- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

With the introduction of the sporty IS 300, Lexus also turned Toyota Racing Development (TRD) loose to do what it does best, make custom-styled vehicles that add individuality to the segment.

The L-Tuned also gains the attention of a segment of buyers so many auto manufacturers are courting; the young and affluent that every company seems to be looking to charm.

The IS 300 L-Tuned gets a sporty five-speed E-Shift automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. The E-Shift automatic is a clever style with either automatic mode or manual. What is unique here is the shifting is via electronic buttons located on the steering wheel. Just like Formula racing cars, the driver can select the appropriate gear by touching the up or down buttons. It is fast and easy once you get the hang of the system.

Powered by the same 3-liter, inline six-cylinder as the basic IS 300, the L-tuned performs well. A stainless-steel exhaust system complete with a sport muffler adds 8 horsepower to the stock engine. Though this isn't a rocket ship, it has excellent response from stops and is more than happy to cruise at freeway speeds. With 223 horsepower and 218 foot-pounds of torque, this Lexus has plenty of residual power to pass slower vehicles.

I had a chance to drive the L-Tuned, not only on city streets and freeways, but on the racetrack. While the racetrack may seem like an unfair test, the ability to drive the L-Tuned in a safe environment, without fear of other vehicles or having to worry about local law enforcement curbing my fun has untold rewards. I can experience the subtle nuances of a vehicle without causing great bodily harm. The only person at risk is me.

The L-Tuned offers two package levels to suit the buyer who enjoys a more aggressive suspension system. Both levels help improve handling of the twisting country roads as well as improving highway stability.

The L-Tuned IS 300 will be available in two versions. The Series I will come at an additional cost of $3,999 and includes a host of special features.

A carbon-fiber styled-grille and restyled front fascia incorporates larger fog lamps. Side skirts and a rear valance are included, as are a rear spoiler and deep-toned exhaust system.

The Series II includes all the Series I components, adding larger 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels with beefier tires.

A special L-Tuned suspension system includes more hefty progressive rate springs and anti-sway bars.

However, this comes at a price; the Series II package adds $7,698 to the $30,000 of an IS 300 sedan.

The 225/40ZR18 tires are larger, wider and have a lower profile than the standard tire and help improve the handling characteristics of this sports sedan.

A manufacturer can put all the trick components on a vehicle, but if it skimps on the tires, all the benefits gained can be thrown out the window. Great improvement in a vehicle's handling can be made by mounting the correct tire.

Whichever L-Tuned level you choose, you can be assured that you will have a vehicle that is both fun to drive and adaptable to your life style. You just have to make the choice of which one fits into your life better.

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