It's had positive reviews up and down the country, but does the third generation Lexus IS range cut the mustard with the lady of the house? June Neary decides
Will It Suit Me?
The IS range was always one of Lexus' best selling models. The original two versions transformed the Lexus franchise and put it in direct competition with the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Audi. But this car remained a minority choice in that company. Still, the Lexus IS has its supporters - and will have more in the third generation guise I tried. As before, it's one of those cars that can appeal to either gender. It isn't too masculine like other executive models and is sought after by many male and female business users. What attracts so many Lexus buyers is the lack of stigma that is attached to the marque. Someone has always got something to say about BMW and Audi drivers but Lexus drivers are lucky enough to remain stereotype-free.
Lexus have opted for a refreshing style direction and this MK3 IS no longer looks like the clone of one of its European rivals. It encompasses a fine chiselled outline with a clean and modern exterior that will really help Lexus break the lucrative compact executive market. You can see the lineage from the basic proportioning of the second generation car but everything is sharper, tauter and more muscular than before. It's a striking piece of metalwork. The front end features two different front grille treatments - a more sedate take on the Lexus spindle grille in the SE, Luxury and Premier trims and a bolder mesh grille on the F Sport variant. One area that was rarely questioned on old IS models was equipment provision and the latest car nails home its advantage yet further.
Behind the Wheel
This car was as refined and classy as I would expect a Lexus to be - even a small one. You choose between a petrol engine and a petrol/electric hybrid in the LS, RX and GS model lines - and now you do the same with the IS. So, as well as a direct-injection, four-cylinder, 2.5-litre petrol unit in the IS 250 that offers an attractive opening price tag, there is also an IS 300h petrol/electric variant. This has a 2.5-litre petrol engine paired with an electric motor and looks set to be the mainstay of the IS range. The suspension and steering have been revised to improve how the IS drives and there's a new Drive Mode Select system that allows the driver to choose between Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport S modes. Cars that have Adaptive Variable Suspension have a fifth mode - Sport S+.
Value For Money
Lexus isn't looking to take on the Europeans in the numbers game and the importers point out that the IS model's comparative rarity will do residual values no harm at all. Plus, with prices ranging between around £26,500 and about £40,000, the asking prices are competitive for the class. Lexus customers never go short of equipment and even the entry-level IS has a quota of extras that can put German rivals to shame. You might want to upgrade the SE's 16-inch alloys but otherwise, it's doubtful you'll be disappointed with the Drive mode select system (with Normal, Eco & Sport settings, plus an additional EV mode on the IS 300h), cruise control, a smart entry and start system, dual zone air climate control and power-fold heated mirrors. Then there are HID headlights with dusk sensing, eight airbags, a DAB digital radio with Bluetooth connectivity and 60/40 split fold rear seats on the IS 250. That makes the sticker price of around £26,500 for the IS250 seem remarkable value compared to a BMW 320i Luxury, which gets a smaller 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and still costs over £2,000 extra.
Could I Live With One?
Once, when debating over a BMW 3-series or a Lexus IS model, most buyers would without a second thought have raised the extra cash and plumped for the BMW. With this third generation IS, they will have a tougher time deciding. If you like your cars without the stigma attached to the marque, then this Lexus offers the perfect solution.