Lexus IS a car to

contend with

Lexus IS, 2017, front, action
Lexus IS, 2017, nose
Lexus IS, 2017, front
Lexus IS, 2017, side, action
Lexus IS, 2017, instruments
Lexus IS, 2017, dashboard
Lexus IS, 2017, interior
Lexus IS, 2017, rear, action
Lexus IS, 2017, rear seats

THE Lexus IS faces one of the stiffest challenges in motoring.

This premium grade, rear wheel drive exec mobile is styled to impress yet has to contend with those seduced by the belief that German engineering is best.

In this luxury league BMW rules the roost followed by Audi and Mercedes-Benz - and none of their cars are duffers.

Neither is this Lexus which is about to prove a point with an extensive mid-life makeover.

A more aggressive design, extra technology and tweaks on the handling front make the new IS a genuine alternative to the Teutonic trio.

The strength of the IS is its hybrid powertrain which makes it low on emissions and high on performance which has great appeal to business users with an eye on economy and low tax charges.

Priced from £29,995 to £40,995 the 10 model IS line up may cost a little more than before but its high on equipment and still very competitive compared to the likes of a 3 Series, A4 or C-Class.

Emissions as low as 97g/km for an IS 300h sitting on 16-inch wheels equates to an official fuel return of 67.3mpg and in real world motoring it's going average around 45 to the gallon with ease.

That's not to be sneezed at in this echelon and for the new model Lexus has stiffened the suspension, improved damping and refined the feel of the steering to make it much more a driver's car.

The IS 300h is smoother on the road than a 3 Series and the ride is more touring than track - a proper bit of luxury for which Lexus is famed.

The CVT gearbox on the hybrid is much improved and has a more definite feel when going through its paces. Use the paddle shifters for manual changes and they arrive in positive fashion giving the hybrid a fair performance.

A more sporty experience comes from the 2.0-litre non-hybrid turbo IS 200t with its eight-speed auto transmission.

In this guise the IS has much more guts but a significantly greater thirst. It's also now only available in high trim grades with a starting price of £37,995.

The IS 200t may achieve 0 to 60 in seven seconds compared to 8.4 for the hybrid but its fuel return falls to 39.2mpg with associated CO2 figures of 167g/km.

That speaks for itself and we saw just 24mpg on the average fuel readout after a rural run in a top range F Sport 200t costing £38,995.

On both versions of the IS noise levels inside are well suppressed and comfort is high.

The new models can be fitted with a larger 10.3-inch touchscreen with a high definition, split screen display - an effect which on F Sport versions is repeated in the instrument cluster and taken from the futuristic Lexus LFA super model.

Trim quality has been enhanced throughout with a new stitch pattern, a tidier look to the central control panel and, on top specification Premier grade, laser etched wooden trim inserts - a quality touch.

The facia is very much focused on function with plenty of controls and buttons railing against the minimalist approach taken by some other brands. It's a more traditional application and one that gives the driver a sensation of being in control in a proper fashion.

As well as adaptive cruise control the new IS comes with a good array of safety aids including pre-collision protection and the option of blind spot and cross traffic monitors placing it in the highest Euro NCAP bracket.

But that is all hidden away under the skin and the most striking part of the new IS is the frontal design which takes the impact of the Lexus trademark ‘spindle' grille to a new level.

The grille is even more pronounced than before and flanked by huge scooped out nacelles. On the previous IS that was where you would find the fog lamps, but with the new model having LED headlamps which do the job in poor visibility, the intakes are now cosmetic only.

It's a bold design which Lexus concedes will not be to everyone's tastes but the effect is stand out under any circumstances.

For those who dare to be different the IS offers plenty - a realistic alternative to anything from Germany, highly equipped and very competitive on all fronts.

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