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Lexus IS300 for young darting executive

Andrew Muzamhindo:Analyst

The target market for the Lexus brand is the younger buyer who is seeking a contemporary and dynamic take on luxury driving. They are interested in brands that are still edgy and relevant, but they require a more refined experience.

Lexus is the luxury vehicle brand, owned by Toyota Motor Corporation, which values the products and experiences that offer luxury, comfort, and innovation.

Since they are considered as a relatively new brand on the luxury car market, it has to compete with those well-known European luxury brands. It is a tight competition, because the competitors have already had a strong brand image that had been built years before.

Younger age tends to be lifestyle oriented and aspired to high-end people, and Lexus is considered to be a tool to gain prestige and social recognition. But the awareness of Lexus is still attached with Toyota, which leads to negative association towards the brand itself.

Moreover, younger age perceives the luxurious only on the product’s image, whereas Lexus also offers the luxury value through the experiences. By the result of this research, Lexus is suggested to conduct a marketing strategy to loosen the attachment between Toyota and Lexus. Lexus also needs to try in a certain direction to strengthen its value, which is the luxury experience, to the younger age.

For the Lexus IS300 to unseat the BMW 3 Series as the eminent and benchmark executive sports sedan was always going to be an uphill, if not impossible, task.

The model has seven generations of engineering under its belt, compared to the Lexus IS’ three. And it remains at the top of the list for many drivers shopping in this segment.

Wise money will say the 3 Series may not remain there for long. Even if it is not unseated, it may have to share the top spot with the Lexus IS. And I am not just saying this because I have a weakness for Lexus. I actually have been following their progress for years.

From the first IS200 to the IS250 and later the IS200t, the Lexus IS has always been known for doing everything — except being a driver’s car. So, they are well-built, capable, and refined. Just not as fun to drive. Even the fire-breathing IS F and its naturally aspirated five-litre V8 seemed to lack that magic something, that “je ne sais quoi”. Perhaps the engine and exhaust were not loud enough.

But this updated Lexus IS300 is an entirely different being. From the moment you get behind its wheel, it feels spot on. Getting the correct driving position, for instance, takes mere seconds instead of moments or even minutes. That definitely took a lot to get right.

IS300 cockpit is well-built and ergonomic, with controls falling easily to hand.

There is that low roofline, too. If you are over 1,8 metre tall, find another car. This one aims to cocoon you, and it does so wonderfully.

The dashboard and door panels are trimmed with soft-touch materials, while the controls fall to hand nicely. Infotainment, a Lexus weak point, has been improved with a new 10,3-inch touchscreen display. It has also been placed 5,9 inches closer to the driver for easier reach.

This touchscreen finally relieves drivers from having to use that awkward trackpad to navigate the infotainment. I still think the menus could be simplified, but if you are an iPhone user, CarPlay will take care of you. No need to deal with cumbersome menus.

Lexus models are known for having big, aggressive “spindle” grilles and the new Lexus IS300 is no different. Its redesigned spindle grille features a three-dimensional and polyhedral structure, making even more “in-your-face” than ever. Lowered character lines, muscular fenders and three-dimensional bumper garnishes are also new exterior additions.

New headlights are both slimmer and lighter than before.

The headlights are slimmer and lighter than before, while the tail-lights are now “linked” by a strip. All this “anger” and aggression will not please everyone. At times, even I find it all a bit too much. But like it or not, one cannot deny that such styling gives the Lexus IS300 plenty of road presence.

Undeniable, too, is how much sharper the Lexus IS is compared to its predecessors. The carmaker says it extensively honed the IS at its new technical centre in Shimoyama, Japan. Body rigidity was further raised by methods that included increasing the number of front side-member weld points and optimising structures such as the C-pillar.

Lexus says that the car’s swing valve dampers have ultra-low-velocity valves in their pistons that manage oil flow. These help deliver an even ride, even at low stroke speeds. What you feel is a well-balanced car that does not pitch or drive, yet remains pliant enough to deal with most woolly roads, which seem to have become the norm. It is hard to nail this, but Lexus has certainly come close.

Turbocharged two-litre is capable, but requires a driver who’s willing to chase higher revs. Powering the Lexus IS300 is a turbocharged two-litre unit that sends 180Kw and 350Nm to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox. The carmaker claims a 0 to 100 sprint time of seven seconds. Getting the IS300 up to speed requires plenty of revs. Perhaps the engineers, in their quest to make the turbocharged engine feel more like a naturally aspirated one, made it so linear that you don’t feel any boost.

The gearbox complements this with its tall ratios. You will need to downshift several times to get the tachometer needle swinging to the right if you really want to get a move on. If your idea of turbocharged performance is instant power at any engine speed, you will be disappointed. But if linear performance is your thing, the Lexus IS300 will please you.

With a stiffer body and re-tuned suspension, the Lexus IS300 feels very point-y. You think about where you want to place the car and it naturally happens. Turn-ins feel positive and the car does not lean. It is incisive, and you get the feeling that there are no wasted movements. The electric power steering is nicely weighted and accurate, too.

This is impressive for an “entry-level” variant. The more powerful IS350, which is even more rousing.

There are only two main downsides to the IS300. One is the lack of a soundtrack. Not all four-cylinder engines sound nice, and this is even harder to do with a turbocharged one. So, stretching every forward ratio here brings no aural rewards.

The second is the stock tyres. Bridgestone’s Turanza T005 is a comfortable all-rounder. But these should not be standard on a 241hp rear-wheel-drive sedan. One can imagine how much better the Lexus IS300 would handle if it had high-performance rubber.

If Lexus continues honing the IS with the driver in mind, and BMW does not answer this challenge properly (unlikely, but you never know), then the next Lexus IS might be the driver’s car to watch.

For now, we still cannot get over how much more driver-centric this updated IS has become. Even with comfort-biased tyres, this sports sedan remains compelling and fun to drive.

l Engine: 1998cc, 16-valves, inline-four, turbocharged;
l Max power: 180kW at 5800rpm;
l Max torque: 350Nm at 1650-4400rpm;
l Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual select;
l 0-100Km/h: Seven seconds;
l Top speed: 230km/h (governed); and
l Fuel consumption: 13,3km/L (combined).
Email: andrew@muzamhindo.com

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