Review: Lexus IS300h
Driving a Japanese hybrid is a bit like eating an all-green salad - healthy, but unexciting, even with dressing and a pinch of salt. Lexus' handsome IS300h saloon, however, is like salad with crispy bacon bits buried underneath.
The meat in this case comes in the form of a 2.5-litre Lexus Hybrid Drive system (the "300" model name does not refer to the engine capacity), which delivers its energy to the rear wheels through a continuously variable transmission. Assisted by an integral electric motor/generator, the 16-valve fourcylinder engine produces a total of 223bhp (a strong 42bhp "boost" on top of the standard output), yet it can return over 20km per litre.
That is more power (on paper) than the thrilling Toyota 86 coupe and better economy (in theory) than the fuel-sipping Toyota Yaris hatchback.
On the road in Austin, Texas, the trip computer in my IS300h displayed an average mileage of about 13km per litre - some way off the official figure, but this was with two people on board and a heavy right foot most of the time.
The four-cylinder engine does not sound exciting, especially when compared to the mellifluous V6 in the new IS250. But the IS300h has a party trick called ASC (Active Sound Control). This employs a dedicated loudspeaker inside the dashboard (at the centre) to play an artificial engine note, even when the car is running on electric power alone.
This "fake" soundtrack has an adjustable volume too, located to the left of the steering column (in the left-hand-drive IS). Turned up to its loudest level, ASC generates a "sporty" drone, but this could get tiring on a long highway drive.
The throttle response of the petrol- electric IS300h drivetrain is less immediate than that of the purely petrol-powered IS250, and the engine does not rev as eagerly, probably because it has to work in tandem with the integral electric motor. But this technical teamwork results in hearty mid-range performance and good on-the-move acceleration, making it easy to overtake the many American SUVs on the freeway.
Off the freeway and back on slower roads, the IS300h operates like your typical Lexus hybrid - a seamless state of motion, some motor "whine" when coming to a standstill, and an eerie mechanical silence when in "electric vehicle" mode.