With a huge range of executive euro cars available in New Zealand, can the Lexus IS300H Limited hold its own? Can it stand apart even from the Honda Accord V6 NT, which is over $25,000 cheaper?

We spent a week with the recently upgraded IS300H Limited to find out.

The Range

In the Lexus IS range, there’s the IS 200t, IS 200t F Sport, IS 200t Limited, IS 300h, IS 300h Limited, and the IS 350 F Sport.

If you want an IS300 then, there’s the 2 models. Both run the same 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine/hybrid system, with only extra features of the Limited over the ‘base’ model.

At $77,300, the IS300h comes with heated and cooled seats, an electric rear window blind, “Acceleration sound control”, 8-way power front seats with 4-way electric lumbar adjust for the driver, automatic headlights, automatic levelling and cleaning headlights, auto high-beams, LED DRLs, power adjust tilt/telescopic leather steering wheel, voice command system, adaptive cruise control, a 4.2” colour driver’s information display, a 10.3” high-resolution central display, DVD player, haptic touch controller, dual zone AC, auto dimming interior mirror, keyless entry and start, and auto wipers.

There’s a raft of safety devices and equipment too, including EBD, VSC, traction control, Hill Start Assist, Emergency Stop Signal, reversing camera with moving guidelines, front and rear parking sensors, 10 airbags, pre-crash safety system, and Active Lane Departure Assist.

If you buy the Limited version with its $11,000 premium over the base model, you get more goodies like three memory settings for the driver’s seat (includes steering wheel and outside mirrors), 18” alloys with 225/40 tyres on the front and 225/35 on the rear, LED headlights, power folding mirrors, a 15-speaker 5.1 channel Mark Levinson premium audio system, Blind Spot Monitoring, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

First Impressions

Disclosure: I have not liked the front of a Lexus for quite a few years now. The ‘gaping mouth’ look just doesn’t do it for me. Others like it; me not so much. So when I picked up the 2017 model, I quickly noticed they’ve changed the front, but to me, made it worse. The flared-out corners look, well, hideous. Maybe on an LFA, but to me they don’t suit an executive car like the IS300.

Other comments received during my week with the car echoed the same thoughts, while others sort of liked it. No one loved it though. I understand the need to give the car its own identity, but there’s different and then there’s going too far. The L-shaped DRLs look cool, as do the headlights; but below these two items, it all falls apart.

In a press release, Lexus says this new 2017 model has a “bolder more dynamic style”.

Things on the side and rear are better. The side looks low and sleek, even in the so-common silver of our test car. The rear – while not really having its own style – looks classy, bordering on sporty. The built-in spoiler on the boot is a perfect size, without going overboard like the buttress rear on a BMW. Nicely done, Lexus. But please, that front design…just no.

The Inside

The interior echoes the target market: an executive who wants an A-to-B car, but is not keen on a Euro. You can read this as conservative, but well executed. The seats, doors and console have some nice touches of red leather, and look fantastic – it’s the red leather than really make the inside so nice to look at, and all my passengers commented on this.

The leather steering wheel is quite small, but nice to the feel. It’s adjustable electrically 4 ways, which is always handy for us lazy types who can’t cope with a lever. The controls on the wheel are a mixed bag; they look well designed, but I often found myself using the volume knob on the console to turn the volume up or down, instead of the controls right there on the wheel. That’s saying something I guess.

Adaptive cruise control is adjusted by the typical Toyota/Lexus lever under the wheel, and there’s not many people who like it. Like the Toyota C-HR I had the week before, the button to adjust the distance to the car in front is on the wheel itself, away from the lever. Not the best ergonomics here.

The centre console is pretty high, and makes you feel a bit like you are in a cockpit. At the front of this is the haptic touch control for the car’s systems. It’s easy to use, and having the enter button as either pushing the controller down or using the enter buttons below it was welcome.

The system itself is simple to use, once I went into the settings and adjusted the speed of the haptic system. It’s a hands-free system (well, except for your hand that’s driving it), where you can just move your fingers and do stuff without taking your eyes off the road.

Speaking of the centre console, there’s a cubby there with a 12-volt power socket and USB, but the cubby itself is pretty tiny – no way would it take my SLR camera. I do love the shift lever though – it’s a bit of a work of art, with a nice mix of stainless steel and leather. One of those touches that you notice, and appreciate the effort gone into its design.

