The IS 300 is the first serious attempt by a Japanese company to build a BMW killer. The big surprise is that it comes from Lexus, Toyota's upscale division, which has a reputation for making fairly posh and comfy luxury vehicles that aren't really known for their performance or handling. Paul can't warm up to the styling, which he describes as "neo-Teutonic with a Japanese twist." Anita has no real complaints, except for the quirky push-button shifter on the steering wheel. But both agree it's a world-class effort for under $35,000. She: My friend Mona from Toyota's Detroit office called me up and asked me if I wanted to test-drive the new IS 300 sedan. Next question: What color did I want - black or yellow? "I don't care," I told her."You pick." "Oh, it has to be the yellow one," she said. "Lexus has never done a yellow vehicle before." And is it yellow. The color of a school bus. The color of the center of a daisy. Very daring for Lexus. It reminded me that the first car I ever reviewed was a Lexus ES300, a proper, sensible, little black dress of a vehicle. Well, if I can stick with the clothing analogy, this delightful new Lexus is more along the lines of a tube top - sporty, fun and - a word I've never used on a Lexus - sexy. He: To stretch that analogy even further, on me the IS300 is form fitting. I could barely squeeze my fanny into the driver's seat, even after losing 20 pounds over the last two months. There's even less room in the rear. So much for that diet, huh? Having said that, the drive is worth the effort. I haven't had this much fun in a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan since the last time we tested a 3-series. It's almost spooky the way the IS 300 rides, handles and performs just like a 328i. She: I'm glad you brought up BMW because that was my next thought. I was so much more at home in the Lexus than its BMW counterpart, which seems more spartan and less cozy. And the Lexus almost has a custom feel to the cabin, with little touches like a chrome shifter knob, suede-like trim and a striking instrument panel with gauges that look like a fine Swiss watch. I really appreciate the positioning of the controls. On many vehicles they seem to be just a little too low, but Lexus put them right where they belong. The only thing that's lost on me are those Formula One-style push buttons on the steering wheel to manually shift gears, if you like. The regular automatic mode on the transmission is just fine with me. He: Considering the kind of driving you do, which is mostly freeways and around town, I'm not surprised. The push-button shift mode is really fun, though, if you get a chance to drive some twisty mountain roads, like I did in California, or even your favorite stretch of winding pavement somewhere out in the country. Yes, the five-speed automatic is fine, but to really use the 215 horsepower of that lovely twin-cam 3.0-liter straight six to its full advantage, the manual mode works best. I was re ally amazed by how quickly you can shift gears with the push buttons - even faster, I think, than with a manual gear shift. And your hands never leave the steering wheel. She: A key element of the IS 300 is the styling, which gets noticed. We've been in and out of dozens of vehicles this year and you have to admit the IS 300 ranks right up there with hot new offerings like the Chrysler PT Cruiser when it comes to crowd reaction. The only caveat is that it's fairly expensive. Our test vehicle had a $30,500 base price. We had six options, including a $1,000 moonroof, $440 heated front seats and a $1,705 package that included the upscale upholstery and 8-way power seats. So that brought the total up to $34,635. 2001 Lexus IS 300 Anita's rating: World class Paul's rating: World class Likes: Rides, handles and performs amazingly like a BMW 3-series; pushbutton shifter on steering wheel is loads of fun (Paul); handsome styling turns heads (Anita); fortable bucket seats and custom-tailored cabin (Anita); major safety features include antilock brakes, traction control, side air bags. Dislikes: Bottom feels pinched in the front bucket seats (Paul); pushbutton shifter seems like a silly guy toy (Anita); still can't warm up to styling (Paul); doesn't cost any less than a 3-series, so why not buy the real thing? (Paul) Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger sport sedan Price: Base, $30,500; as tested, $34,635 (inc. $495 destination charge) Engine: 3.0-liter I-6; 215-hp; 218 lb-ft torque EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,420. (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.) Where built: Japan
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Rick Popely||Cars.com National||May 24, 2001|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||October 29, 2000|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||October 22, 2000|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||August 5, 2000|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||July 16, 2000|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||July 5, 2000|
|Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||April 26, 2000|
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