Upon seeing a 2018 Lexus IS 300 at rest, you may take its aggressive style, pinched grille, prominent air intakes and sweeping body lines as signs of an uncompromising performance car.
Don't tell anyone this Lexus is not a performance car
But don’t let its looks fool you. Despite confirmation of its sports luxury aspirations from its refined chassis, the IS 300 is foremost a cruise and comfort machine, with a well-honed ride, hushed cabin and generous feature set.
The 2018 IS 300 comes bundled with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and is rear-wheel drive. But this isn’t an entirely new development, because Lexus has simply renamed last year’s rear-wheel drive IS 200t as a 300.
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But what the Japanese car-maker has done is swap out the six-speed transmission for a new eight-speed automatic that marries with the turbo four, which offers 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque.
The IS 300 is part of a three-engine, nine-variant range that includes a Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury version of each option. These include the IS 300, an IS 300h (2.5-litre four-cylinder with a hybrid battery system) and the IS 350 (a 3.5-litre quad-cam V6).
Our IS 300 Luxury came resplendent in Mercury Grey and presented as a good-looking, comfortable and easy-to-drive vehicle that was definitely luxurious, but was it riveting to drive?
Off the line it’s not so eager, but feels reasonably strong once it gets going. But we found the transmission to be indecisive and laggy. While we got close, we couldn’t match the claimed 7.6-litres/100km in fuel economy (with 8.2-litres/100km our best).
Aptly nicknamed the dentist’s car by one of our team, it’s definitely a swank looker, but it feels slow and heavy. The paddle-shift system is OK and we found ourselves using it to help the car find the right gear.
Four drive modes are standard in the IS 300, the Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport-plus. The latter is more suited to F Sport models but provides the best performance here too, when required (and we stress the when).
Putting the car into Eco mode feels a little like being a wet blanket at a party and gives a real watered down feel to the drive. Comfort mode is most suitable for daily driving, providing you get used to the transmission wanting to lower the revs all the time.
Want to hit the motorway or winding road over the weekend? Sport-plus keeps the transmission in the lowest possible gear before spiralling toward the red line, but in day-to-day driving it became annoying because it was so overt in its engine push.
The Lexus IS 300 is so, so talented though. It's a genuine driver’s car when you forget about the engine and gearbox. Handling, grip, steering, it’s all excellent. That’s because the IS 300 has such a good chassis -- rigid and well-balanced, with great suspension.
The front end gets double-wishbone suspension, while the rear is bundled with a solid multi-link setup, with many of the suspension components also constructed from aluminium to keep weight down.
Spring and damper rates have been recalibrated, while front and rear anti-roll bars have been revised to help keep body roll under control. Grip is excellent, and cornering, exceptionally calm, despite its 1,680kg weight.
The four cylinder engine works hard (especially on steep hills), but the grunt is more than adequate. The turbo does make power delivery a bit manic at times. It’s not perfect but it is pretty good.
Cabin ergonomics also prevent a perfect driving experience. A lack of contouring means we had trouble finding a comfortable grip on the steering wheel, and while we like the driver and front passenger sides being closed off, race car style, it’s a bit claustrophobic in a road car.
The 2018 Lexus IS 300 comes with an abundance of the features you’d expect, including blind-spot sensors, radar cruise-control, lane-departure warnings, emergency braking, auto high beam and auto windscreen wipers.
This end of the market is where we usually learn about emerging technologies, but there's nothing really new or outstanding in the feature list and that’s OK. The IS 300 is still very much keeping up with the competition in most areas.
The IS 300 Luxury is also equipped with a world-class, Mark Levinson 15-speaker sound system. It sounds magnificent, while giving you complete control over media inputs and sound modes to match your taste.
The rest of the interior exudes the highest of quality, style and attention to detail in every corner. Like all Lexus cars, you can really tell how much thought is put into making sure every surface is designed and manufactured to perfection.
We love the look of the simple yet elegant instrument cluster, too. The black background is so dark it’s almost as if you’re looking into endless space, and the dial needles are hovering in thin air. It’s a very nice touch.
The front seats offer loungeroom-level comfort and at the same time, are supportive when taking corners fast. For larger guests, side bolstering may feel a tad intrusive, especially around your, um, bottom.
The centre console sits quite high next to you as well, making you feel like you’re sitting in a bobsled. If you like to feel an airy and spacious existence in your car, spare some attention to the seating position.
The ‘Remote Touch Controller’ pad for the media unit rates a mention here, too, for all the wrong reasons. It’s such an awkward tool for selecting and clicking items, we found ourselves avoiding it where possible.
A downbeat inheritance of previous IS models is the rear occupant space. It may not be important for most and maybe Lexus has done this on purpose, but it has only improved slightly from previous generations.
On the plus side, boot space is exemplary. Luggage is easy to load because of a low boot lip and there’s 480 litres of room back there, with a space-saving spare wheel helping to bump up that number.
The IS 300 is a worthy adversary to its German mid-sized rivals, with great handling and good looks, though it’s not quite at the same standard in terms of cabin refinement. But it does have the edge in terms of value for money and generous standard features.
Is it just a dentist’s car, then? Absolutely not, optometrists will love it, too.
As well as Mercury Grey, the 2018 Lexus IS 300 is available in Premium Silver, Sonic Quartz, Titanium, Onyx, Graphite Black, Vermilion, Caliente and Deep Blue.
Our 2018 Lexus IS 300 Luxury was provided by Lexus Australia. To find out more, your local Lexus dealer.