Johannesburg - Lexus South Africa launched the IS 300h (in SE trim) in Johannesburg on Wednesday. It joins a refined range of IS models that now consists of the IS 300 EX, IS 300h SE and IS 350 F Sport.
You might be wondering, like I did, why the Japanese carmaker chose to launch a hybrid version of its compact luxury sedan (which is already a bit long in the tooth compared to its new - forthcoming- chief rivals from Stuttgart and Munich). I mean, Lexus already sells the larger, newer ES sedan in hybrid guise already.
The answer is actually quite simple... hybrid cars are the future for the brand and the offering must swell.
Lexus SA’s Clynton Yon, speaking at the launch event, said that South Africans can look forward to an array of new hybrid models from the company in the course of 2019 and beyond.
It makes sense that Lexus forges ahead as purveyors of luxury hybrids in SA, as an alternative to diesel cars, as its petrol-electric cars are actually quite solid, responsive and a pleasure to drive within the confines of city traffic once you get used to the CVT gearboxes they are fitted with. If you’re an eco-type, this company makes your your kind of cars.
Incentives in other parts of the world make Lexus hybrid cars a no-brainer for many commuters, families and businesses. From tax rebates to purchase price concessions from government, markets such as the UK and USA are moving forward in terms of hybrids on the road and Lexus SA says it’s time South Africa caught up. To this end, together with introducing a hybrid version of every single one of its models, Lexus is looking to introduce a variety of specification levels. ‘Entry-level’ hybrids if you will, to ensure that people who are looking at buying their first premium car consider consider a hybrid ahead of something from Germany, for example.
So what’s this new IS 300h petrol-electric car all about? Let’s peek under its hood and skin.
The IS 300h features a naturally aspirated, four-cylinder 2.5-litre engine that produces 133kW at 6000rpm and 221Nm between 4200rpm and 5400rpm.
The engine boasts Atkinson cycle combustion characteristics and D-4S fuel injection with Dual VVT-i intelligent variable valve timing. It also employs high-efficiency exhaust gas recirculation technologies.
The gasoline engine is mated to a 650-volt permanent-magnet, synchronous electric motor, producing 105kW of maximum power.
Before you get all giddy, like I did, at the thought of a 200+kW car here, the electric motor and petrol engine combo delivers drive to the wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The actual combined power output of the IS 300h is therefore rated at 164kW, but its (claimed) carbon emissions is what’s most impressive a 104g/km.
In terms of performance, it’ll sprint to 100km/h from a standstill in a claimed 8.5 seconds before reaching an electronically governed maximum velocity of 200km/h.
As with all Lexus self-charging hybrids, the IS 300h can be driven in petrol-electric or pure electric (EV) modes at slower traffic speeds.
If you’re looking for a vehicle that comes standard with all sorts of safety kit, this is the car for you. The IS 300h SE is fitted with Lexus’ Safety Pack+ which includes the following items:
Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert: Provides the driver with warnings of potentially unseen hazards, while LED headlights provide a deeper and wider field of illumination for night-time driving.
Lane Keep Assist: Designed to recognise when the vehicle deviates from its lane (hello all you lane-changers that don’t indicate). In essence, the system will self-steer the vehicle safely back to its ‘correct’ path. Lexus says this only works at very low vehicle speeds, though.
Pre-Crash Safety System: Like Pre-Safe in a Merc, this system is designed to detect the risk of an impact and operating in unison with warning and braking systems, aims to lessen the damage sustained in a collision. It scrubs data from a forward recognition camera and radar sensor. If it determines that the possibility of an accident is high, pre-crash warning control and pre-crash brake assist control are initiated. If a collision is imminent, pre-crash braking control will be engaged -to help reduce the impact of the collision or help avoid it.
LED Headlights with Auto High Beam: Alluded to earlier, the IS 300h’s headlights feature LED tech. An Adaptive High-beam System provides optimal lighting, giving finer control of lighting strength and distance, allowing for the car to be driven for longer on high-beam without dazzling vehicles ahead or oncoming traffic.
Adaptive Cruise Control: The car’s front-facing radar and camera are also used to provide Adaptive Cruise Control. This system can help you maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Once the way ahead is clear, the IS will automatically accelerate smoothly back to its pre-set cruising speed; if the car has been brought to a halt, you only have to press the accelerator briefly to reactivate the system.
Like we’ve come to expect from a luxury car maker such as Lexus, the interior of the new IS 300h is impressive, if a little busy in terms of hotkey layout on the dashboard and centre console. Look beyond the busy nature of its design on the inside, though, and you’ll be impressed at the levels of kit that come standard.
The IS 300h is fitted with premium ‘soft’ leather and a large 26cm high-resolution monitor that operates in conjunction with Lexus’ Remote Touch Interface for the multimedia system. You get satellite navigation too, and voice control, although the voice control in our car didn’t recognise my co-driver's inputs. He asked for ‘The Saxon’, our launch venue, and the car kept asking him if he wanted to go ice skating...eventually routing us to a rink in Krugersdorp.
Apart from the voice control follies, worthy of special mention is the laser-etched, dark wood trim inserts with aluminium pinstriping. This unique feature is exclusive to the IS 300h and the flagship IS 350 F Sport model (and Lexus RX). Anoraks will love the fact that this trim piece is produced for Lexus by skilled craftspeople at Yamaha Fine Technologies; made using a technique applied in the manufacture of some of the world’s finest musical instruments.
Oh, and you get a moonroof (sunroof) too.
THREE CAR LINE-UP
The refined Lexus IS range now kicks off with the IS 300 EX model that features a 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with intercooler. It produces 180kW and 350Nm. Variable Valve Timing intelligent – Wide (VVTi-W) allows the engine to switch between the Otto and Atkinson cycles to maximise efficiency. Its trick D-4ST fuel injection system also combines a high-pressure direct fuel injection system with a low-pressure port-injection system.
Then, the flagship IS 350 F Sport comes with a 3.5-litre V6 engine that produces 233kW and 378Nm, driving the rear wheels via an an eight-speed automatic transmission.
A Drive Mode Select system (across the range) features up to four driving modes to tailor the car’s combination of economy, comfort, performance and handling characteristics.
Lexus has expanded the customer care offering for all IS models, giving customers a standard seven-year/105 000km warranty and full maintenance plan. Vehicle service intervals are at every 15 000km, alternatively once a year.
IS 300 EX - R715 400
IS 300h SE – R753 800 (with the Lexus Safety System+)
IS 350 F Sport - R806 400 (with the Lexus Safety System+)