In my time with the 2021 Lexus IS300 F Sport, I conducted what is perhaps the ultimate test of a luxury car: driving a bride and groom home from their wedding night.
As it turns out, a picturesque countryside wedding location comes at the cost of transport access, so yours truly was tasked with ferrying the happy couple (and the mother of the groom) home along rural roads at 1:00 am.
In many ways, the Lexus IS300 was the perfect car for this task. In many other ways, it was not.
Of course, the facelifted sports sedan certainly has an appearance worthy of a bridal chariot – particularly with my test car’s red leather-appointed interior (available at no extra cost).
And yet, the limited back seat space, lack of all-wheel drive and lower ride height weren’t ideal for my very specific set of circumstances.
It’s perhaps a testament to Lexus, then, that when we made it back to the hotel, the groom was fast asleep in the back seat.
But while my front seat passenger (the groom’s mother) was more than comfortable and grateful for the dual-zone climate control on a chilly country early-morning, my 190cm-tall husband was less than impressed with his leg room and elbow room in the rear and grappled with claustrophobia and muscle cramps the whole way home.
That’s despite my dainty middle-seat occupant – the blushing bride – occupying the absolute minimum amount of cabin space possible.
Meanwhile, I simply returned home with a newfound appreciation for automatic high-beam headlights.
A large amount of my week with the IS300 took place outside of Melbourne – a fitting situation given I had plans to review this car from the perspective of a well-heeled buyer with wanderlust, a country home and high expectations.
Heading to several scenic country locales amid varied weather conditions and with a host of different, discerning passengers turned out to be the ultimate luxury obstacle course, and the perfect proving ground for a car that's attempting to straddle both the practical and posh end of the spectrum.
The F Sport is the most well-equipped version of the IS300, and is priced from $70,000 before on-road costs, with a comprehensive equipment list to match.
There’s a single option pack available – adding a moonroof, 17-speaker sound system and electric rear sun shade – but my test car came in its purest form.
Under the bonnet of the IS300 is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that drives the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Meanwhile, the cheaper IS300 Luxury starts at $61,500 before on-road costs,. You can have a hybrid powertrain from $64,500 before on-road costs in the IS300h, or a more powerful 3.5-litre V6 engine in the IS350.
IS300 competitors include the ever-popular BMW 3 Series, which starts at just under $71,000 before on-road costs, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which has a starting price of $66,300 before on-roads, or the most affordable option – an Audi A4 from $55,900 plus on-road costs.
I’d also add the Alfa Romeo Giulia into the mix, which kicks off from $63,950 before on-road costs.
I personally love the simplicity of having only two spec grades, and I’d suggest that the only extra worth splurging on could be the fancy Mark Levinson sound system. The standard 10-speaker offering doesn’t quite provide the surround-sound immersion experience I’d hoped for.
Revised for the 2021 model year, the Lexus IS300 is now longer, wider and boasts larger 19-inch wheels as standard on F Sport grades – giving it an overall more imposing, muscular look.
While it’s not as insanely beautiful as the LC500, the IS300 certainly has wow factor on tap in the interior, where two swanky displays – a central 10.3-inch screen and an 8.0-inch driver display – show an impressive start-up sequence and possess plenty of party tricks.
The tachometer on the driver’s display, for example, can be shifted from left to right depending on your preference.
The central screen is, mercifully, touch-controlled and closer to the driver – so while Lexus’s pesky touchpad persists, you now have the option of bypassing it entirely.
Thank God, because I find using the touchpad while driving as challenging as patting your head while rubbing your stomach. I just don’t have the mental coordination.
|2021 Lexus IS300 F Sport|
|Engine||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power and torque||180kW at 5800rpm, 350Nm at 1650–4000rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.2L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||10.0L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2016)|
|Main competitors||BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Alfa Romeo Giulia|
|Price as tested (before on roads)||$70,000|
|Servicing costs||$1485 for three years of coverage|
During my first trip out of town in the IS300 – to the windswept wineries and bespoke bakeries of Victoria’s Yarra Valley – I was immediately struck by how smooth the ride is.
Typically, in a sports sedan so low to the ground, I’d expect to feel jarring bumps through the cabin, but the IS300’s supple suspension cancels out speed bumps and potholes to a surprising degree.
I’ve driven rear-wheel-drive sports sedans before, and while they’re a lot of fun, I’ve invariably felt a little nervous behind the wheel (you can read my panic-stricken Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review here).
That’s not the case in the IS300 – it’s really moderate and even-handed in its distribution of power, although you are likely to get a small amount of tyre slippage on looser surfaces or when the steering is on full lock.
