Test driving the Lexus IS300h F Sport
It's testament to the sophistication of the modern hybrid system that the Lexus IS300h car can be treated just like any other sporting saloon. On paper, perhaps, the overall performance is rather unimpressive, and the class leading economy figures can't even be approached if you treat the IS like some kind of magic-powered BMW M3. It's not. Instead, it's a quirky, very individual machine that packs enormous amounts of technology into its sober silhouette.
Lexus made its name with exceptional quality and high levels of equipment, but in recent years the company has made a massive push into design. It's evolved its own visual language, dubbed 'L-finesse' and produced a series of ultra-sporting concepts and very high end production cars to raise the profile of the brand.
Another big Lexus thing is hybrid drive, the technology pioneered and still dominated by Toyota, Lexus's parent company. Every available Lexus has a hybrid variant, some of which are more subtle than others. The big RX SUV, for example, is well suited to a dollop of discrete electric power. The IS300h, however, attempts to have its cake and eat it by blending a hybrid system with a relatively small petrol engine and, most importantly of all, a sporting designation.
Surprisingly, it makes for a very coherent package. Dial up sport mode and the car does a reasonable job of making progress (although the engine note is conjured up via something called Active Sound Control to give the impression there's more going on under the bonnet). Switch to EV mode and you can potter along in zero emission silence for a couple of miles. Drive it normally and you get under 100g/CO2, making this the cleanest car in its class.
The interior is rather chaotic, with buttons, dials and screens splashed around. If you enjoy in-car electronics, the F Sport is the one to go for, with its dashboard binnacle that slides to one side to reveal another information display, a weird hybrid of digital and analogue interfaces taken directly from the LFA supercar. Saab once had a button that would cut dashboard lighting to everything but the speedometer, and perhaps it's time for modern cars to follow suit, as the panoply of screens, switches, dials and read-outs frequently overwhelms the eye on a dark road at night.
The caveat is one of expectations. Drive too hard and you risk eradicating all the environmental benefits of the technology. Ignore the 'sport' mode and you might as well be in something, well, a little less sporty. But right now there is no Teutonic equivalent to this car, making it a very individual choice. And not a bad one at that.