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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


Lexus makes bold statement with facelift IS

With the radical rework comes a hybrid exclusive heart.


Taking or doing something to the extreme defines exactly what it means without the need for fancy or clever sounding adjectives. In simple terms, going all out with no expense spared; a philosophy Lexus has more than taken to heart with the updated IS.

While fundamentally the same generation that debuted seven years ago, the restyle shown last year was such that it nearly classified the IS as all-new model. It therefore resulted in the obvious popping-up; can it finally take-on the Germans?

Back to the past

The IS story is of course well-known. Unveiled in 1998 as Lexus’ smallest offering, it strode the line between sporty and luxurious, the former certainly resonating with the Altezza RS sold in Japan wearing a Toyota badge as Lexus only entered the market of its parent company in 2005.

Lexus

Elements of the Supra and even discreet Tesla Model X details are evident at the rear.

Bar a few filtrations from the norm like the IS F and more recently, the IS 350 F Sport, the IS in general has erred on the conservative side with luxury and comfort, in-line with the Lexus ethos, playing a more prominent role à la Mercedes-Benz C-Class rather than sporty and dynamic synonymous with that other German, the BMW 3 Series.

With the updates though, emphasis, arguably like the original, has squarely been placed on the sporty side again… from a visual standpoint at least.

Who are you calling conservative now?

Having already been in “transition mode” from staid to eye-catching before the update, the extensive rework by equipping the IS with Lexus’ latest Spindle Grille, redesigning the headlights, widening the front and rear track and swapping the 17-inch alloy wheels for 18-inch wheels has resulted in something that looks aggressive but stunning.

Lexus

Despite losing out on the sportiest exterior fittings, the EX served-up the biggest surprise.

Even more eye-catching is the rear facia which draws hints from the Supra in the design of the bootlid, a trait that offsets what is likely to be the biggest disappointment of the IS we will come to later.

The visual eye-candy is taken a step further by the F Sport which receives a sinister gloss black grille, model specific 19-inch black alloy wheels, black accents, an F Sport bodykit and a gloss black finish for that bootlid.

Lexus

Lexus IS300h EX rear view

Compared to its exterior, the IS’ interior appears untouched, but incremental changes have taken place, the biggest being touch sensitive functionality for the new 10.3-inch infotainment system despite the retention of the much maligned mouse-like touchpad.

Yes, the ‘H” word

At the official launch, which centred around the northern suburbs of Johannesburg before blasting into the Cradle of Humankind, two of the three models in the IS line-up were provided; the entry-level EX and the mentioned F Sport with the only non-starter being the mid-spec SE.

Reclining into the cabin, the only way to get into the rear as the sloping roof leaves almost no headroom, and pressing the starter button provides the third hint of the IS not being all it seems; the first being the chrome badge on the lower door sill that reads “Hybrid” and the second on the bootlid that says “IS300h”.

Lexus

Regardless of the trim level, the IS line-up now boasts hybrid power only.

Starting with the IS, and in keeping with the move towards electrification, Lexus has thrown its support behind hybrid powertrains with the axing of the previous petrol powered IS300 and IS350, leaving the IS300h as the sole variant across the three mentioned trim levels.

It is a move that comes unstuck when out on the open road, especially in the F Sport where the desire to have one’s senses assaulted with the sonorous soundtrack of a V6 is characterised by a quiet and then screeching combination of a 2.5-litre normally aspirated petrol combined with an electric motor that produces 164 kW.

Lexus

IS F Sport’s interior boasts a number of colour options, including the racy Flare Red.

Paired to a CVT, the arrangement has its merits; quiet and smooth at slow speeds, before becoming strained and erratic when approaching the national limit.

As fun as it is tracing the workings of the system on the hybrid monitor located within the infotainment system, the combination dilutes the sporty persona the IS encapsulates on first glance, as the engine’s lack of punch and up-and-down CVT questioned Lexus’ billing of the IS as a ‘driver’s car’ rather than a luxury compact exec wanting to be sporty.

A ride that surprises

More spot-on is the ride in not only the EX, but also the F Sport. Akin to floating rather than driving, the suspension soaked up imperfections with such aplomb that despite being switched to Sport S+ mode in the F Sport, the Adaptive Variable Suspension didn’t harden the ride up at all as no crashing sensation was felt at any stage.

Lexus

Mode selector in the F Sport, the only model to feature the Sport S+ setting.

It was however the EX that impressed most as it felt noticeably more eager than the F Sport from the get-go, even in Comfort mode, while offering more than enough spec, the same floaty ride and the typical Lexus built quality of soft touch plastics and premium materials.

Conclusion

As thorough as Lexus has been with the IS, the notion of it being solely offered as a hybrid is unlikely to garner universal appeal from buyers leaning more towards the sporty side in a rapidly declining end of the market.

Lexus

F Sport rides as standard on model exclusive 19-inch alloy wheels.

Despite its value for money factor brought on by the extensive specification list and promise of improved consumption, its arresting looks, brilliant ride and customary Lexus interior has been blighted by a disappointing drivetrain that threatens to undo the efforts of what should be more than a left-field entrant floundering at the feet of the German hierarchy.

Lexus IS pricing

All models comes as standard with a seven year/105 000 km warranty and maintenance plan.

IS 300h EX – R841 300

IS 300h SE – R899 900

IS300h F Sport – R916 100

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