Introduced for 2001, the sporty, compact rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 300 was developed to rival BMW's 3 Series and other European sport sedans. A European-influenced IS 300 SportCross wagon joined the original sedan later that season. In 2002, Lexus added a manual-shift sedan for drivers who weren't satisfied with the original five-speed-automatic transmission.
Little has changed for 2005. Each version of the IS 300 uses the same 215-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine.
The IS 300's taut body has short front and rear overhangs. Its back-end styling resembles the larger Lexus GS models. Smoked gray surrounds go on the headlights, taillights and fog lamps.
The IS 300 sedan measures 176.6 inches long overall and has a 105.1-inch wheelbase. Standard alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires, and 16-inchers are optional on the SportCross.
Few automobiles have a more distinctive dashboard, but its fashionable style could get in the way of utility. Lexus says sport watches inspired the chronograph-style instrument cluster. Three small gauges are positioned within a large speedometer, but those tiny dials are difficult to read. A separate tachometer sits to their left.
The SportCross has a 60/40-split folding rear seatback, as well as a folding seatback for the front passenger. A sunroof, leather-trimmed upholstery and a navigation system are optional.
Standard equipment includes automatic climate control, heated mirrors, remote keyless entry and a cassette/six-CD stereo. Both IS 300 models seat up to five occupants, but the driveline tunnel divides the three-place rear seat. The sedan has a pass-thru section from the rear seat to the 10.1-cubic-foot trunk. Offering 21.8 cubic feet of cargo space, the SportCross includes a tonneau cover and a cargo-area "false floor."
Under the Hood
The IS 300's 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder makes 215 hp at 5,800 rpm. Developing 218 pounds-feet of torque, the engine uses Variable Valve Timing with intelligence. 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 available for the sedan.
Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags for the front seats, antilock brakes and traction control are standard. Vehicle Stability Control is optional on the SportCross and on sedans equipped with the automatic transmission.
The IS 300 strives to satisfy enthusiastic drivers who appreciate a rear-drive layout and a taut suspension with curve-hugging capabilities. When pushing hard on the gas pedal, the IS 300 responds with a level of energy that can come as a surprise. Better yet, the athletic maneuvers aren't accompanied by a decline in ride comfort.
The IS 300 is well behaved in ordinary driving and stands ready to be pushed. The E-Shift automatic transmission operates effectively. Flicking neatly through gears, the sedan's manual gearbox operates easily. Other than the instrument layout, there's not much to distract the driver from an enjoyable experience.