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Sunday, July 4, 2021

Review: 2021 Lexus IS 300h Premier


The words “hybrid” and “sports sedan” don’t normally go together, but if there’s one company that’ll make it work, it would be Lexus. After all, since their first-ever gasoline-electric offering in 2005, Toyota’s premium division has managed to move around two million of them in a span of 16 years. Of course, it’s one thing to electrify an SUV, but it’s entirely different to shoehorn a powertrain known for frugality in a vehicle known for driving fun and handling, the sports sedan. With that, how does the Lexus IS 300h fair?

Pictured here is the P 3.328 million IS 300h, the most expensive model in the Lexus IS range with the P 3.808 million IS 350 F Sport (read our review here) just below it, and the P 2.978 million IS 300h below that. Having a powertrain combination shared between the entry-level and top-of-the-line model looks weird, but trust Lexus to come up with a solid argument here.



Before discussing that though, it’s worth saying that right off the bat, the most standout feature of the IS 300h isn’t the fuel economy, although its 19.23 km/L is mind-boggling to say the least. What stands out more is the quality of the drive. Despite packing an engine and gearbox commonly associated with environmentally-conscious motoring, it retains the spirit of an engaging, rear-wheel drive sedan.

As in the Lexus IS 350 F Sport, the calibration of the controls is spot on. It does give up some of its overall athleticism, but it’s still one satisfying car to drive. The steering weighs up nicely, and is poised and accurate. The chassis attached to it is equally predictable, stable, and responsive as well. Show it a set of challenging twisties, and it’ll engage it with gusto. It deletes the F Sport’s adaptive dampers, but the ride remains smooth and composed even on really terrible pieces of road. Sometimes sports sedans tend to crash and bounce; no such behavior here.



The biggest change here is what’s found under the hood. As the badge implies, the IS 300h swaps its gnarly 3.5-liter V6 for a 2.5-liter direct injected 4-cylinder. On its own, the figures are pretty good—181 horsepower and 221 Nm of torque, but Lexus didn’t stop there. Their secret sauce is a 143 horsepower electric motor. Combined they make 223 horsepower and 300 Nm of torque—a healthy figure but below the IS 350 F Sport’s 315 horsepower, 380 Nm of torque numbers.

Beyond the specs though, it’s how the IS 300h seamlessly switches between its two power sources that shines. Credit that to Lexus’s close to two decades of practice. At low speeds, it almost always relies on the electric motor and the energy stored in its nickel-metal hydride battery to propel its 1,740-kilogram body. But as the throttle’s squeezed or the speed picks up, the combustion engine comes to life. Through all this, Lexus has managed to use one unlikely piece of equipment as an ally: the CVT. Using the gearbox’s characteristic slip, they’ve managed to smoothly introduce torque in, easing the transition between electric and gas power. It’s genius.



Of course, the setup isn’t without its problems, and here it comes whenever the throttle’s mashed. The soundtrack isn’t as great as far as four-cylinder, let alone six-cylinder engines go. It’s generic and often times relegated to the background—something at odds with its sporty orientation. And then, there’s the gearbox itself. It still feels elastic and aloof at times (mainly during overtaking). Still, the pros outweigh the cons, especially if calmness and serenity are on the checklist.

Changes between the IS 350 F Sport and the IS 300h Premier are few and bar between. Basically, the hybrid loses the moonroof, the fancy F Sport gauges and body kit, one driving mode (Sport+), and makes do with a smaller-sized infotainment (8-inch versus 10.3-inch). That’s basically it.



With that, the interior experience remains great. It doesn’t look quite as high-tech as its European counterparts in terms of design and execution, but it counters this with an experience that’s much easier to use and navigate. The exception of that awful touchpad interface aside (thankfully, the screen doubles as a touchscreen), Lexus prioritizes ergonomics in the Lexus IS. The climate control and entertainment system all come with their own physical set of buttons. This may result in a fussy appearance, but it’s far easier to navigate through various functions as opposed to burying them in layers of menus and sub-menus.

The gauges rely on a classic set of dials (no fully digital instrument cluster here), but it does have one trick up its sleeve. Switching between drive modes displays either the Hybrid System’s status (Eco) or a traditional tachometer (Normal or Sport). Personally, seeing a car drive off with the engine revs reading zero can be quite disturbing, but it does satisfy those who wish for something more traditionally found in a sports sedan.



