2001-2005 Lexus IS300

David E. Davis, Jr.
Mark Gillies

The IS300 is both smaller and lighter than the BMW 3-series. Despite this, the front seat is extremely comfortable and accommodates a wide range of human sizes and shapes. One staff member, locally famous for weird arrangements of limbs and torso on automotive journeys, complained bitterly about the seats being uncomfortable on long trips, but nobody took it seriously, and the complaints were drowned out by praise from everybody else. The seats are not easy chairs. They're spare and sporty and rather tautly upholstered. They are covered in leather with ventilated faux-suede inserts, and they're very supportive without feeling orthopedic. The inserts look great, but, more important, they help to hold the driver in place during hard driving. Driver and passenger seats offer the benefits of seat warmers, which seem to work best on cold mornings while you're waiting for the car to warm up. There were some complaints that the seats didn't get warm enough, but, when used properly, they seemed to be quite satisfactory.

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Two features stand out in the interior as you open the driver's door. The instrument cluster is a real grabber and does manage to look like an expensive chronograph. There were drivers among us who found the cluster difficult to use, but it seemed to become easier with familiarity. Lexus has been showing the way with instrument clusters since the LS400 was introduced eleven years ago, and this very elegant data presentation undoubtedly will spawn a number of imitators. Then there are the pedals. These feature a brushed-aluminum finish and appear to have been drilled for lightness. Very racy! Only on closer examination do you find that the holes contain black rubber plugs to provide traction for those old leather-soled Lobbs you wear on weekends. The story is that the project engineer's thirteen-year-old son came up with the idea for the pedals; if this is true, that kid should be hired as special assistant to Robert Lutz in his latest role as vice chairman in charge of product development at General Motors.

The audio system is a 240-watt, eight-speaker, AM/FM/cassette stereo with an in-dash, single-feed, six-disc CD changer. Everything about it reflects Lexus quality and Lexus attention to detail, even if ours did devour the copy editor's favorite Dean Martin CD. Another staff member commented that even while cruising at highway speeds in the IS300 with its sporty exhaust note, he was able to distinguish subtle details on some of his live-performance CDs that he hadn't heard on his sound system at home.

The exterior color of our IS300 was sort of a tomato-soup red, which the manufacturer called auburn sky pearl. Oh, dear. Whatever they called it, it was very good-looking. The car's slim shape is both aesthetically pleasing and quite purposeful, faithfully advertising the pleasure and performance on tap inside. It is high in the tail, low in the nose, and very slippery-looking. The drag coefficient is a mere 0.29, which strikes us as being nearly optimal for a small package that delivers full creature comfort and a surprising amount of head- and legroom.

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As in the latest LS430, the headlight, parking light, and taillight modules are used as important punctuation in the overall design. The same can be said of the seventeen-inch alloy wheels, which become really important relative to the car's very tight exterior dimensions.

Some experts have suggested that Lexus is so good at being the best that it doesn't really need to resort to niche models such as the SC430 roadster, the GS300/430, and the IS300--that the image dilution caused by the appeal to young, testosterone-rich buyers won't be worth the incremental profit they deliver. We disagree with those experts. Lexus does indeed build awfully nice luxury sedans and sport-utility vehicles, but a little ecumenical outreach is a good thing. They certainly made some new customers happy when they branched out into SUVs, and adding the SC and GS lines was clearly an idea whose time had come. The IS300 served us well through four seasons of enthusiastic driving and a number of lovely, long driving adventures. We're more than pleased to share that pleasure with a few like-minded customers around the country.

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