The huge 10.3” central display is a highlight; the resolution is fantastic, and I loved how easy it is to configure. You can have anything you want on the left 2/3, and anything you want on the right 1/3 – and to change them is simple. For the right hand side, there’s some small icons for media, phone, SatNav etc.  – a click on any one and then the right 1/3 of the big display shows this item. Simple and effective.

SatNav too is simple – clean and uncluttered. You get turn-by-turn instructions on the driver’s information display as well, which is how it should always be – but some manufacturers still do not do this. Using any of the menus with the haptic touch controller is a piece of cake, with either physical buttons or onscreen buttons for the same function, like Go Back; you use whatever works for you.

While you get those SatNav turn-by-turn in the driver’s display, unfortunately the IS300 doesn’t have a digital readout for your speed, which was a real bummer for me. With no heads-up display, that is the next best thing. Maybe in the next model release.

However with the SatNav, you do get built-in fixed speed camera alerts, which I was pleasantly surprised to find. Great to have those reminders to check your speed.

Space-wise, it’s a snug fit in the front of the car. There’s enough room, but that high centre console makes things feel smaller than they are. Rear legroom is excellent, but at one point when I took 4 passengers in the car, the rear-middle passenger struggled with the massive transmission (battery?) hump in the centre of the car, as well as having enough width. Let’s just say it was a very tight fit, and all passengers in the rear were happy we were only driving 10 kilometres. This is not a car to take 5 adults on a long trip.

To placate those 4 passengers, you could always crank up the 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. It is superb. With 5.1 channel sound, the stereo separation was a highlight for me. At 50% volume, I chickened out – this thing has some serious power.

The interior of this car is an example of great build quality – it is put together brilliantly.

Boot room at 450 litres is good, and the first aid kit is welcome.

While the list of standard features for the Limited IS300H is quite long, it felt under-equipped in some areas. It has an old-school pedal-style park brake (so did the Accord though), so no electric park brake yet. Sunglasses holder? No. As mentioned there’s no HUD, and also I found there’s no front 12-volt accessory socket for your dash cam. Sure, other than the HUD these are little things, but they are simple things I’d expect in a car touching ninety grand.

The Drive

You would expect that as an executive car, things would be quiet and smooth in the IS300 – and you’d be right. On the whole, it’s a pretty smooth driving experience. No doubt the hybrid system helps things along here. Like in a certain sister-brand car (which I won’t mention), it’s seamless in the way it works – just ignore it and let it do its thing. There’s the ‘normal’ EV button so you can force the car to run on battery only, but as is usual a touch too much gas pedal or hit 48km/h, and EV-only mode turns off.

So on the whole it is a quiet ride, but certain road surfaces will give you some road and tyre noise in the cabin.

I’m about to eat Humble Pie, so take a seat. I don’t generally check the specs of any car before driving it, I prefer to drive the car and make my own assumptions and views, rather than read first and have preconceptions. After a few days with the IS, I kept thinking to myself, “this is a perfect 6-speed auto trans”. I even wrote it in my notes. Then I go to check the specs, and it’s a CVT. Unbelievable! I normally don’t like the driving experience of a CVT, they just whir a lot and you don’t feel like you are making good progress. But there you go – this is a CVT that I actually like – the very first in fact. I’m almost still convinced that this is a ‘normal’ auto. Credit to Lexus/Toyota for this gearbox.

The gear lever is in a perfect position – it falls straight into your hand, and moving it to the right into manual mode makes you feel like a bit of a race car driver. You can of course just use the paddles, but using the lever is much more fun.

Smoothness does seem to be an IS300H strong point – the ride is excellent. Speed humps are a non-event, and there is never any noise coming from the suspension. After getting into another car after the IS300, it really showed me just how good its ride is.

On the downside, at certain revs the engine can get a little bit of a drone going. It’s never loud, but since everything else is so quiet, you can hear that thrum quite plainly, especially if you are going up a long hill. Still, a touch more volume on that excellent stereo fixes that.

Then on the upside, wind noise is extremely well handled, with not much of it happening on the motorway.