Other things that will satisfy premium sports sedan purists? The choice of materials—top notch, down to the nice, crisp operation of the controls as well as the nice air of solidity.

Things aren’t perfect for the IS 300h. Like the rest of the Lexus IS family, this is apparent when storage is a priority. The center arm rest aside, there aren’t not many places to store stuff, especially when the cup holders are used as the designers intended. Pop the trunk, and the problem gets worst. Lexus would consider golfers to be their target market, and without a doubt, part of their sales talk would be to mention just how many clubs would fit inside. There’s only one problem: this car can barely fit one. Normally, because of the large traction battery, the IS 300h would come with just a can of fix-a-flat and an inflator. On this particular unit though, Lexus Philippines ordered the temporary spare tire package. With that, the remaining luggage space goes down to near zero. One can opt to leave the donut tire at home doing the weekend round of golf, but what happens in an emergency? Sure, the back seats are there, but that drops the passenger count to just two. Remember this is a sports sedan, not a sports car. Best advice? Don’t get the spare tire package.



Like all other third-generation Lexus IS models, the IS 300h comes with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 or LSS+2. It adds active safety features such as adaptive radar cruise control, lane tracing assist, and automatic high beam on top of the usual set of active and passive safety features. Sadly, there’s still no blind spot indicators here, and the rear-view camera still looks pretty low-rent for such an expensive car. They’re minor gripes for sure, but given how tech-savvy Filipinos can be, they’re noticeable.

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport sure grabs all the headlines, and rightfully so. After all, it’s their direct reply to whatever the Germans or other Europeans would come up. However, the IS 300h comes across as Lexus’s very own unique take on the tried and tested sports sedan formula. This is a sports sedan that’s clearly engineered and built on its own terms, primarily because of its insistence to plop in a gasoline-electric hybrid rather than relying on a small, boosted engine or a diesel. With that, its take is unique, while still managing to nail down fundamentals that are critical in this segment.

2021 Lexus IS 300h Premier

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Ownership 2021 Lexus IS 300h Premier
Year Introduced 2020
Vehicle Classification Luxury Sedan
Warranty 3 years / 100,000 kilometers
The Basics
Body Type Luxury Sedan
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/R
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 2.5
Aspiration Normally Aspirated
Fuel Delivery Direct Injection
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 181 @ 6,000 (223 combined)
Nm @ rpm 221 @ 4,200-5,400 (300 combined)
Fuel / Min. Octane Gasoline / 91~
Transmission CVT
Cruise Control Yes, Adaptive
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 19.23 km/L @ 45 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,710
Width (mm) 1,840
Height (mm) 1,435
Wheelbase (mm) 2,800
Curb Weight (kg) 1,740
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, Double Wishbone
Rear Suspension Independent, Multi-Link
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Vented Disc
Parking Brake Electric w/ Auto Hold
Tires Bridgestone Potenza S001L 235/40 R 19 Y (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 10
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes, with EBD
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes, Front & Rear
Parking Camera Yes, Rear
Front Seatbelts 3-pt ELR with pre-tensioner x 2
Rear Seatbelts 3-pt ELR x 3
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchor Yes
Other Safety Features Pre-Collision System
Lane Tracing Assist
Lane Departure Alert
Hill Start Assist
Tire Pressure Monitoring
Exterior Features
Headlights LED, Auto High Beam
Fog Lamps Headlamp Integrated (Front), Rear (LED)
Auto Lights Yes
Rain-sensing Wipers Yes
Tailgate Manual
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt/Telescopic, Electric
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment (driver) Electric, 8-way w/ Memory, Ventilated
Seating Adjustment (front passenger) Electric, 8-way, Ventilated
Seating Surface Leather
Folding Rear Seat Yes, 60/40
Sunroof No
Trip Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, w/ Fold
Rear View Mirror Auto Dimming
Proximity Key Yes
Climate Control Auto, Dual Zone, w/ Rear Vents
Audio System Stereo
CD
Aux
USB
Smartphone Connectivity Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
# of Speakers 10
Steering Controls Yes

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