2001 Lexus IS300
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The Lexus IS300 is an attractive alternative to the German sports sedans, but it is unlikely to persuade the buyer for whom all out sports car handling in a sedan is a priority. On the other hand, the Lexus is a fun car to drive and will satisfy the performance needs of most drivers without many tradeoffs in comfort.

2001 Lexus IS300First Lexus took on the German luxury sedans and proved to skeptics that a Japanese car maker could build a sedan equal to the best offerings of Europe. Now, 10 years after the introduction of the LS400, Lexus is again going after a market traditionally dominated by the Germans – luxury sport sedans.

The IS300 is targeted at the same buyer who would consider a BMW 3-series car or the Audi A4. The marketing strategy is familiar – attract financially secure buyers when they are young and active and keep them in the family as their fortunes and tastes mature.

But how to attract them in the first place? By giving them exactly what they would expect if they were buying a Bimmer – rear-wheel drive, 3.0 litre inline six cylinder motor, four-wheel independent suspension, great brakes, good handling and a ride that leans more toward sporting firm than boulevard comfy.

2001 Lexus IS300
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But to be fair to Lexus, the IS300 is not a BMW clone. Though similar in size, the Lexus is more angular and, to my eye at least, more muscular looking with its 17 inch wheels and 215/45 R17 performance tires filling the fender wells. The bulge in the hood, whether necessary or not, adds to its muscularity.

Some neat design tricks distinguish the IS300 from its Lexus siblings – and from BMW for that matter – particularly the headlight and taillight treatments. Both its High Intensity Discharge headlamps and round taillights are covered under clear plastic covers, the latter surrounded by chrome trim. Seeing the IS300 from behind, there is no mistaking it for anything but an IS300.

2001 Lexus IS300
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The distinctive design features continue inside with drilled aluminum pedals, stainless steel doorsill scuffplates, rough pewter trim, stainless steel “cueball” shifter knob and chrome ring surrounding the shifter. Most noticeable – and controversial – are the chronograph style gauges. While attractive, the cluster is very small and combines eight gauges. The instruments are dominated by the speedometer which overlaps the tachometer on the left and the gas gauge, odometer and gear position indicator on the right, while incorporating coolant temperature, battery level and instant fuel consumption gauges. These latter three – like the small dials within the watch that inspired this design – are particularly small and difficult to read. The analog style instant fuel consumption gauge seemed more for decoration than for any practical purpose.

Our test car, which included a $3,970 appearance package, was equipped with heated, cloth covered, manually operated passenger and driver seats. In a car costing $43,800, the absence of full leather or power adjustment seems odd. Power seats are available at additional cost, but full leather is not. The optional seating surfaces are leather trimmed. However, the fabric used in the IS300 is ribbed like corduroy and grips your behind like velcro. Throw the IS300 into a corner and you stay firmly in place.

Standard equipment on the IS300 includes cruise control, one-touch auto-down power windows, illuminated entry, integrated three-function garage door opener, heated seats and outside mirrors, automatic climate control and an AM/FM/cassette stereo with in-dash 6 CD changer. The sound system includes front door-mounted, full-range speakers, titanium tweeters mounted in the A pillars, and woofer and mid-range coaxial units mounted in the rear shelf. The standard remote keyless entry system integrates the ignition key into the control fob, which includes a trunk opener. Also standard is a security alarm and engine immobilizer system.

Safety features include three-point seatbelts at all five seating positions, as well as dual front airbags and front seat mounted side airbags.

Rear seating is as one would expect in a compact sport sedan – adequate. Though foot room beneath the front seats is good and there are places for three, don’t expect to carry more than two average-sized adults back there. The rear seat back includes a pass-through to a smallish 286 litre (10.1 cu. ft.) trunk. A folding rear seatback is, unfortunately, not offered.

2001 Lexus IS300
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The IS300 is powered by a smooth 3.0 litre inline six cylinder engine – the same engine that powers the mid-level Lexus GS300 – and produces 215 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 218 ft-lb of torque at 3,800 rpm, which is comparable to BMW’s new 3.0 litre inline 6 cylinder engine which has 225 horsepower and 214 ft-lb. of torque at 3500 rpm. Lexus’s 3.0 litre employs Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) to optimize valve overlap throughout the engine’s speed range. VVT-i eliminates the traditional compromise between low-end torque and high-rpm horsepower, giving the IS300 the feel of a larger-displacement engine. Acceleration is rapid – Toyota states 0-96 km/h times of 7.1 seconds – and the sound is intoxicating.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with “E-Shift” steering wheel controls. It is the only gearbox available until later this year, when a manual transmission option becomes available. One has the option of shifting the car manually via the steering wheel controls, manually via the gated shifter or fully-automatic. I found the steering wheel buttons awkward to use and preferred changing gears with the floor-mounted shifter. Crisper shifts can be obtained by depressing a console-mounted “power” button, while more gentle shifts result when the “snow” button is depressed.

2001 Lexus IS300
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The four-wheel independent suspension features a double-wishbone layout in the front and rear and communicates more road feel than any Lexus. On the road, the IS300 is surprisingly agile, holding tightly to a line while moving rapidly through a corner or changing lanes in the blink of an eye.

While the IS300 has cornering limits most people will never encounter, approaching those limits with winter performance tires, as our test car was equipped, can be a bit disconcerting. When turning in quickly, one had the sense that it wouldn’t take much added throttle to break the IS300 loose. And braking under such circumstances… well, that would be a mistake.

The Lexus IS300 is an attractive alternative to the German sports sedans, but it is unlikely to persuade the buyer for whom all out sports car handling in a sedan is a priority. On the other hand, the Lexus is a fun car to drive and will satisfy the performance needs of most drivers without many tradeoffs in comfort.

Technical Data:

2001 Lexus IS300
Base price $40,830
Price as tested $43,800
Type 4-door, compact sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0 litre inline 6 cylinder, DOHC, 24 valves, VVTi
Horsepower 215 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 218 ft-lb. @ 3800 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic w/E-Shift
Tires 215/45R17
Curb weight
Wheelbase 2670 mm (105.1 in.)
Length 4486 mm (176.6 in.)
Width 1720 mm (67.7 in.)
Height 1420 mm (55.9 in.)
Trunk space 286 litres (10.1 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption city: 12.8 L/100km (22 mpg)
  highway: 9.3 L/100km (30 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 6 yrs/110,000 km

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