2003 Lexus IS300 L-Tuned
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by Haney Louka

Just in case you thought the stock IS300 was a little too mainstream for your tastes, Lexus has come up with an in-your-face answer: L-Tuned. Now this is a car that will cause many a whiplash amongst drivers of tricked-out Hondas; not because of a collision, but because of the rapid double-take they’ll do when an L-Tuned pulls up beside them in traffic.

Now, even the stock IS is not your typical entry-luxury car – it’s a hard-edged, compact, performance-oriented rear-drive model that appeals to those more interested in driving dynamics than being coddled or impressing the neighbours. But this new L-Tuned version does the stock IS one better by adding a host of performance and appearance add-ons that look as if they were supplied by one of many aftermarket manufacturers. But they weren’t. L-Tuned is the name of Lexus’ own in-house tuner, or more accurately a branch of TRD (Toyota Racing Development). It’s similar in some respects to Mercedes-owned AMG and BMW’s M division, although not to the same extent. Unlike the models massaged by L-Tuned, the Germans’ packages come with a healthy boost in horsepower – and an even healthier boost in price.

My L-Tuned tester started out as a relatively modest IS300 with the “B” package-suede/leather seats (power operated), 17-inch wheels, fog lights, and aluminum scuff plates. And lucky for me, this particular example was equipped with the five-speed stick that became available for 2002.

Tricks from the Factory

2003 Lexus IS300 L-Tuned
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After the folks at TRD got their hands on it, my formerly stock tester had been given a new front-end treatment, ground effects all around, a rear spoiler, and nasty looking 18-inch wheels fitted with 225/40-series low-profile tires. New springs are stiffer and lower the ride height by one full inch and a performance muffler adds 8 horsepower (according to Lexus) to the stocker’s divine 215 horsepower inline six.

The words “aggressive”, “sporty”, and the like have often been used to describe the stock IS’s look, but that was before the L-Tuned came along. To put it simply, this is one mean ride that makes the base IS300 look a bit, well, conservative. It has a genuine aftermarket look, with the mammoth rims nicely stuffing the wheel openings, and just a strip of rubber for a tire. The clearance between the tires and fender liners is next to nothing, and the ground effects magnify this effect even more. To top it off, the front-end treatment includes the deletion of the Lexus symbol from the grille and replaces the stock unit with a mesh grille and carbon fibre trim. Very trick.

While aftermarket add-ons usually come with a price, one can be sure that the Lexus-supplied goodies will really hit the pocketbook where it counts: The IS300 “B” lists for $40,460. But add all of the performance and appearance items listed earlier and that price swells to $50,617, not including the wheels and tires. Turns out they aren’t offered as part of the package, but can be bought from aftermarket suppliers. Go figure.

I did a little checking, and it looks like a similar wheel and tire package would cost in the neighbourhood of $2,500. So tally it up and the total comes to just north of $53K as tested. A little steep, to be sure, but it’s a unique package that’s equal parts show and go.

2003 Lexus IS300 L-Tuned
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Flanking the tach on the right is a pod that contains fuel and coolant temperature gauges to complete the basic instrumentation provided on the IP. All gauges are of the clearly marked, white-on-black with red needle variety.

When the opportunity to drive this car arose, I had to sit back and think about how many IS300s I had driven to date: this L-Tuned model brings the total up to five. And after driving no less than five IS300s, I can testify that this is a car that never ceases to satisfy my craving for a responsive, fun-to-drive sedan. In fact, I look forward to driving one more and more each time the chance presents itself.

Everything I like about the stock IS300 holds true here, for the most part. Acceleration is sewing-machine smooth and accompanied by a wonderful melody from under the hood. Braking and steering are right-now responsive and communicating with the road comes naturally when behind the wheel of the IS. As well, the clutch is a pleasure to engage and the shift linkage is so crisp it borders on notchy.

There are some disadvantages to lowering and stiffening a car’s suspension, though. While it looks great and handles even better, trade-offs are made in the ride and driveability departments. The stock IS’s ride is firm enough to satisfy most performance-oriented appetites, but the L-Tuned treatment will narrow the appeal of this car significantly. What I once described as “firm” is now stiff and not quite compliant enough for our potholed roads. And that front air dam magnifies the effect of the lowered suspension, meaning that curbs and parking blocks suddenly matter when you’re parking.

2003 Lexus IS300 L-Tuned

2003 Lexus IS300 L-Tuned
Click image to enlarge

The car also had trouble finding straight ahead at speed. It seems those low-profile tires that enhance the appearance and cornering performance of the car also conspire to reduce directional stability on rutted or grooved roads.

But back to the good stuff: Where the stock IS corners well, the L-Tuned version actually led me to record “no perceptible body roll while cornering” in my logbook.

The bottom line? This sedan is truly a sports car that doesn’t need to apologize for having two extra doors in back. I don’t think more road feel, sharper steering, or less body roll can be had in another factory-supplied four-door.

Shopping Around

Specialty vehicles such as this L-Tuned IS300 have few direct competitors in the marketplace because they offer a unique variation on a more mainstream theme, and thus are going after a more narrow customer base. The following vehicles most closely compete against the L-Tuned IS300:

  • Audi A4 3.0 quattro
  • BMW 330i
  • Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG

Technical Data:

2003 Lexus IS300 L-Tuned
Base price $39,470
Price as tested $53,000 (estimated)
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sports sedan
Layout front-mounted inline-6, rear wheel drive
Engine 3.0L I-6, DOHC, 24 valves, Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i)
Horsepower 223 @ 5800 rpm (estimated)
Torque 218 lb-ft. @ 3800 rpm
Fuel premium
Transmission 5-speed manual
Curb weight 1485 kg (3274 lb.)
Wheelbase 2670 mm (105.1 in.)
Length 4485 mm (176.6 in.)
Height 1415 mm (55.7 in.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.1 L/100 km
  Hwy: 8.6 L/100 km
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

Note: All figures other than price and horsepower are taken from the stock IS 300, as no additional information was available for the L-Tuned at the time this review was published.

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