2003 IS 300 New Car Test Drive
The IS 300 is the rogue of the Lexus family, a compact four-door sedan combining sassy looks and snappy performance with the superior quality control usually associated with the Lexus name.
The IS 300 is priced nearly the same as the more conservative Lexus ES 300, but is targeted toward a younger audience. While the ES 300 uses a V6 and front-wheel drive, the IS 300 uses an inline-6 and rear-wheel drive. The ES is smooth and sophisticated; the IS is hip and aggressive. In fact, with rear-wheel drive, best-in-class horsepower, and the road-hugging handling of a German touring car, the IS 300 offers a compelling alternative to the benchmark BMW 3 Series.
The IS 300's high-tech 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine is renowned for its smoothness. It produces 215 horsepower on recommended 91-octane fuel. The E-shift five-speed automatic transmission shifts automatically or manually via buttons on the steering wheel.
Last year, Lexus added the SportCross, a '4+1-door body style' to the IS 300 family. The company jumps through hoops to avoid the words 'five-door' or 'hatchback' or anything else that would suggest practical economy, but it does add practicality. Lexus says the SportCross appeals to a much younger crowd than even the sedan; we figure that means active-lifestyle jocks in addition to well-heeled geeks and gearheads. (We pride ourselves as gearheads, but geeks is probably a more accurate label.) Fortunately, the SportCross isn't as awkward as its tag. In fact, it is anything but awkward.
For 2003, the Lexus IS 300 offers new standard and optional wheel designs, including a new 16-inch aluminum alloy wheel with 205/55R16 all-season tires. All-season tires will be available for other models in addition to the summer performance tires. Otherwise the rogue Lexus remains unchanged from last year.
The Lexus IS 300 sedan with the five-speed E-shift automatic ($30,805) comes standard with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD), side-curtain air bags, halogen foglamps, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, five-spoke alloy wheels (redesigned for 2003), traction control, a premium eight-speaker (nine in SportCross) audio system with cassette and in-dash six-disc CD player, plus all the power-oriented paraphernalia of a luxury car: automatic climate system, cruise control, power windows and door locks, auto-dimming rearview and driver's sideview mirrors, heated external mirrors, remote entry, security system and more.
The SportCross ($32,305) comes with the same high level of standard equipment, but features slightly wider rear tires on half-inch wider rims, and a sturdy rear window washer/wiper.
The IS 300 sedan is also available with a five-speed manual ($29,435). It comes with a sport-tuned suspension and all the same standard stuff. Drivers, you're in luck: More sport for less money. Driver jocks are not so lucky, however, since the five-speed doesn't come in the SportCross body style.
Black or ivory leather seats with full power adjustment add $2105 to the sedan, $2145 to the SportCross. A leather/Ecsaine (suede-like) combination costs $1805 in the sedan and $1845 in the SportCross. Other major options include DVD GPS voice navigation ($2000), power moonroof ($500), heated front seats ($440), Vehicle Skid Control ($350), and a limited slip differential ($390).