ON THE ROAD- IAN LYNAS DRIVES THE LEXUS IS300h F SPORT

Lexus has gained not only worldwide acclaim for reliability but also for quality and recently I spent a week with the new IS300h F Sport; the IS designation stands for Intelligent Sport.

The compact executive saloon has been part of the line-up in various generations since 1999 and it was originally sold as a Toyota Altezza in Japan, until the introduction of the Lexus brand and the second generation IS in 2006.

In its short history, the IS, which was originally regarded as an entry level sport model has evolved to become a challenger to the German premium brands.

Drivers whom I have spoken with have switched to the Japanese brand, citing that they wanted a change from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, to discover that they got a lot more for their hard earned money.

There is no doubt and I can say this of every Lexus I have ever driven, they do offer more and an options list hardly exists. A million seller this compact sports saloon is enjoying its third generation, the first in fact to be equipped with Lexus Hybrid Drive. Those who enjoy rear wheel drive will appreciate this one; worth noting just how few cars today have this drive format.

The F Sport version comes equipped with a dedicated sports styling and handling package.

The year just past saw significant revisions, with changes not simply cosmetic; the aim was to demonstrate a commitment to achieving the best possible dynamic performance, matched by sports styling and a quality, well appointed cabin.

Naoki Kobayashi led the development team and the IS300h was put through extensive road and test-track driving, demonstrating the even higher standards Lexus is applying to its vehicle development.

In order to achieve the best possible handling, new lightweight suspension components and adjustments to the coil springs, shock absorbers and stabiliser bar all contribute to a more rewarding drive. However on our roads away from the motorways I found this Lexus a trifle harsh, one clue might be the low profile tyres.

Keeping the occupants of the modern car is a priority for manufacturers and Lexus excels in this respect. The Lexus Safety System+ features a raft of advanced technology features that can help prevent accidents happening and reduce the consequences should the worst happen. Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert provide the driver with improved warnings of potentially unseen hazards and the LED headlights provide a deeper and wider field of illumination in night-time driving. On the odd occasion I indulged in night time driving, I was impressed by the quality of the lighting.

We all like to be in a cabin that puts the focus on the driver, no disappointment in this area with the F Sport. Great attention to detail with small but telling adjustments to the shape, location and appearance of controls, reflecting both higher sensory quality and a focus on superior HMI performance.

There are a number of important changes including a larger, 10.3-inch high-resolution monitor for the Lexus Premium Navigation multimedia system and the availability of new precision laser-etched dark wood trim inserts.

Now to the heart of the matter, powered by Lexus Hybrid Drive, which achieves significant reductions in fuel consumption CO2, NOx and particulate emissions, with no loss of performance.

A 141bhp/105kW electric motor with a 2.5 litre, 178bhp/133kW four cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol engine, equipped with D-4S fuel injection, Dual VVT-i intelligent variable valve timing and high-efficiency exhaust gas recirculation.

This combination drives the rear wheels via an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.

The end result is output of 220bhp/164kW, with rest 62mph (100kph) in 8.4 seconds and a 125mph (201kph) top speed.

Good news on economy, the kind of news we like to hear, combined cycle fuel consumption is from 67.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 107g/km.

A very strong challenger in its sector, a car inspired by the LFA supercar, simply a true sports saloon.

One final pleasing point, just one option on the F Sport tested, metallic paint costing £610, (€687) leaving the total at £36,325.( € 40,902) N.I.

In the R.O.I. the F Sport starts at €46,750