Lexus introduces a hybrid version, the IS 300h, late in the life cycle of the IS sedan range. Picture: SUPPLIED
Lexus introduces a hybrid version, the IS 300h, late in the life cycle of the IS sedan range. Picture: SUPPLIED

Hybrid cars are about as popular as spinach-flavoured ice cream in SA,where diesel still rules supreme as the fuel-sipping choice for motorists wanting to save money on travel costs.

The backlash against diesels overseas (and particularly Europe) following the Dieselgate scandal hasn’t trickled down to SA where diesel sales are still very strong.

Nevertheless, Lexus is pushing the hybrid agenda with petrol-electric versions of its ES sedan and NX and RX sports utility vehicles in the local line up. Now Toyota’s premium cousin has introduced a hybrid derivative of the six-year old Lexus IS sedan, due for replacement in 2020.

Wearing the trademark blue badge denoting a Lexus hybrid, it’s called the IS 300h and combines a 2.5l petrol four-cylinder engine with a 105kW electric motor, directing drive to the rear wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The petrol engine runs on an Atkinson cycle, which is said to use less fuel than the more commonly-used Otto cycle and, in concert with an electric motor which takes on some of the power duties, the car’s selling point is that it reputedly runs on the smell of a fuel rag. Its claimed fuel consumption is just 5l/100km on a combined urban/freeway cycle.

I didn’t get anywhere close to that kind of thriftiness at the car’s media launch drive in Joburg last week, however, with the trip computer showing 10.2l/100km. That’s a lot thirstier than a similarly-powered diesel vehicle, and suggests Lexus might have a tough time enticing customers away from their beloved oil burners.

The driving route was admittedly all in stop-start urban traffic with no open-road cruising, but it’s still hard to imagine being able to cut that fuel consumption by half, down to what the factory claims.

The short drive revealed the IS 300h to be adequately powered, with the petrol engine packing outputs of 133kW and 221Nm, while there’s a maximum 164kW on call with the petrol and electric units working in cahoots. Lexus quotes a decent 0-100km/h sprint of 8.5 seconds for the car, along with a governed top speed of 200km/h.

As with all Lexus self-charging hybrids, the IS 300h can be driven in petrol-electric, or pure electric modes at slower traffic speeds. During regenerative braking, the electric motor also operates as a high-output generator, recovering kinetic energy as electricity to charge the hybrid system battery.

It’s a very refined drive, with almost imperceptible shifts between the petrol and electric modes. Along with an EV mode that can run the car for short distances on electric power alone, there are Eco and Power settings to vary the drive delivery from lazy to more alive.

None of these modes fix the unpleasant slipping-clutch effect of the CVT, but the driver can use the steering wheel gear paddles for a manual shift feel.

Leather-lined interior doesn't skimp on luxuries, and the ride quality is plush. Picture: SUPPLIED
Leather-lined interior doesn't skimp on luxuries, and the ride quality is plush. Picture: SUPPLIED

The best thing about the car, which has nothing to do with the drivetrain, is its cushy ride quality. It’s a class act in the calm and unflustered way it glides over ripples and speed humps.

The plush ride is despite the vehicle being fitted with stiffened-sidewall runflat tyres to compensate for there being no spare wheel; the boot is the same size as a regular IS but its underfloor is occupied by the rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries that feed the electric motor.

The refreshed three-derivative IS line-up now includes the IS 300 EX with a 2l turbo motor; the IS 350 F Sport wielding a 3.5l V6, and the new IS 300h SE.

A spec upgrade sees the 200h and F Sport gaining the Lexus Safety System+, which introduces driving safety aids like a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, adaptive high beams that automatically dim for other cars, and adaptive cruise control.

The 300h is a high-spec model that also lays on features like eight airbags, reversing camera, tyre pressure monitoring, heated and cooled front seats, a 10.3” multimedia system, navigation, and 10-speaker audio.


Prices:

IS 300 EX: R715,400

IS 300h SE: R753,800

IS 350 F Sport: R806,400

All Lexus models carry a seven-year/105,000km warranty and maintenance plan, and hybrid models have an eight-year battery warranty.