- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

MODEL: LEXUS IS 300
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan
PRICE-AS-TESTED: $34,500
MILEAGE: 18 city, 23 highway

Don't be surprised if you have to remind yourself that the new Lexus IS 300 sedan bears a Lexus badge on the grill. The car's wedge shape and short rear deck give it a profile strikingly like that of a BMW.
Inside the IS, some of the bold accents and red-orange nighttime illumination of gauges could have come from a Pontiac design book.
The test vehicle was painted an eye-popping yellow, the first Lexus offered in this color.
And driving the IS with its crisp steering, Formula 1 shift buttons on the steering wheel and occasional road noise showed just how far from a regular Lexus this car is.
Base priced just $300 more than the ES 300, which is the lowest-priced Lexus, the IS is positioned as a second entry-level Lexus sedan.
But where the ES is targeted at buyers who want a luxury-oriented car, the IS is meant for sport-minded drivers.
Too bad that they'll have to wait until the 2002 model year for the full effect. That's when the IS will offer an optional manual transmission.
For now, the IS offers only a five-speed automatic, which performed smoothly with the 215-horsepower, 3-liter, dual overhead cam, inline six-cylinder in the test car. This engine also is used in the Lexus GS 300 sedan.
Left in the "drive" gear, the IS worked quickly through the gears on its own. But the real fun came when I used the car's E-shift, a clutch-free system that lets drivers shift gears by using those race-car controls on the steering wheel.
The IS readily runs to the 6,400-rpm red line, and with 218 foot-pounds of torque available at a low 3,800 rpm a driver finds plenty of ways to make the IS spring forward aggressively.
Just make sure you keep your foot down on the gas pedal. On occasion, the automatic does upshift on its own.
It took a little time to adjust to the IS steering. It was more precise and responsive than I expected, and until I got used to it, the smallish steering wheel tended to exaggerate my steering motions like those on a video game.
The IS handles capably and tracks well through curves. But there is a tendency toward understeer when the car is really pushed.
On certain road surfaces, such as harsh concrete, the big, standard 17-inch tires convey a lot of road noise.
Inside, the IS can come off a bit gimmicky, though I concede I fell for the chronograph look in the center of the instrument cluster. The shiny, silver-colored door sills are a nice touch, too.
I could do without all the ripples and lines on the IS dashboard and doors, however, and the speedometer was tricky to read with numbers posted only at 20-mph marks, rather than the usual 10-mph gaps. This made finding and keeping to a 45-mph speed limit a bit tricky.
The IS supplies head restraints for all five riders and they're well-positioned close to the back of the head. Seats are supportive, too.
But the IS back seat is surprisingly cramped with just 30.2 inches of legroom.
The middle person in the rear has even less because of the rear-wheel-drive hump in the floor and the placement of two cup holders.
Lexus notes, however, that the IS' front-seat legroom is 42.7 inches.
Safety features in the IS include standard anti-lock brakes, side air bags for the front seats, three-point seat belts for all riders and traction control.


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