The car does have a Sport Mode, and while the driver normally sees an Eco gauge next to the speedo, this instantly changes to a rev counter when you put the car in Sport Mode. Nice. In Normal mode, the 2.5-litre engine and hybrid system can move you along pretty briskly, but Sport Mode gets this car to boogie along pretty darn quickly. Mid-range acceleration, especially when passing, is excellent. Keep in mind this car is almost 2,200Kg.

One surprise for me was just how well the car can handle – it really can push through tight and twisty corners with little body roll, and total confidence. I pushed it hard a few times, and generally it remained composed. The IS300 loves a slow in/fast out approach, and you can have some fun with this car. The seats have good side support, so no issues there. Truly an executive express that you can toss around a bit.

So while it can cover the ground pretty quickly, the brakes also match the performance. Hitting them the first time will see you over-braking – typical of a hybrid car. After a short time you get used to this, and then you get into a non-hybrid and have to use more pedal. I did try a few panic stops in the car, and was left impressed – solid, straight line braking with full pedal is a no-drama affair.

Visibility on the whole is very good – looking forward sees relatively narrow A pillars (for a modern car) and Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert helps here. The C pillars though are fairly chunky, and do restrict your vision for the rear 3/4 view.

The IS300 has adaptive cruise control and works perfectly well, except that it won’t bring you to a stop. Something to keep in mind if you are used to a system that does.

One thing that is missing from this Lexus is Active Park Assist – I really thought it would have this as standard. Hopefully the next release will have this included.

I will admit to testing the ‘acceleration sound control’ out, and it did almost sound quite cool. But turning it off was just as good too. It is only activated when the car is running on battery in Normal mode – it gives you ‘exciting’ acceleration and deceleration noises, just in case you forgot what that sounds like. Gimmicky, sure, but some people will like it.

Lexus states that the combined rating for the IS300H Limited is 4.9 litres/100kms. Over 500km, I managed 6.6, so that’s not too far off the mark. Is that a good result for a hybrid? Your call on that one.

The Competition

I’ve included the very quick Accord NT V6 for comparison. One thing is for certain, I’d love to get behind the wheel of the BMW 330e.

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque 0-100kmh, seconds Fuel L/100km Price – High to Low
Infiniti Q50 Hybrid sedan AWD 3.5-litre V6 turbo, hybrid 268Kw/546Nm 5.1 7.2 $94.990
BMW 330e Hybrid sedan 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo, hybrid 135Kw/290Nm 6.3 2.1 $89,900
Lexus IS300H Limited sedan 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder hybrid 164Kw (combined)/221Nm 8.5 4.9 $88,700
Honda Accord NT Sport 3.5-litre V6 petrol 206Kw/339Nm 6.2 9.3 $63,000

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Build quality
  • Stereo quality
  • Mid-range acceleration
  • Handling
  • Ride
  • Central display quality
  • A good CVT (at last!)
  • Front design is a personal choice
  • Tight for 5 people
  • Cruise control stalk
  • Not great value for money

What do we think of it?

It was funny reading over this review, before filling out this section. I wasn’t enamoured with the IS300H – my mind was stuck on the price for my entire week with the car. I kept reminding myself this car cost nearly $90,000, and I couldn’t see the value, other than the brand name.

Then I filled out the ‘Pro’ section, and found things that I had forgot that I did like.

On that note, I’m struggling to see how the IS300 is better than a Honda Accord, which is $25,000 cheaper. Sure, the IS300 has the hybrid system, while the V6 Accord in comparison is a gas guzzler, but the equipment levels are similar.

The IS300h Limited is a smooth, quiet, good handling car with some performance thrown in. However, that front design…I could never own this car. That’s a personal choice, and I’m sure there are many who would find it just fine to look at, and own.

3.0 chevrons

Vehicle Type Medium-sized luxury sedan
Starting Price $77,300
Tested Price $88,700
Engine 2.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol with hybrid system
Transmission E-CVT
Kerb Weight, Kg 2,145
Length x Width x Height, mm 4680x2027x1430
Cargo Capacity, litres 450
Fuel Tank, litres 66
Fuel Economy Manufacturer’s rating, combined:4.9L/100Km

Real World: 6.6L/100Km

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Stars
Warranty 4 years/unlimited kilometres


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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


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