Mention Lexus to most people and they will conjure up images of luxurious comfort on a casual drive to church Sunday morning. Then along came the Lexus IS 300 and that image of a drive to church became a thrill-packed sprint along country back roads, limited only by your possible hesitancy to push the limits of a finely-tuned sports sedan. This is a ride designed to give your senses a workout and it delivers each and every time.
Packing 215 horsepower in a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, this rear-driven nymph can go zero to sixty in the low seven second range and do it with style and comfort. Originally offered with a 5-speed automatic transmission, later models offered a manual transmission to keep the traditionalists from feeling cheated.
Originally produced as the Toyota Altezza in the Japanese market, the intent for this road warrior when it was first made was to concentrate more on sporty and less on luxury. Only when it was offered to the U.S. market as the IS 300 were more luxury figures added, most notably a stylish instrument panel. The classic lines of a Lexus were still there, the promise of a traditionally smooth ride was still intact, but this car had a new feel to it and it screamed “open me up, don’t hold back, I need to stretch my legs.”
Every effort was made to center-balance this fine Japanese import, and the results did not disappoint. With responsive handling and braking the IS 300 took on the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series and held its own quite nicely. This car needs a winding mountain road to fully appreciate its maneuverability as it clings to the road surface and shifts unerringly.
First and foremost this is a compact sports sedan. The leg room in the front seats is adequate and comfortable, but in the rear seats comfort noticeably declines. Elegance was forsaken with hard plastic covering the console and dash and that sporty instrument panel is a bit difficult to read while traversing a difficult mountain road. Having said that, this model was quite popular with the 25-40 age group who were more than willing to forsake a bit of elegance for the feel of holding a tiger by its tail.
The Lexus IS 300 has not held its resale value as well as some of its competitors in the compact sport sedan category, but the Toyota reputation for reliability and dependability more than makes up for this fact and the performance of the IS 300 is equal or better than of the similar models. If you dream of making even a mundane trip to the grocery store exciting then this is the car for you.