driving was also shared with another journalist who drove in a similar manner. It didn’t help that Lexus provided only a limited on-road driving program, and trip computers aren’t 100 per cent reliable. We’re already talking to Lexus about getting a hybrid to our HQ so we can get the real-world figures we prefer to provide.

        • KiddingMe

          Fair point. I hope Lexus provide. Would love to see real world figures over a few weeks.

        • Ernst

          Talk to people who buy diesels and you often discover the savings are eaten up with expensive repairs when the cars age. One friend of mine had to keep driving out on the freeway during non peak times to stop the DPF clogging. Diesel has been classed as a class 1 (the worst) carcinogen and the diesel pollution is going to be a scandal like asbestos. Diesel is dirty fuel. Petrol is more refined. Burning releases a lot fewer real poisons. And the complex and regularly failing technology in diesels can barely keep ahead of the regulations.

          • gq

            Makes you wonder why nearly every single commercial operator that does huge mileage uses diesel for their trucks, locos, ships.
            How do they make a profit when they’d be putting all their turnover into diesel repairs?

          • Ernst

            They factor in a certain amount of maintenance that the private owner does not. I was reminded of this by a chap who owns a fleet of 15 trucks. He has a planned replacement schedule for turbos and injectors. He pointed out that it is cheaper to replace a turbo in his workshop than to wait for it to fail, have the truck off the road, towing costs, delay the clients delivery. If the turbo fails in a big way and parts of the vanes break off and feed themselves into the engine then he is also up for a new engine. He employs maintenance staff, so it is all costed in to the running. Now the average motorist does not say to themselves I need to keep some money aside to replace the turbo at 100,000km.
            A friend of mine had the turbo fail on his Volvo and it cost him a new engine and turbo and labour $15,000.
            For trucks there is no alternative to diesel. For the motorist, there is. Petrol engines that are naturally aspirated are simpler, more reliable and have lower costs in the long term.

        • Zaccy16

          absolutely correct jez, hybrids are renowned for the city fuel economy but diesel have much better highway and higher speed fuel efficiency because of there low to mid range torque advantage, this means overtaking and high speed driving is much more relaxed so saving fuel

      • Dieseltorque

        Excellent response. Far too many people taking the fuel consumption label as gospel.

    • AndyGF

      Would you rather they lied? Just wondering…

  • Dieseltorque

    So a BMW 318d benchmark of 4.5L/100km drops to 4.5L/100km with a manual? Significant improvement I would say!!!

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au Jez Spinks

      Yes, fair cop, Dieseltorque – that first figure was meant to be 4.7 and is now corrected. Thanks

      • Dieseltorque

        We all make errors. The professional but committed responses from CA are why most prefer this site for our latest car fixes.

  • chir0nex

    Why comment on brand cachet? I dont think its for reviewers to comment and the 4 are level in my opinion – depends on the car in question.

    So when reviewing Hyundais, do you mention that the Japanese are a better brand? Of course you don’t.

    The inconsistent reviews are a headache on this website. I think you guys need a common image and better editing before it gets to the point that you might as well get freelancers in to write all your content.

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au Jez Spinks

      So, chir0nex, you don’t think luxury car buyers are ever influenced by brand image? Hmmm…

      As for your comment about Hyundais – nonsense. We frequently talk about how the South Korean brands have lifted their image in recent years.

      It’s all relevant – which is why we do comment on it.

      • chir0nex

        I never said I don’t deny that but i said its not a reviewers place to mention.

        Why? Because any consumer with an opinion can and will make that decision themselves. Whether subconciously or not, people will factor in how much they identify with a brand and thats not something a reviewer can say no more than “the blue colour doesnt look as nice as BMW’s blue”.

        If anything, by asserting such a comment you will serve to alienate some readers that disagree or even readers that would agree but object to being told how to think.

        And from a consumer point of view, anyone with a 320i or C200 is no more loaded than the next. They choose the base model that cost no more than a Lexus IS250 so why is it more prestigious? No one is obviously richer than anyone unless they’re driving a Bentley etc.

    • super_hans

      Youre not the first to notice it, the reviews are all over the place and Hyundai pretty much get a free pass on this website lately. They can do better

  • O123

    Looks great, Do we get the LFA style dials as an option?

  • F1orce

    9.2L/100km is what I’d also expect from mixed driving.

    Considering you’d expect above 12L/100km from the IS250 & IS350 V6 powered models.

    Which is about a 25% gain in fuel economy and a reasonable expectation from a Hybrid variant.

  • Dreday

    Wow such a bias review.

    I wonder how much the Germans are paying CD

  • X

    The fuel consumption reported does seem suspect. My RX450h (a much bigger vehicle) averages less than 8 L/100km around town and not a lot more on the highway. I’ll be interested to see what sort of “real world” figures are returned when CA get their hands on one for a longer period

  • RHCM

    I really like the styling…its different whilst still being sleek. Reminds me of new gen volvos.

    Shame about the rest…I’d probably still go german based on it’s cons. And from the pictures I prefer the euro interiors, though it is definitely the best lexus interior in ages.

    Anyway good work Lexus…they’ll be fun to have around me in traffic! I hope the new RX is similarly styled.

  • Observer

    Surely the diesel just released in the new Rav4 would’ve been better to compete with the Europeans? 110kW and 340Nm…

  • BigJoe

    I do not believe the fuel consumption numbers. I used to have a IS250 and it always averaged 7-10L/100km
    Maybe somefin wrong with that is300h?

    • Ernst

      I drove Philip Island to Melbourne in IS300h and was sitting on 5.3 until we got to the city and having gone though the city trip computer was down to 4.9l/100km

  • Ruqis

    Worse review ever. “It has good hinges” yet it’s alright for the s-class to have them?

    • chir0nex

      Exactly my point when i say inconsistent reviews!

      E-Class also have them and i’ve never heard anything negative about it on this site. Actually, maybe its only this site that has anything negative regarding ‘goose necks’ and only if they’re on certain makes (i.e Honda and Lexus but not Mercedes).

      These style of hinges actually liberate more space for a wider boot opening. If you want the other style, get a Mitsubishi Lancer.

  • Autoholic

    Nice car, but I’m not fully sold on the front looks.

  • Zaccy16

    Its a nice car this but this hybrid model with its cruddy CVT transmission and relatively low compared to diesel torque figures mean a diesel 3 series, a4 or especially c class is a better option, ignoring the fuel consumption the top spec is350 with sports package looks like a great car and a viable option to the germans ignoring fuel economy

  • Sheldon Scott

    I just tested drive the IS-350 in the USA and I think I’ll just go ahead and purchase it! In my opinion, it’s the best in the class.

  • GFC

    Incase anyone is still reading these comments… I have been running a IS300h for a month. With about 80% in the city and 20% on the freeway Im averaging 7.4l/100km so far. I have been driving it fairly aggressively in “Normal” or “Sport” mode most of the time.. so not sure how CA got figures of 9.2l/100km.
    I would also recommend anyone considering the car to drive it before discounting it because it has a CVT. The CVT isnt as good as a 8sp ZF auto.. but is pretty good. I have owned two VW’s with a 6sp and 7 sp DSG. The CVT absolutely kills the DSG’s for smoothness and reliability (touch wood).

  • croz

    Just a quick one, but how often or rather how long does the battery last for?
    also the replacement cost of the battery, anyone?