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WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

V LEXUS LUXURY HONDA ACCORD SPORT HYBRID IS300h

PRICE & EQUIPMENT 20 POINTS

You get the entry-level IS300h Luxury for $60K, which has less fruit than the $59K Honda. The Lexus has powered, ventilated front seats, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth and a reversing camera like the Honda, but no lane-departure warning or automatic high beam systems.

Digital radio and eight airbags are plusses. 15/20 To help what is fundamentally a Camry Hybrid rival take the fight to premium cars, the Accord Sport Hybrid is loaded, including a powered sunroof, LED projector headlights, active cornering lights, collision-mitigation braking, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring systems. Thereís little the Honda lacks. 16/20

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY 20 POINTS

Itís nice to have a powered steering column, but the brandís Remote Touch multimedia interface canít quite match the user-friendliness of other systems. Despite being 205mm shorter than the Honda, a longer wheelbase helps give the IS superior rear legroom. The 450-litre boot is 30L down on non-hybrid versions. 17/20 Well-built, comfy and spacious, but thereís a lack of class headlined by an untidy dash design. Itís easy to get comfortable in eight-way power-adjustable front pews.

The rear seat is comfortable despite offering less legroom than its rival. Electric rear window sunshades are a nice touch. Boot holds 415 in total, with 34L underfloor. 14/20

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY 20 POINTS

Lexusís 8.5sec 0-100km/h claim is spot-on based on our tests. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder produces 133kW, which translates to 164kW in total with help from a 105kW AC synchronous electric motor. In practice it has great initial throttle response, but not quite the low-rev thrust of a good 2.0 turbo-diesel. The Honda sounds better. 16/20 The Honda is smooth and potent, with an unusual, but not unpleasant, deep note. Its 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle (like the Lexus) four produces 105kW and the electric motor musters 124kW, which results in a total of 146kW. It does 4.6L/100km on the official combined cycle, compared with 4.9L/100km for its rival. 17/20

RIDE & REFINEMENT 20 POINTS

Despite a firm suspension and run-flat tyres (though theyíre only 225/45R17s), the Lexus offers a smooth ride in the city and absorbency in the country Ė provided the road isnít too bad. CVT-induced rev drone is the only bugbear, and perhaps more noticeable because of the excellent suppression of tyre, wind and suspension noise. 17/20 The Honda betrays its American-market origins by being the polar opposite of the Jap-luxe Lexus. The brandís new-gen hybrid drivetrain is refined, but that hardly helps in a cabin that remains relatively noisy courtesy of wind rustle and tyre and suspension intrusion. Meanwhile, the ride quality isnít especially good in isolation. 14/20

STEERING & HANDLING 20 POINTS

If the ride and refinement equation marked a big fork in the road, the pair depart entirely on a twisty one. Thereís more to it than rear- versus front-drive. The Lexus is well balanced with precise steering. Perhaps itís due to the ISís more advanced double A-arm front suspension, but it probably has more to do with good tuning. 15/20 The Accord ĎSportí Hybrid is much better than lower-spec versions, but itís not brilliant, and it isnít as enjoyable as its rival. Itís also great to have grippy Michelins. However, the chassis disappoints, with disconnected steering and non-cohesive dynamics, despite bigger anti-roll bars among changes compared with lesser variants. 13/20

POINTS SCORE

80/100 74/100

VERDICT

Itís a noble Ė or maybe foolish Ė pursuit to take on a genuine Euro-hunting premium with a car thatíd be more at home playing a high-spec Camry Hybrid. But by loading its US-market Accord with luxury, convenience and safety equipment, and giving it a polished new hybrid powertrain, Honda has created a $58,990 semi-luxo car with its sights on no-manís land. However, you will want for nothing in the way of gear in the Sport Hybrid. The engine and motor combination is slick and reasonably satisfying and the cabin is comfy and roomy. But unfortunately for the Honda, thatís about where the appeal ends. The Lexus IS300h is classier outside and in, more refined and surprisingly good fun to punt for a hybrid. Itís also got a longer four- versus three-year warranty and will hold its value better.