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Lexus IS300 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 30,500
     Price As Tested                                    $ 33,805
     Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter I6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 183 cid/2997 cc
     Horsepower                                   215 @ 5800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               218 @ 3800 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.1"/67.7"/176.6"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3445 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  17.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                         215/45ZR17 summer tire
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                0.0 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.29


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/23/21
     0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.0 seconds @ 88.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           142 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

Lexus is well-known for its silky-smooth luxury cars and SUVs. For an upscale shopper of this genre, the company has had a vehicle to fit nearly every market niche except one: the around $30,000 sport sedan. Other, mostly European, automakers have enjoyed great sales success in this category and Lexus wants a piece of the pie with its new IS 300.

OUTSIDE - It looks as if Lexus took a page out of the book of one of its German rivals. Lexus styling designers took a wedge shape and smoothed the sharp edges, reduced front and rear overhangs and left a few crisp, but understated character lines to give it a muscular, almost athletic look. Many will say the IS looks very similar to the company's GS 300 and 400, which isn't a bad thing, though some wished for more of what looks like a clean-sheet design. And even though the IS looks and drives like a true sports sedan, we've already seen aftermarket tuner shops add some ground effects pieces like side sill extensions, spoilers and front and rear valance panels to give it an extra dose of character. It's possible that we'll see a factory Sport version of this same car from the otherwise staid Lexus. The clear-lens tail lamps and fat chrome-tip exhaust pipe seem like they were installed by an aftermarket shop, while optional five-spoke alloy wheels are mated to 17-inch low-profile performance tires.

INSIDE - The Lexus' that we've known always came with creamy soft leather upholstery and glow-in-the-dark electroluminescent gauges. But the IS is no ordinary Lexus. The most distinctive interior item is the chronograph-style gauges that feature a central speedometer and three smaller dials for temperature, battery and fuel. The speedometer is also partially superimposed over the tachometer and fuel gauge, while titanium strips surround the instrument binnacle, the center console and the stereo. Also of note are the suede inserts of the seats, which grip the pants like Velcro during heavy cornering. There's not much room for three across in back, but Lexus makes other vehicles that are more sensible for passenger-hauling. On both sides of the steering wheel are push buttons that allow for quick downshifts or upshifts, while the pedals feature cross-drilled aluminum scuff plates.

ON THE ROAD - Lexus used some old-new technology for IS power. Lexus engineers shoe-horned the in-line six cylinder engine from the GS 300 under the IS hood, an engine that can trace its roots back to the Toyota Celica Supra and other Toyota products of some time ago. It's 3.0 liters in size, uses 24 valves, dual overhead cams and Lexus' spectacular continuously variable valve timing with intelligence, or VVTi for short. This system optimizes camshaft timing to give not only complete breathing efficiencies, but better torque management as well. Its 215 horsepower and 218 lb-ft of torque is enough to propel the little car from 0-60 mph in just over seven seconds, with a smooth, silky power delivery that is pushed through a five-speed automatic transmission.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The car's unit-steel platform is very rigid. Lexus purposely mounted the engine to the back of the engine bay to achieve a 54/46 (front/rear) weight balance, which isn't perfect, but it's very good for a sports sedan and eleviates oversteer tendencies. Its suspension consists of upper and lower A-arms up front, with L-shaped upper arms and unequal-length lower links in back. Coil springs provide support, along with nitrogen-filled tube shocks and anti-roll bars. The ride is firm, but not jarring. The variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering system, though, is smooth and accurate, with excellent road feel and feedback. The same is true for the brakes - discs front and rear, with a standard anti-lock braking system (ABS), and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), which enhances braking by controlling brake-line pressure to prevent wheel lockup.

SAFETY - Dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, ABS, EBD, seat belt pre-tensioners and traction control are standard.

OPTIONS - Leather seating package (with eight-way power front seats), $1,705; power sunroof, $1,000; trunk mat, $66; wheel locks, $39.