Introduced for the 2001 model year, the sporty, compact, rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 300 was meant to be a noteworthy rival to BMWs 3 Series and other European sport sedans. An IS 300 SportCross body style joined the original IS 300 sedan later that season. In 2002, Lexus added a manual-shift sedan that targeted drivers who werent satisfied with the original automatic transmission.
All versions of the IS 300 use the same 215-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. For the 2004 model year, each gets a two-position memory feature for the drivers seat, a maintenance indicator light and automatic door locking/unlocking. New 11-spoke wheels are optional.
Slanted rear roof pillars give the IS 300 a semi-fastback profile. The chiseled-look body has short front and rear overhangs. Back-end styling resembles that of the larger Lexus GS 300 and GS 430 models. This year, smoked gray light surrounds go on the IS 300s headlights, taillights and fog lamps.
The IS 300 is mounted on a 105.1-inch wheelbase. It measures 176.6 inches long overall and is 14.5 inches shorter than the front-wheel-drive Lexus ES 330 sedan. Standard alloy wheels and tires are 17 inches in diameter, and 16-inchers are optional.
Few automobiles have a more distinctive dashboard than the IS 300s, but its fashionable style could 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 six-CD players. The IS 300 seats five people, but the driveline tunnel divides the three-place rear seat. A pass-thru section from the rear seat augments the trunks 10.1-cubic-foot cargo capacity.
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.
Side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain-type airbags, antilock brakes and traction control are standard. Lexus Vehicle Skid Control electronic stability system is optional on sedans equipped 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 rear-drive 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.
The IS 300 is well behaved in ordinary driving and is ready to be pushed. The E-Shift automatic transmission operates easily and effectively. Flicking neatly between gears, the manual gearbox is one of the easier-to-operate units, compared to manual transmissions in rival models.
Except for the instrument layout, theres not much to distract the driver from an enjoyable experience.