Driven: Lexus IS 300h F-Sport

On my driveway, the latest sculpture from Japan’s first premium brand. Or shall I say re-sculpture because while this is the new IS saloon, it feels just like I’m coming home? Allow me to explain.

Way back in 2015 I lived a vastly different life as the assistant editor of Top Gear magazine where my long-term test car was the Lexus IS350 F-Sport. During that full year of quasi-ownership we did it all together – road trips, school runs, I even took it to a track day where I spent many a corner trying to with some success, drift its rear wheel drive chassis. The car on my driveway today however is quite different. But also the same.

Let’s start with its aesthetics which are sharpened up particularly fore and aft, covered in Sonic Titanium where my old car was lathered in Sonic Chrome. Weirdly they have two blue metallic colours in their palette, neither of which is called Sonic, much to the distress of a certain hedgehog. But I digress because at R916,900 it is sadly bereft of the throaty 3.5-litre V6 my ex came with and therein lies the rub. Instead, the entire range of 2021 IS must make do with a single-engine option, this 2.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid. Yes, stubbornly or is that bravely, the IS sedan is exclusively a petrol-hybrid, losing also the forcefully-aspirated turbo two-litre from its previous range.

The combined power unit output sits at 164kW, the fossil fuel swilling engine contributing 133kW and 221Nm of torque to that tally. The electric motor does the rest all via Lexus’s continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). A greenish fuel economy is rendered at 5.2l/100 km despite a respectable 0-100kph sprint in 8.7sec and a top speed of 200kph, which is nice but in pale comparison to the 228kW and 375Nm of the IS350. Mind you, I don’t miss that car’s fuel bill, only its 0-100kph of 5.9sec.

You can get your IS300h in three flavors i.e. EX, SE and F-Sport, with the latter receiving all that aggro aero I like so much. That’s including but not limited to 19-inch alloy wheels, F-Sport bodywork, dashboard and instrumentation. Also exclusive to the flagship are cooled seats, satellite navigation and voice control to chat to the Android Auto or Apple Carplay infotainment system that is standard across the range. Pick the F-Sport and you’ll also gain LED headlamps, that tasty rear spoiler and adaptive variable suspension. Within its cabin you’ll encounter F-Sport leather-accented trim, sports pedals, driver memory seats and despite the advancements, I have to say that this is the area where changes feel the most minimal. And as a result, it feels like I’ve been transported back into the similarly red cabin of its predecessor. Sure, there’s a raft of upgrades and connectivity options now as technology advances making for a more compelling ownership prospect than ever before.

Familiarity is a funny thing – yes breeding contempt as the saying goes but then I’d add, it can also be quite welcoming. Like coming home. The IS350 didn’t exactly light my pants on fire, but it was a solid steer that felt special at the time. The lesser-powered hybrid of today, despite being less capable from a performance point of view, retains that specialness. An old-world charm cosseted in a velvet glove wrapped around a samurai sword. I like it very much and if the rubbernecking onlookers are anything to go by, its looks are infectious too. Yes, I miss the mislaid cylinders and I don’t necessarily enjoy CVT gearboxes, but this one’s fairly sharp and can be swapped quickly enough from the paddles behind the helm. I literally have nothing to complain about and am a fan of the handling and steering feel on offer. My only challenge was not constantly comparing it to its predecessor. A battle I only sort of won.

Quick Spec: Lexus IS 300h F-Sport
Price: R916 900 (includes 7-year/105,000km warranty and full maintenance plan)
Engine: 2.5-litre, petrol-electric hybrid, RWD, 164kW/221Nm, CVT

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