If you want a stylish and economical compact executive saloon, but don’t want a BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Audi A4, where do you turn? Well, for more than a decade, buyers in the UK have been solving that conundrum by buying a Lexus, and it’s easy to understand why. In terms of interior quality, appealing aesthetics and refinement, the IS has consistently challenged the German opposition.
However, in what is one of the most competitive automotive classes, things don’t stand still for long, with cars such as the new Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia starting to encroach on Lexus’s left-field exclusivity. To counter this, the IS has been treated to a comprehensive refresh for 2017.
Outside, the IS gets restyled lights and bumpers, a new front grille and a range of new alloy designs. The big news is in inside, though; the centrally mounted screen is significantly larger Premier models, up from 7.0 to 10.3in. It’s also higher resolution and operates as a split screen, so different functions can be displayed simultaneously.
On the road, the IS should also feel sharper thanks to stiffened suspension and new steering settings, and Lexus claims these changes have no impact on ride comfort.
What's the 2016 Lexus IS300h Luxury like to drive?
Dynamically, the IS has never been the best in class, so these changes bring small but welcome improvements. While the old car’s steering felt rather numb, the revised system feels more direct, allowing you to place the front-end with better accuracy. Through corners, the tweaked suspension also resists body roll well, and there’s plenty of grip. The ride is still firmer than some rivals, but it’s never harsh.
Around town, the IS300h makes almost silent progress running on battery power, and is whisper quiet with the petrol engine running at low revs, delivering one of the most refined low-speed experiences in the class. However, once you get out onto the open road, the one-speed CVT gearbox is a limiting factor.
Flex your right foot and you’re met with a flare in revs, but little real performance. It seems that even in manual mode - which locks up to give you closer control of your speed – the ‘box continues to slip, resulting in the sensation of being in the wrong gear when exiting tight corners. And despite having 220bhp, you never feel like you’re getting the whole amount, even with the throttle pedal fully depressed.
What's the 2016 Lexus IS300h Luxury like inside?
At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be a huge difference inside, but look closer and you start to notice small but significant changes. The audio and ventilation control panel has been adjusted so that it now sits neatly between the knee bolsters, the new 10.3in infotainment screen makes better use of the broad dashboard and the new laser-etched dark wood trim helps to lift the atmosphere of an interior that was starting to feel dated.
However, the revised HMI infotainment system still lets the side down. Despite having the aforementioned larger screen, the system is both fiddly and distracting to use on the move. In fact, it’s hard to comprehend why Lexus has continued to persevere with its mouse-style controller, when both BMW’s and Audi’s rotary controlled systems are faster and much more intuitive.
Should I buy one?
Despite these updates, the IS continues to feel rather past its best in this hotly contested class. The interior is well screwed together and pleasant to look at, but the infotainment system needs to be retired.
And without the option of a diesel engine, company car buyers would still be better looking at a 3 Series, and private buyers looking for a high-tech and engaging driving machine would be better off behind the wheel of an XE.
What Car? says...
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
2016 Lexus IS300h Luxury
Engine size 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol hybrid
Price from £34,495
Torque 221lb ft
Top speed 125mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 60.1mpg
CO2/BIK band 107g/km/18%