Lexus IS300h F Sport and Lexus IS350 2013 Review

Lexus IS300h F Sport and Lexus IS350 2013 Review

Look closely at the front grille and air splitter and you see the types of curves and air inlets that you expect on an F1 car. And it doesn’t stop there because there are vanes and little details all over the place like on the side of the rear lights. This is the IS300h F Sport, a 2.5-litre hybrid IS-series Lexus with all the fruit. That’s probably what the F stands for: Fruit.

Lexus-IS350-2013-fqBut for similar money you could have the base model IS350 (shown on the left – the remainder of the images in the article are the IS300h). The purpose of this article is to tell you which one to go for: the lesser-powered IS300h plus the trimmings or the brawny but more basic IS350 which will smoke the tyres and give you grins with its 3.5-litre V6. The IS300h F Sport weighs in at $91,995, whereas the IS350 is $94,995 – barely a difference at this kind of money.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-rear-quarterA beautiful line ascends gracefully from the side skirt through an imaginary chord across the rear wheel, along a panel intersection and into the rear light cluster. It’s one of the best executions of this design trick that I’ve seen and it draws your eye up around the rear of the car which is a perfectly executed tail that looks both executive and sporty.

Drop yourself into the bucket seat and it wraps itself around you. The seats are both supportive and comfortable, and a great balance between gripping you enough and not restricting your movement.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-rangeIn the F Sport a central circular dial dominates the centre of the instrument cluster and in normal or eco mode it contains a gauge that measures how economically you’re driving and how much power is either being directed to the battery or drawn from it. Either side of the dial are information displays for the trip computer. Switch the Lexus into Sport or Sport+ mode and this centre ring slides to the right giving a larger screen area to the left. This will now show all manner of information ranging from what is playing via Bluetooth from your phone through to servicing information in an interface that is well-designed.

Look inside the IS350 and you get a more standard-looking set of dials without the fancy graphics that accompany the change in driving mode – they’re a bit too Camry-ish in my opinion. The IS350 only gets three modes (eco, normal and sport) whereas the IS300h F Sport adds a Sport+.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-rear-seatsIn the rear the legroom isn’t phenomenal. It’s really only a four-seater in total as the fifth person would have to suffer quite a hard central seat where the armrest would fold down, and if they’re anything above 5-feet tall their head will rub on the ceiling. The battery also eats into the boot space meaning 30 litres less in the 300, versus the 350’s 480 litres.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-front-interiorBoth models get the same audio system and 7-inch colour display with sat nav and joystick controller. The joystick is easy to use as long as the road isn’t bumpy. The sound system is adequate – nothing über, but certainly not lacking.

The total engine power output of the IS300h is 164kW (133kW in the petrol engine and the rest from the electric motor) and that means it gets up and boogies to 100kph in 8.5 seconds which is OK but won’t light up your world. With 69kW more power (233kW), the IS350 gets to 100kph in 5.8 seconds, although you’ll only need perhaps two of the eight gears available to do that.

The trade-off for the additional fury, lack of hybrid powertrain and lack of automatic engine start/stop in the IS350 is 9.7l/100km versus 4.9l/100km (combined) in the IS300h. That is a significant difference. Plus, you can play the environmentally conscious motorist card as it produces just 113g/km of CO2, and that’s low.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-side

Given that it’s a hybrid it will travel in electric mode for several kilometres and it especially likes doing this while crawling between lights in rush hour. Power from braking or coasting is captured and fed to the battery

Other benefits of the F Sport include Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), radar cruise control (which is a bit keen on the brakes at times) and the aforementioned LFA-inspired instrument cluster with a moving centre ring.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-audio

Driving performance is smooth and unfussed in the IS300h. Sport and Sport+ mode change the throttle response considerably, though the overall feel of the car doesn’t change. It gets on with what you want to do in an unflustered way. Braking performance is strong. Step up to the IS350 and the way that it learns your driving style seems much more marked, especially in sport mode. Give it a lot of throttle and heavy braking and it learns that you want to leave it in the lower gears, and this can make for some quite rapid exits from corners. The V6 sounds great. While you’re cruising you barely hear it (it will stay in eighth gear right down to around 50kph where it’s barely doing 1000rpm), but bury the accelerator pedal and it’s an angry-sounding beast.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-taillight2What’s wrong with the IS models? The only thing is the insipid seat heater. Even on full bore it barely feels like someone’s been sitting in the seat before you, and by the time it feels like that, it starts turning it down. I want a seat heater that feels like it’s trying to melt my buttocks together. The seats are also cooled and you can leave the cooling fan on one of the three settings all day long without it changing.

Lexus-IS300h-f-sport-2013-bootIn conclusion, I like that the Lexus is its own car. Its distinctive styling is immediately recognisable. The spindle front grille might polarise some people because it is so dominant, like Rolls-Royce’s Parthenon grille, but rest of the car is perfect. Lexus’s styling benefits the lower priced models in the range slightly to the detriment of the flagship models like the LS600hL. The brand style cues are so strong that unless you park two different models next to one another it’s often hard to see the differences.

I like the image and I like the driving attitude and feel of both of the models, but the F Sport styling and mesh spindle grille on the 300 makes it so much more coherent rather than half mesh/half horizontal slats on the IS350’s grille. On the inside the F Sport gets all the extra trimmings, too. The hybrid powertrain makes a huge difference meaning every 100km you travel you’ll be using around 5 litres less, and with petrol at well over $2/litre that means a person travelling 15000km per year might save over $1500 (bearing in mind Lexus recommends you feed it 95 octane fuel or above). Although, if you’re about to drop $90k+ on a new Lexus, the price of fuel is the least of your worries.

You can buy the F Sport extras for your IS350 if you want because Lexus has an IS350 F Sport, but then you’re talking $105,995 and that’s a lot more coin. Given the choice of the slow but pimped IS300h F Sport and the standard (but fast) IS350, the IS300h F Sport wins all the way.

Price: $91,995 (IS300h F Sport), $94,995 (IS350)

Pros

  • Looks the business in F Sport trim, especially from the rear quarter
  • Hybrid version is very economical; non-hybrid is very fast

Cons

  • Insipid seat heater barely gets warm
  • Needs another cubbyhole to put a phone or other fripperies

Words and photos:

 

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