2004 Lexus IS 300; photo courtesy Lexus. Click image to enlarge
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By Chris Chase
The IS300 was Lexus’ first foray into the entry-level sport sedan segment, and was conceived as a competitor to class benchmarks like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4.
While this car was all-new to North America in 2001, it had been sold as the Toyota Altezza in Japan since 1998 and in Europe as the IS200 since 1999.
Through this first-generation IS’ run, it was powered by a 3.0-litre, inline six-cylinder engine that traces its heritage to the vaunted Toyota Supra sports car. Initially, the car was sold only with a five-speed automatic transmission, and a manual was added in 2002.
2002 Lexus SportCross; photo by Haney Louka. Click image to enlarge
Also in 2002, a hatchback model called the SportCross was added.
In 2001, fuel consumption in early models was rated at 13.3/9.4 L/100 km (city/highway), though this improved to 13/8.8 in 2002, while the manual was rated at 13.1/8.6. Consumption ratings would remain similar to these figures through the first-generation’s run.
That’s fairly high consumption, considering that a 2003 BMW 330i, arguably the car to beat in this class, is rated at 11.3/7.3 L/100 km with a manual transmission, and automatic models are rated only slightly higher.
Generally, reliability has been good, but there are a few things to look out for.
Consumer Reports notes trouble with the first-gen IS’ audio system. One issue isn’t with the operation of the stereo, but rather a wiring fault that causes the stereo to drain the battery while the car is parked. Read this thread for more information.
2004 Lexus IS 300 (top); 2003 Lexus IS300 L-Tuned; photos courtesy Lexus. Click image to enlarge
Another issue is with CD players that jam up and hold your disc hostage.
CR’s data also indicates an issue with transmissions in 2003 and 2004 models (no data is available for 2005s), which coincides with the introduction of a manual transmission, but there’s little to no relevant information to be found online. I found a couple of references inthat mentions weak clutches in manual cars, so that’s probably the source of the trouble.
Also, it’s apparently common for oxygen sensors to fail in the 80,000 to 100,000 km range, and I spotted a mention or two of evaporative emissions components that go bad, too.
Notably, no recalls were issued for the IS300.
In crash testing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2002-2005 IS300 its “good” rating in frontal offset crash tests, but didn’t conduct side impact tests.
2002 Lexus SportCross (top, by Haney Louka); 2001 Lexus IS300 (by Grant Yoxon). Click image to enlarge
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests, the IS300 earned four stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, and five stars for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts.
Used IS300 values range from $12,800 for a 2001 to $23,450 for a 2005 with automatic, optional leather and moonroof. A 2003 sedan rings in at $18,125, and a SportCross model is worth just a few hundred more. The IS’ used values tend to be in line with those for higher-end BMW 3 Series’ (like a 330i, for example), but higher than those for six-cylinder Audi A4s and Mercedes C-Classes.
Certainly, this isn’t a car to avoid, and while you won’t likely be disappointed by its performance, be sure to weigh your practical needs carefully: the IS’ back seat is tight (early models were small enough inside to be rated subcompacts) and trunk space is limited in sedan models.
The IS300 represents a more reliable alternative to its German competitors, but its smaller interior, higher fuel consumption and higher used values (compared to some competitors) count against it.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) July 2009:
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.