The sporty compact rear-wheel-drive (RWD) Lexus was introduced for the 2001 model year and was meant to be a noteworthy rival to BMWs 325 and 330. An IS 300 SportCross body style joined the original IS 300 sedan later in that model year and included a unique roof, quarter panels, back doors, rear side glass and front fascia. Then in 2002, a manual-shift sedan joined the lineup, which targeted drivers who werent satisfied with the original automatic transmission.
Other than some tire and wheel revisions, little has changed on the IS 300 for the 2003 model year. All versions of the IS 300 use the same 215-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine.
Slanted rear roof pillars give the IS 300 a semi-fastback profile. The chiseled-look body has short overhangs in the front and rear. Back-end styling resembles that of the larger Lexus GS 300/430 series.
Mounted on a 105.1-inch wheelbase, the IS 300 is 14.5 inches shorter than the front-wheel-drive Lexus ES 300 sedan. Standard wheels and tires are 16 inches in diameter, but 17-inchers are optional.
Few automobiles have a more distinctive dashboard than the IS 300, but its fashionable style may get in the way of utility. Lexus says the chronograph-style instrument cluster was inspired by sport watches. Three small gauges are positioned within a large speedometer, but those tiny dials are difficult to read. A separate tachometer sits to their left.
Standard equipment includes automatic climate control, heated outside mirrors, remote keyless entry, and a stereo system with cassette and CD players. A DVD-based navigation system and full leather interior are optional. The IS 300 seats five occupants, but the three-place rear seat is divided by the driveline tunnel. A pass-thru section from the rear seat augments the trunks 10.1-cubic-foot cargo capacity and permits carrying long items. The SportCross holds 21.9 cubic feet of cargo.
Under the Hood
Lexus borrowed the 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine from its larger GS 300 sedan, but the IS 300s version is rated at a lower 215 hp. The E-Shift five-speed-automatic transmission has steering-wheel controls that permit manually selected gear changes when desired. A five-speed-manual transmission is also available.
Front-seat side-impact airbags, antilock brakes and traction control are standard. Lexus electronic stability system, called Vehicle Skid Control, is optional on the SportCross and on sedans with the automatic transmission.
Lexus did it right by creating a sporty sedan that delivers on its promise of athletic behavior and invigorating action. The IS 300 strives to satisfy enthusiastic drivers who can appreciate a taut suspension and a RWD layout with curve-hugging capabilities. When pushing hard on the gas pedal, the IS 300 is prepared to respond with a level of energy that can come as a surprise. Better yet, the sedans athletic maneuvers arent accompanied by a decline in ride comfort.
Well behaved in ordinary driving, an IS 300 is ready to be pushed. The E-Shift automatic transmission operates easily and effectively. Flicking neatly between gears, the manual gearbox is among the better choices.
Except for the instrument layout, theres not much to distract the driver from an enjoyable experience. The interior has enough luxuries to remind occupants that theyre in a Lexus.