When the first Lexus IS model reached the UK in 1998 it was a breath of fresh air in the compact executive saloon sector.
Still the model with which most in the UK would identify the Lexus brand, the IS might be the most important car it makes.
On the outside, the IS certainly cuts an individual figure. Lined up next to its rivals - as it may be in a fleet situation - it stands out from the crowd. The first IS did this with aplomb, with the clear tail light lenses now almost universally known as 'Lexus Lights'. The current generation uses L-shaped LED lights front and rear, with the front flanking the characteristic Lexus Spindle grille.
The interior is more special if anything. With Lexus's famed 'takumi' craftsmen overseeing the construction and materials, it's an elegant and classy place to sit. There’s an echo of the LFA supercar too and ergonomically logical - everything is where it should be and it's easy to operate. A good standard kit list includes a seven inch touchscreen.
Unusually the handbrake is a foot-operated ratchet down where the clutch pedal might be - though this is a CVT car, so there isn't a clutch pedal - and it may be a little strange if you're used to the modern electronic parking brake, but it frees up lots of space in the centre console for storage.
This hybrid car uses a 2.5 litre 'Atkinson' cycle petrol engine, designed to give the most fuel economy at the expense of some power. Backed up with an electric motor though, the peak combined power is 220hp. It can operate exclusively on the electric motor for a few miles, making it nearly silent and producing zero local emissions - perfect for cruising around town. The petrol engine engages when the battery is low or you want more power and the change between modes is seamless.
Get it out onto the quicker roads and it's a fantastically isolated experience. Refinement is class-leading - just settle into the seats and you'll be whisked down the motorway in an almost noiseless bubble.
This isolation doesn't translate to a numb drive either. The sporting luxury identity of Lexus means that the IS is enjoyable to drive on back roads, with plenty of grip and a good steering set-up to exploit it - though the hybrid/CVT combination is more tilted towards gentle and smooth driving, it's nice to know you have the option of tomfoolery available to you.
The low running costs, particularly if you have a significant urban component of your daily driving, make the financial case for the IS300h just as attractive as the aesthetic one, and it's one of the most stress-free vehicles to drive we've tried in a while - other than the LS, of course!
For more information on the Lexus IS range, click here: https://www.inchcapelexus.co.uk/cars/lexus-range/is/