However, once I got up to speed on the 110km/h freeways snaking around the vines, I did find I craved a bit more aural excitement and oomph.
While the Sport S and Sport S+ modes change the driver display to be a little racier, and the augmented exhaust note to be a little more pronounced, neither delivered the boost to behind-the-wheel dynamism I was craving.
The steering, however, is well balanced and equally as capable manoeuvring around town as it is handling sharper bends while touring the wide open spaces of wine country.
Gear shifts are handled deftly and effortlessly via the eight-speed transmission – with a manual shift mode option for those who crave it accessed via paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
An excellent panoramic-view monitor with surround-view cameras and front and rear sensors, plus a relatively neat 10.4m turning circle, are heroes around town.
For a sedan, visibility is actually impressive, with well-sized mirrors and an ample rear windshield giving you a clear view all round.
After returning from the Yarra Valley, my next journey out of town in the IS300 was the 276km round trip to Nagambie, the location of the aforementioned wedding.
With biblical rain on the drive down, the IS300 certainly had its work cut out for it. While I had no traction or handling issues despite the lack of all-wheel drive, the automatic wipers were on the lax side and required human intervention.
While the boot isn’t small at 480L, it’s not very tall, so you’re limited to storing things that are on the flat side.
We struggled to get a baby bath in there due to its unique dimensions, but we were able to get an entire boot’s worth of weekender baggage stowed away without much wiggle room: two overnight bags, a suit bag, a garment bag and two shopping bags.
I found the driver’s seat – which is heated, cooled and electrically adjustable with lumbar support – comfortable enough, but my much taller husband complained that he felt his knees would occasionally get in the way of the steering wheel.
Active cruise control is immensely capable and easily managed through a stalk on the steering column, while lane-trace assist is certainly a welcome feature on longer drives.
The IS300 also scored five stars for safety from ANCAP back in 2016, and the standard safety equipment from the base Luxury model is extensive and well executed – the F Sport grade merely adds a panoramic view monitor.
Immediately after the wedding ceremony, which took place in direct sun, I retreated back to the Lexus to cool off before the reception and was incredibly grateful for the effective dual-zone climate control and seat ventilation.
Front-seat passengers won’t have complaints about leg room or head room, but I did wish there was more cabin storage in the front.
While there are cupholders, door bins and a large centre console, there’s no convenient little dish to put your keys or phone in, so I found I often ended up storing my belongings on my lap.
The back seat is a little less welcoming to passengers, particularly if you have a full house. While the deep, sloped seats certainly maximise head room, leg room is quite dependent on how tall your front-seat occupants are.
Sitting three across is very cramped, with no elbow room to speak of, and the angle of the seats makes getting in and out challenging – particularly for elderly passengers.
Overall fuel economy upon my return home from Nagambie was 10.0L/100km. That’s after two solid days of extra-urban driving, the majority of it spent in Eco mode with active cruise control engaged at speeds of 80–110km/h.
That’s a fair way above Lexus’s quoted combined-cycle figure of 8.2L/100km, substantially more than the quoted extra-urban figure of 6.3L/100km, and a little more reflective of the quoted urban figure of 11.5L/100km.
In short: it’s thirsty. And given it drinks 95 unleaded at a minimum, it might cost you at the bowser.
Speaking of ownership costs, Lexus offers scheduled servicing as of 2020, but the maximum period is only three years. Each annual service will set you back $495 a pop, or a total of $1485 for three years of coverage.
That’s a good option, but it would be better if that extended beyond three years. Same goes for Lexus’s standard four-year, 100,000km warranty, which is better than most of its European rivals, but still below the five-year term offered by mass-market manufacturers.
What’s more enticing is Lexus’s recently expanded Encore program, which offers IS owners perks like a complimentary loan car while their vehicle is being serviced, complimentary towing, and access to special events and premium fuel discounts.
So, is the 2021 Lexus IS300 F Sport your ideal weekend road trip companion? Yes – if comfort, refinement and convenient luxury are high on your list.
It might not be as ballistic, or engaging, as some of its competitors, but there’s an accessibility to the IS300 that’s really appealing – as long as you’re willing to sacrifice some cabin utility.
My advice would be to first trial the hybrid for better fuel economy and more refinement, or to give the IS350 a test drive if you crave a bit more lunacy in your life.
Alternatively, you could save some money by opting for some of the IS300's less obvious, more mass-market competitors like a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or Mazda 6 – but that's as long as you're happy to forego that wedding-car-worthy sparkle.