Comfortable, conservative, solid – three words that describe the 2020 Lexus IS300 Luxury mid-size sedan. It’s been around a while, the IS, and now in its third generation (XE30) that made its debut way back in 2013. An all-new model can’t be too far away.
For now, though, those wanting a luxury mid-size sedan without European roots and who like large spindle grilles, then this is it.
There are just three IS300s in the range – Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury. Pricing starts at $59,340 plus on-road costs for the Luxury grade we have on test here, jumps to $66,707 for the F Sport, before topping out at $77,022 for the Sports Luxury. All are powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four with outputs of 180kW (5800rpm) and 350Nm (1650–4000rpm). An eight-speed conventional automatic transmits those outputs to the rear wheels for a sombre dash to 100km/h in seven seconds flat. Middling.
And that’s the best way to sum up the IS300. It’s a middling car – neither outrageously fast nor glacially slow. It’s somewhere in the middle.
Lexus’s key differentiator in a segment where buyers are spoilt for choice – think BMW 3 Series, Merc' C-Class, Audi A4, Jaguar XE and the Johnny-come-lately Genesis G70 – has been its list of standard inclusions and a distinctly short options list. Our tester came with a $2500 panoramic roof and $1500 premium paint for an as-tested price of $63,340 plus on-roads.
You get plenty of IS300 for that money, with key highlights including heated and cooled leather seats, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, a 10.3-inch infotainment screen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth, DAB+ radio, CD and DVD player, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights and daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, and push-button start.
Slide inside the cabin, and it’s easy to see why Lexus has built a reputation for quality. On the surface, the cabin exudes a plushness befitting its status as a luxury mid-sizer. The seats are comfortable and supportive, with good bolstering.
The multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel is suitably chunky, as is the gear selector. Analogue dials frame a 4.2-inch driver display offering limited mirroring functionality from the main infotainment screen, but infuriatingly, no digital speedo. There’s no head-up display either. Another minor gripe is Lexus’s persistence with using a foot-operated park brake – clunky and antiquated tech in a modern car.
It’s not all doom and gloom and minor gripes, though. The materials inside the cabin are top-notch. Yielding surfaces abound with softer touchpoints everywhere you’d expect, plush carpet mats that feel as nice under-foot as your grandma’s lounge room, and just a general sense of quality throughout.
On the downside – and yes, we’re harping on about it yet again – the infotainment system is controlled by a stupid mouse-like pad that is overly sensitive, meaning you skip over menu items repeatedly trying to land on the right one. And, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet, despite Lexus rolling them out in other models. Grrr.
The screen resolution, too, is adequate at best. It's a gripe that translates to the rear-view camera, which doesn’t offer the clarity and sharpness of some rival brands.
Hop into the second row, and it’s immediately apparent this is an occasional five-seater. The transmission tunnel that divides the rear cabin is amongst the biggest we’ve seen, making the middle pew a compromise at best. That said, the outboard seats are comfortable, although space is a bit on the tight side in all areas – toe, knee, leg and head room.
There’s a fold-down armrest with a couple of cupholders, and there are air vents back there, too, although no separate controls for temperature or fan speed. You’re at the mercy of the front-row passengers for your heating and cooling requirements.
The boot is on par for the segment at 480L with the back row in play. Those back seats fold in 60:40 fashion to free up space. There are some handy tie-down hooks back there, too, while a space-saver spare lives under the boot floor.
Where the IS300 starts to shine is out on the road. Not in terms of out-and-out performance (it’s no sports car), but certainly with regard to quietude and solidity. Make no mistake, it’s quiet inside the IS300’s cabin. It's a plush and cossetting experience, which has become a trademark for Lexus over the years.
The ride is beautifully damped and insulated – even some of Sydney’s worst stretches of road failing in their assault on the cabin and its occupants.
The 2.0-litre turbo four does an admirable, if uninspiring, job. There’s enough poke from its 180kW and 350Nm to ensure you’re not sluggish off the line, while the eight-speed auto makes a decent fist of changing ratios for you. It can be caught out occasionally, though, finding itself either a gear too high or too low, but those moments are rare.
On the highway, the IS300 barely purrs along at 110km/h. It remains quiet in the cabin, which is all the more reason to enjoy that 10-speaker Pioneer sound system that is pretty decent for clarity.
Around town, the IS300 feels light on its feet, and that translates through the steering wheel that errs on the light side. But then, this ain’t no track carver, so feedback through the wheel isn’t so paramount. Still, some weight in the tiller wouldn’t go astray. Makes for a light and easy parking experience, though.
There are three drive modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport – that alter the IS300’s characteristics. A little. Eco dulls down throttle response and is, frankly, a bit sluggish. Comfort is as comfort does, while Sport, supposedly a more exciting option, does little to dial up the IS300’s sportiness. Unlike the jump from Eco to Comfort, the step from Comfort to Sport is barely noticeable. Leave it in Comfort is our tip.
ANCAP awarded the IS range a five-star rating back in 2016. As well as a complement of eight airbags to protect all occupants, there’s AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, plus the mandatory acronyms (ABS, TRC etc). The Luxury grade misses out on blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, though, with those only available from the F Sport grade up.
Lexus claims the IS300 will get by on 7.5L/100km of 95RON unleaded on the combined cycle. Frankly, that’s laughable, as our week of mixed driving conditions with the mid-sizer returned an indicated figure of 12.8L.
Unusually, the Japanese brand warranties the IS300 for four years/unlimited kilometres, an extra 12 months over its Euro rivals. There’s also four years of roadside assistance, while servicing intervals are 12 months/15,000km. Lexus’s capped-price servicing program asks for $495 for each of the first three visits to the workshop. And thanks to the brand’s Encore program, Lexus will come and pick your car up for its scheduled service, provide a loan car, and then return your IS300 all washed and vacuumed, too.
If your premium motoring tastes run to plush quietude and an unruffled drive experience, the Lexus IS300 could be the one for you. It’s solid, dependable, comfortable and a bit conservative. Sure, it has its flaws, but they are mostly minor (although we couldn’t live with the fiddly toggle for the infotainment system long-term).
What Lexus has done, and continues to do, so well is build comfortable, premium cars that want for little in terms of equipment and prestige. It might not be the most exciting luxury mid-size sedan on the market, but it fills the brief just fine.