2004 IS 300 New Car Test Drive
The Lexus IS 300 is the rogue of the family, a compact four-door sedan combining sassy looks and snappy performance with the superior quality control associated with the Lexus name. Inside and out, it looks like nothing else in the Lexus lineup.
The Lexus IS 300 is comparably priced with the more conservative Lexus ES 330, but is targeted toward a younger audience. While the ES 330 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. With rear-wheel drive, a responsive six-cylinder engine, and the road-hugging handling of a German touring car, the IS 300 offers a compelling alternative to the benchmark BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G35.
The IS 300's high-tech 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine is smooth and powerful, producing 215 horsepower. It's available with either a manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic that shifts automatically or manually via buttons on the steering wheel. It's also available as a sport wagon called the SportCross.
Model year 2004 brings some minor revisions to the front and rear styling, mist-type wiper nozzles, and some minor interior tweaks. Otherwise the IS 300 remains unchanged from last year.
The Lexus IS 300 comes in two body styles. The sedan offers a choice of five-speed manual ($29,435) or five-speed E-shift automatic ($30,805). The SportCross ($30,805) is only available with the automatic.
All come standard with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD), side-curtain air bags, halogen foglamps, high-intensity discharge headlights, five-spoke alloy wheels, 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 control, cruise control, power windows and door locks, auto-dimming rearview and driver's sideview mirrors, heated external mirrors, remote entry, security system and more. SportCross also gets a sturdy rear window washer/wiper.
The sedan with the manual gearbox comes with a sport-tuned suspension. All models come standard with five-spoke 17-inch wheels and 215/45ZR17 tires. Eleven-spoke wheels are optional. The SportCross features slightly wider rear tires (225/45R17) on half-inch wider rims. All-season tires are available as a no-cost option (17 inches on sedans; 16 inches on SportCross, good for adding slightly taller snow tires). Graphite-polished wheels are optional ($400).
A Leather Package ($2,465 for the sedan, $2,505 for the SportCross) includes leather trim, eight-way driver and passenger power seats, driver's-seat memory, and a programmable garage door opener. A similar package is available trimmed in leather and alcantara ($2,065 and $2,105). Heated front seats ($440) can be added to either package. We recommend the optional limited-slip differential ($390) to driving enthusiasts for improved traction when accelerating out of corners. We also recommend Vehicle Skid Control ($350) for models with automatics. A navigation system ($2,000) is also available.