Test Drive: IS sports saloon proves to be most popular Lexus
The IS sports saloon is the most popular Lexus with UK buyers by some considerable margin having racked up more than 81,000 sales by the end of 2015.
With Hollywood heart-throb Jude Law currently giving it the hard sell on our TV screens it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the RX is the headline act in the Lexus range.
But while the revamped 4×4 is undoubtedly a major player for the Japanese premium car maker it has still got to go some to beat the real star of the show.
That honour belongs to the IS sports saloon, which is the most popular Lexus with UK buyers by some considerable margin having racked up more than 81,000 sales by the end of 2015.
Those may not be huge numbers compared to mainstream rivals but represent no mean feat given the strength of the opposition in a class dominated by German giants Audi, BMW and Mercedes – not to mention the rejuvenated Jaguar.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but if you ask me the IS has the edge over its Teutonic rivals in the looks department.
Lexus’ trademark ‘spindle’ grille sits imposingly beneath a long, low bonnet, while a sharp character line runs along the sills before kicking up through the rear wheel arches to meet the swooping, coupe-style roofline along the boot lid.
It’s a dynamic and distinctive design topped off by sharp, angular LED light clusters, twin tail pipes and alloy wheels.
Five trim levels are available, with the F Sport car I drove sitting one grade below the range topper with, as the names suggests, a number of touches to give it a sportier look and feel.
The grille and bumpers are bespoke to this model and inside you get instrumentation which echoes that in the brand’s LFA supercar as well as an F Sport steering wheel and aluminium sport pedals, scuff plates and interior trim.
In fact, the cabin is impressively put together and all that you would expect of a car aimed squarely at the premium market.
Headroom in the rear is tight for anyone approaching the 6ft mark and an intrusive transmission tunnel will make life difficult for anyone sitting in the middle, but generally the interior is comfortable and the fixtures and fittings stylish and high quality.
Equipment is generous across the range and my car boasted pretty much all the creature comforts, including heated front sports seats with electric adjustment, dual-zone climate control, seven-inch multimedia screen with Lexus’ mouse-style remote controller, rear view camera and automatic lights and wipers.
It’s a little disappointing, though, that satnav will cost you extra – the premium version in my car, which also incorporates a stereo upgrade, coming in at £1,995.
Safety is well taken care of with front, side, knee and curtain airbags, stability and traction control, hill hold assist and cruise control all fitted as standard.
Lexus have, of course, long since shunned diesel engines preferring to offer petrol-electric hybrids to business buyers focused on low running costs and emissions.
My test car, though, was the petrol-only version which, for the first time in the IS range, comes with turbo power – the 241bhp, 2.0 litre turbocharged unit having replaced the previous 2.5 litre normally-aspirated unit late last year.
And if you are happy to sacrifice fuel economy, which is unimpressive at 39 miles per gallon, it will give you some sharp performance – notching up the 0-62mph sprint in seven seconds flat and going on to a top speed of 143mph.
Paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, originally developed for the marque’s RC F high-performance coupe, it offers swift and smooth progress.
The steering is well-weighted and responsive, grip assured and the body well controlled, meaning handling is nimble and that you can push on with some confidence on winding B-roads.
And if you are happy to sacrifice fuel economy, which is unimpressive at 39 miles per gallon, it will give you some sharp performance – The gearbox doesn’t quite have the finesse of BMW’s automatics and ultimately the IS can’t quite match the urgency and engagement of Munich’s finest but it is, nevertheless, a relaxed and enjoyable drive – and is definitely one to ponder for those who prefer not to follow the German crowd.