Fun. Agile. Exciting. We could hardly imagine using these words to describe a Lexus just a few years ago, but here they are, adequately defining the new 2013 Lexus IS.
It’s the dawn of a new era for the cardigan clad and pleat trousered Japanese brand. Since taking over the helm at Toyota, CEO Akio Toyoda has been instrumental in injecting the automaker with fresh ideas and an increasingly exciting lineup that has long eluded the brand.
Toyota has now confined the beige cardigan and pleat trousers to the back of the wardrobe and instead put on a multi-yarn V-neck knit and a pair of hippy jeans. And for Lexus, it finally knows how to have some fun.
The third-generation Lexus IS range is the largest yet in Australia, comprising the IS 250, IS 350 and for the first time, the all-new IS 300h hybrid. Prices start from $55,900 for the IS 250 Luxury, and work its way up to the fully-loaded $84,000 IS 350 Sports Luxury tested here.
Design and Comfort
This is the first Lexus IS that truly has a sense of occasion in its design. There is the commanding three-dimensional ‘spindle’ grille flanked by Zoro-slashed headlights, and flare rear haunches that never fails to grab one’s attention.
While the slender taillights, complete with L-shaped light guides, are classy to look at, the swooping rocker panel will no doubt polarise opinions.
Scratch beyond the surface of the crisp new lines and it is apparent that even more effort has gone into developing the all-new chassis. The third-generation IS’s body is more rigid than before while achieving a 10kg weight saving, despite growing in size. Its width may have only grown by 10mm, but its wheelbase has been stretched by 70mm, 50mm of which is dedicated to the comfort of rear seat passengers.
Inside, the stylish cabin is clean and refreshingly modern. The small chunky steering wheel is a joy to hold and a delight to use. Every surface that the hands fall into is greeted by high-grade, tactile material that tickles the senses.
Sadly, Lexus’s clunky joystick-style Remote Touch now operates the 7-inch full colour TFT display mounted high on the centre of the dash. Much like a computer mouse, it operates a cursor to select the desire functions. Although the cursor will snap onto functional buttons on the screen once they are close by, driving the cursor there isn’t as straight forward as it seems.
Happily, most other functions are more intuitive, including the electrostatically-operated climate control system which allows the occupants to adjust the temperature of the vehicle by sliding a finger up or down the temperature bar.
It is also easy to get comfortable in the Lexus. The driver’s seat hip point has been moved 18mm backwards and 9mm lower, and the steering wheel angle has been raised approximately 3 degrees for a sporty driving position.
Performance & Handling
The IS’s engines are carried over from the previous models (bar the hybrid). A 2.5-litre direct-injection quad cam V6 producing 153kW @ 6,400rpm and 252Nm of torque @ 4,800rpm is found under the IS 250, and a 3.5-litre port and direct injected V6 delivering 233kW @ 6,400rpm and 378Nm of torque @ 4,800rpm powers the IS 350.
Similarly, the 6-speed automatic married to the IS 250 is familiar to previous generation owners. The IS 350 though, gets an 8-speed automatic pinched from the V8-powered IS F. It harnesses engine power brilliantly while being delicately smooth.
For the first time in an IS, the F Sport and Sports Luxury models are equipped with Lexus’s Active Variable Suspension that is linked to the Drive Mode Select.
Lexus Chief Engineer for the Lexus IS, Junichi Furuyama said: “I had one goal above everything else when developing the latest generation Lexus IS: make it fun to drive.”
He’s not wrong.
The IS 350 acquitted itself well when driven on our tightly wound test route. Its performance, and much higher level of driver satisfaction compared to the previous model boils down to a few significant revisions: a 10 per cent stiffer body structure, the new 8-speed transmission and a substantially revised power steering system.
The new IS’s variable ratio steering (standard on F Sport and Sports Luxury) is direct, accurate and communicative. There is a distinct lack of body roll around corners and its composure and nimble handling are confidence inspiring. There is also a higher level of stability during hard braking.
Tellingly, this is not even the sports-oriented F Sport, but the Sports Luxury! Additionally, Lexus’s engineers have even managed to let a bit of engine noise into the cabin for aural satisfaction.
The Bridgestone Turanza ER33 F: 225/40R18 R: 255/35R18 tyres are quiet around town and offers exceptional grip when thrown into corners. The adaptive dampers work a treat in keeping the luxury sedan firmly planted in Sport and Sport+, while loosening things up slightly in ECO for a cushier ride on rutted suburban roads.
Sadly, while Lexus has made big strides in the areas of performance and handling in each generation of its cars, its innate conservatism leaks through in the IS’s electronic stability control calibration, where it is intrusive and counterproductive. Cutting power just as one needs it.
This is a Lexus. Need we say more?
While we enjoy the immediate and linear power delivery of a naturally aspirated engine, they are inherently less efficient compared to boosted powerplants.
On test, VIS018 returns an unremarkable average of 11.6L/100km. Admittedly, it involved five zero to hundred dashes (we just couldn’t get a consistent result) and a substantial amount of spirited driving.
Nevertheless, that’s still way below the class benchmarks.
As can be expected from a Lexus, the IS range is comprehensively equipped. The range-topping Sports Luxury tested here comes with 8 airbags (including rear side airbags), automatic rear sun shade, an 835-watt, 12-channel amp and 15 speakers Mark Levinson sound system that is a cut above, reversing camera, interior mood lighting, sunroof and more.
It also comes with an Australian first Enform telematics system. It provides a range of connected services to IS owners, including:
- Enform Concierge: A quick dial service to Lexus Customer Care centre, Drive Care, Lexus Dealers and Destination Assist.
- Destination Download: Following a call to Lexus Concierge, IS owners can download destinations to their vehicle for use and guidance.
- Fuel Finder: Allows customers to find and compare their nearest service station for fuel price and availability of premium fuels.
- Local Search: Provides an internet-based search for local businesses and services.
- Weather: Live search of current and forecast weather conditions for any chosen location.
You may have already made up your mind on the IS’s dramatic new styling. However for most, its pecking order is likely to be determined from the driver’s seat.
It is equally at home wearing a suit and tie on weekdays, and donning hippy jeans and a baseball cap on weekends. But its likeable V6 engines are over due for more efficient units.
Yes, this is a mainstream Lexus where fun can be had. Bring on the next-generation IS F, Lexus!
|Price (Excl. on-roads):
|From $55,900 to $84,000
|2.5-litre all-alloy V6
|153kW @ 6,400rpm, 252Nm @ 4,800rpm, rear-wheel drive
|3.5-litre all-alloy V6
|233kW @ 6,400rpm, 378Nm @ 4,800rpm, rear-wheel drive
|All-alloy Atkinson cycle in-line 4 and AC synchronous, permanent magnet electric motor
|164kW @ 6,000rpm, 221Nm @ 4,200-5,400rpm, rear-wheel drive
|6-speed automatic with sequential shift
|8-speed automatic with sequential shift, Artificial Intelligence shift control and 2nd to 8th gear torque converter lock-up
|E-CVT with sequential shiftmatic system
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):
|Claimed: 9.7; Tested: 11.6
|Claimed: 5.9; Tested: 6.0
|Length: 4,665, Width: 1,810, Height: 1,430, Wheelbase: 2,800
|Kerb Weight (kg):
Competitors: BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volkswagen CC
Photos by: Dario Duno