The 2018 Lexus IS300 Sports Luxury feels like it’s been around forever, and with good reason too – it has been something of a mainstay for some time on the Australian new car market. And while you rarely step into a Lexus and feel like it’s bang up to date in technological terms, there’s a quality, comfort and luxury feel to every Lexus model and the way they drive.
The IS range is something of a sweet spot in the Lexus model portfolio too – it's the perfect city-size sedan – and feels light enough on its feet to deliver a fun drive when you’re in the mood. It’s useful, practical and solid as a rock, and that’s before you get to the competitive pricing.
The IS300 range comprises Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury, all with 2.0-litre engines. Pricing starts from $59,340, $67,191 and $77,751 all before on-road costs. Our tester has premium paint, adding $1500 to the price, for a total of $79,251 before on-road costs.
Given that pricing, and with the knowledge that like any Lexus the IS is packed with standard kit, you can immediately see the Lexus call to arms.
It’s a sports-focused sedan with more luxury and standard equipment than any of the European alternatives, which is incredibly well built, rides beautifully, handles capably enough and has a broad spread of pricing. Don’t forget there is the IS300h and IS350 as well to round things out.
The infotainment system can’t match the best available or segment leaders, but standard equipment is appreciable: a new 10.3-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation headlines the cabin inclusions along with DAB+, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, active cruise control, powered steering wheel adjustment, leather upholstery, powered front seats, heated and cooled front seats, LED headlights, LED tail-lights, LED DRLs, auto high-beams, auto wipers, rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitor, 10 airbags and autonomous emergency braking at both city and highway speeds.
It’s a long list, even longer if we were to include everything, but it’s standard for Lexus. Pack the value in and buyers will come in droves. As they have been in Australia for years.
It doesn’t end there, though. That list above is across all three model variants of IS300. If you step up to the range-topping Sports Luxury variant, you also get adaptive suspension, 18-inch wheels, lower-profile rubber, wider rear tyres, sportier seats, three-position memory for the driver’s seat, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, sunroof, and an electric rear window blind.
The IS gets a sweet 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine backed by an excellent conventional eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s 180kW on offer, and 350Nm, while the ADR fuel-usage figure is 7.5L/100km.
We used 10.9L/100km on test, primarily in Sport mode – a long story, which I’ll explain in a minute. Go with Eco mode and that usage will be lower, but there is some method to our madness.
The cabin is typically Lexus in both luxury and execution. It’s comfortable, quiet, and aside from the stupid foot park brake, it’s near perfect. Oh, there is one other annoyance – nowhere convenient or smart to put your mobile phone, except for using one of the cupholders. It’s a silly oversight at a time when everyone has a smartphone, and in a car like the IS, you’d prefer somewhere safe – and smart – to store it.
I love cooled seats in a climate like Australia, and the IS also has heated seats for winter. The seats themselves are another Lexus strong point – incredibly comfortable and beautifully sculpted. You’ll knock over long drives on the highway with ease behind the wheel of the IS. Visibility is excellent and everything about the drive experience is exceptional from inside the cabin.
The infotainment system and the way in which you control it are out of date and annoying, but the new, larger screen is good. We’ve explained in every other Lexus review why we don’t like the infotainment system and why it should be more up to date, so we won’t go into it again here. Suffice to say, it’s nowhere near the segment leaders and at the very least needs Apple CarPlay/Android Auto to compete.
The back row is tight if you have particularly tall occupants up front, but the IS can work well as a family vehicle too, with enough room for teenagers in the two outer seat positions in the second row. You sit down into the bench enough, too, that it feels almost as sporty in the second row as it does up front.
Given the model designation is Sports Luxury, you’d half expect the IS to deliver on both counts. Luxury is pretty well catered for with any Lexus, and of late the Japanese brand has been pretty serious about catering to the sports market as well. And that’s where the driving modes come into play…
There is an Eco mode, which is the default driving mode each time you start the engine. Stop/start works well enough in traffic and isn’t as slow to crank back up as some, but not quite the equal of the very best we’ve tested. Regardless, it works well enough that you’d be happy to have it working away as a fuel-saving measure in traffic.
Eco mode isn’t quite so useful. It dulls the throttle pedal down to the point it’s annoying whenever you need to accelerate with any kind of urgency. There’s a doughy, lifeless feel to the pedal, and you have to flatten it against the firewall to get the engine working at all. So much so that I switched over to Sport at the very least – Sport+ beyond that if you want – every time I drove the IS.
Fuel usage will go up a bit, obviously, but the snappier feel, sharper engine response and more purposeful driving experience more than make up for it.
Despite the 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres, Lexus has once again tuned a suspension package that makes a mockery of poor road surfaces. It’s comfortable, solid, and rarely affected by the road surface beneath it. It rides the way you’d expect a luxury sedan to, and can also tackle corners with some competence if you head toward a twisty country road.
The steering and brakes are both excellent too – working well around town at low speed, and just as proficiently at highway speed once you leave the confines of the city behind. There’s a constant feeling of solidity and quality to the IS driving experience no matter where you are.
It’s covered by the usual Lexus four-year/100,000km warranty.
The Lexus IS300 is, quite simply, an excellent sports sedan for the daily grind. It rides beautifully, handles well enough even though most owners won’t ever properly hook into it on a twisty road anyway, and feels like it’s incredible value for the money.