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Review: Lexus IS 300

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SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyer's Guide

By Annabelle Frankl

Introduced last year, the IS 300 is, as far as I’m concerned, a very welcome addition to the compact sedan field. I have to admit, I was rather surprised by just how well it drives; evidently, it’s got the looks of a lean, mean, sporty machine, but how often do these looks actually translate into roadability and a great ride? Alas, far too infrequently for my liking. Thankfully, any thoughts of previous bad performances are very quickly forgotten, as I depress the accelerator and speed up through the gears, the speedometer needle rapidly sweeping clockwise.

‘Absolutely Red’ outside, black leather and Escaine interior (the material used by racers to keep their, er, bottoms securely in place), the IS 300 certainly looks the part. Halogen fog lights, 17” alloy wheels with 215/45R17 tires, rear spoiler and stainless steel tailpipe with chrome tip all round out a wonderfully sexy, and aerodynamic, little number. With a 3.0 liter, DOHC 24 valve in-line six (with variable valve timing to ensure continuous, optimal power and fuel efficiency) under the hood, you’ll soon be producing 215 horses and 218 ft-lb of torque.

The 5-speed manual transmission allows for a nice, short shift, the clutch is not over-sprung, and one has pulling-away power in virtually any gear, even at ridiculously low revs, which makes for nice reprieve from all the tearing around which this car otherwise induces! But then, it doesn’t really feel like tearing around, more just like being on your own, not-quite private racecourse, because the IS 300 is such a willing accomplice in aggressive maneuvering. Equipped with 4-wheel, independent double-wishbone suspension, with offset coil springs, gas-pressurized shocks and front and rear stabilizer bar, plus limited slip differential and traction control system, you’re hard-pressed to get bent-out-of -shape. I was a bit surprised at how often the little ‘slide-y car’ indicator came on, but perhaps I was pushing the envelope more than I realized, the handling ability of the car masking the derring-do of this all-too-enthusiastic tester!

Front ventilated and rear solid disk brakes, on this rear wheel drive beast, along with ABS, electronic brake distribution and brake assist, make for stopping power which capably matches any hairy situation in which you might find yourself. Other safety features include front, seat-mounted side and side curtain airbags, DRL, high-intensity discharge headlights, pinch protection on windows and moon-roof and a first aid kit.

In the cabin, you’ll find style-points galore. The aforementioned leather and Escaine, 8-way power adjustable driver, and passenger, seats keep one’s ‘assets’ firmly in place and allow for just the right position to be attained, especially when matched with the 3-spoke leather steering wheel with tilt. Black, soft-textured dash, black dash and brushed chrome accents, and chronograph dials that make you feel like you’re in the Indy 500, add to the sporty feel the IS 300 exudes. I think, given the just-under $30K base asking price, Lexus should include steering-wheel audio controls to go with the in-dash 6-CD player, especially since this is such a hands-on kind of drive, and personally I could do without the MPG dial (why spoil the fun?!), but other than that, you’re stylin’.

With ample room for 5 in comfort, plus generous trunk space, with a pass-through, friends can share the fun. Of course, if they ask for a test drive, you may want some excuses at the ready…because I for one, will not be handing over the keys any time soon.

Base Price $29,435 As Tested $36,014

Leather/Escaine, power seats & homelink system $$1,805 Navigation system w/ compass & electrochromic rear-view mirror $2000 Power moonroof $500 Limited slip differential $390 Heated Front seats $440 Rear spoiler $440 Graphite polished alloys $400 Trunk mat $59 Delivery $545

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