(Pocket-lint) - There’s no getting round it. Whatever interesting nuggets we tell you about the features of the new Lexus IS, or however interesting we reckon the car’s general looks are, whether you like it is probably going to come down to what you think of that massive new "spindle" front grille.
It certainly has presence; we’ll give it that. But it’s almost as shocking as the first time we saw Audi’s full frame, single aperture front gob. And we remember people being up in arms about that.
Yet time has a funny habit of making such shock fade into the background as you see more and more of something on the road. So we reckon all of the fuss made about the new Lexus’s face here in Detroit will subside once people have seen a few out and about.
And the signs are that you should get past it if you really can, for behind the gaping mouth lurks an impressive car. Taking the fight to the dominant trio of BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Merc C-Class, the new IS is unarguably the closest Lexus has come to offering something that should really make you think twice before defaulting to German.
You’ll struggle to tell from the shots of this impossible-to-photograph white car shown in Detroit, but the design is proportionally sound, dead-on size wise and has an appearance that you’d never call boring or predictable.
Check out those front lights - the LED running "L" (for Lexus, of course, just don’t mention the Nike Swoosh to anyone at the Japanese car brand) has been broken clean away from the main front lamp unit, while at the rear a pair of LED bars form L shapes too.
We suspect you’ll like what greets you as you step inside, too. The quality still isn’t quite at Audi levels, but the plastic is mostly soft, the leather is likely to come as standard and the contrast stitching adds a level of sportiness. The architecture of the dashboard is quite busy, with a wraparound cowl over the instruments and then a set-back centre screen that’s not dissimilar to the bigger GS we tested last summer but there’s a lot of feature appeal.
READ: Lexus GS450h review
You get Lexus’s rather irritating RTI mouse-like controller for screen function selections, and some nifty electro-slider switches for adjusting the cabin temperature and fan speed.
But the best bit is undoubtedly the instrument panel. We scored a world exclusive by persuading the Lexus staff to fire up the car on the motorshow stand (well, if you don’t ask, you don’t get…) to bring the instrument binnacle to life. To get the best idea of what it does, check out our video.
You get a central, physical main dial, which when the car is fired up, forms the border for the digital rev counter. It’s flanked by a pair of digital screens, but the real theatre is when you switch driving modes or use a button on the wheel, to make the whole rev counter unit shuttle itself across to the right, revealing a bigger, different screen to the left, just like in the LFA supercar.
It goes through this movement with a lovely, motorised camera-shutter noise you can hear on the video and regardless of whether you think it’s cool (we do), it a unique feature.
Lexus will primarily bring the hybrid, badged IS300h, to Europe and the best news about that for company car drivers is that they’re saying its emissions levels are just 99g/km. That means super-low fuel consumption in theory, plus low company car tax and £0 road tax.
If you want a diesel, you’ll have to look elsewhere as we’re only getting petrol and hybrid here. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we can’t wait to get behind the wheel.