Overview & Reviews
For years people associated Lexus with quiet, refined and luxurious automobiles backed by a competitive pricing strategy. "Sporty," however, was far from anyone's mind. Then, in 2001, the Lexus IS 300 sport sedan came along and toppled that image. Lexus wanted this one to be an extrovert and an athlete. With every throttle input and every turn of the steering wheel, this compact, rear-wheel-drive sedan sought to communicate with its driver. With its firmly tuned suspension and sticky high-performance tires, it had the running gear to back up those aspirations.
It also had the styling. One look at its wedge shape, clear-lens taillights and dramatic color palette, and it was obvious this sedan was intended for a younger, more trend-conscious buyer than other Lexus models. A sport wagon version called the IS 300 SportCross was added for 2002, and although it offered a little more utility, outward aesthetics still took precedence over function.
Inside, the compact Lexus IS 300 looked and felt different, too, thanks to its racy watch-dial-style instrumentation, drilled aluminum pedals and chrome shifter ball. By no means was this an elegant cabin, though. Hard plastic covered the dash and console, and feature content never quite measured up to the standards of the class. This half-hearted approach to luxury was the major criticism leveled against the IS 300 during its five-year run.
Although imperfect, the Lexus IS 300 and IS 300 SportCross did get the attention of younger, more performance-minded consumers, which set the stage for their carefully executed successors, the IS 250 and IS 350.
Most recent Lexus IS 300
Based on the Japanese-market Toyota Altezza, the Lexus IS 300 was not originally designed to be a luxury car. When the automaker decided to sell a version of this compact, rear-drive sedan in the U.S., it was retrofitted with additional luxury content and a larger engine -- the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder already used in the midsize Lexus GS 300 sedan.
This 3.0-liter six was capable of 215 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque, and paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. Although this drivetrain propelled the IS 300 to 60 mph in the low 7-second range, a small but vocal niche of consumers and automotive writers cried foul when Lexus initially failed to offer a manual transmission. The company rectified this oversight in 2002, adding a five-speed manual gearbox option for the sedan. The IS 300 SportCross wagon, which also debuted for '02, was automatic only.
In road tests of the Lexus IS 300 sedan and wagon, our editors noted that their stiff body structures allowed Lexus to tune their double-wishbone suspensions for sharp handling without making the ride too stiff for commuters. "But the IS 300 is a car that needs to be exercised regularly," we wrote at the time. "Well balanced due to its rear-wheel-drive layout, it's an easy car to pilot aggressively, thanks to the responsive steering and braking, nimble size, excellent driving position and 3,280-pound curb weight. The steering isn't quite as precise as a BMW's, but it's close. Very close."
Inside, the IS 300's not-so-upscale cabin was snug, even by the indulgent standards of the premium compact car class. Tight legroom and narrow footwells made it difficult for adults to get comfortable in back, and storage space was minimal. Of the two body styles, the SportCross wagon was the more practical choice, thanks to its 21.8-cubic-foot cargo bay.
Past Lexus IS 300 Models
As a used car choice, the IS 300 makes a lot of sense. Sold from 2001-'05, it hasn't held its value as well as competitors like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G35 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but it offers equal or better performance in most areas. Build quality was always above average on the IS, and reliability is consistent with Toyota's typically strong reputation.
First-year Lexus IS 300 sedans were light on content, so it might be a good idea to confine your search to 2002 and newer models. Side curtain airbags, stability control, auto-dimming mirrors and a center armrest were all added to the standard equipment list for '02, while full leather seating and a navigation system became optional. Notably, stability control was only available on models with the automatic transmission. Changes were minimal in the years following.
Despite all the fuss the enthusiast crowd made about the manual-transmission option, manual-shift IS 300 sedans are rare commodities on the used car market, as the vast majority were sold with automatics.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 507.00
Good but needs improvements - 2001 Lexus IS 300
By Dude007 - December 27 - 10:00 am
Love its sleeky look, handling and interior of course. Engine needs to be replaced with something better. Wasn't the toyota all about reliability, quality and economy? Well I'm a Honda lover but this car cought my attention right from the begining, basically I love eveything about it except gas mileage. This car has a worst gas mileage in its class and if you compare it to the performance it really shouldnt burn so much. Even Maxima with 3.5 Liter engine uses less gas and gets far better performance and really Maxima seems to be a better bang for your buck.
Very impressed - 2004 Lexus IS 300
By dhenri - December 18 - 10:00 am
I love the handling of this car and it does turn lots of heads. It's fun to drive and play with. It surprises alot of people it being a Lexus and Lexus not being really associated with sportscars. The hit the nail on the head with this one. Tons of aftermarket parts for it if you wish to personalize your ride. No regrets here whatsoever.
Lexus Sports Wagon - 2005 Lexus IS 300
By George - December 16 - 8:06 pm
This car is a kick to drive. It is so smooth and manuevers very well. Easy on gas too. It is sporty yet can handle plants etc coming from Home Depot. I love this car.
It was love at first sight - 2005 Lexus IS 300
By helen - December 16 - 11:56 am
I was so in love with this car when I first saw it and took a look at all the features, but the only downside was the mpg. Not a big deal at the moment, I thought. So WRONG. The mpg is the only reason I don't want to own this car anymore. I feel safe driving in this car and everything's nice (although the inside could be bigger), my brakes squeak a lot too. Everytime I ask someone who works at the dealership what's up with it, they keep saying it's brake dust, and I don't buy it.
Could be a bit faster, but I love mine - 2003 Lexus IS 300
By TerenceL - December 4 - 10:00 am
Cheaper than the 330i, more fun to drive than most smaller sedans, but can also be used to drive clients or parents around (unlike say the Impreza WRX). I love mine. I was also considering the G35, but the reliability differences between Toyota and Nissan put my money on the Lexus.
Wouldn't Trade It For Anything - 2002 Lexus IS 300
By YellowIS - November 30 - 10:26 pm
This car has been a blast to drive since day one, never failing my expectations, nor failing to put a smile on my face. The lines of the car are only appreciated when hand washing and waxing the car. One of the smartest decisions I have ever made was purchasing this vehicle.
lexus is300 - 2002 Lexus IS 300
By obaid - November 14 - 10:00 am
awesome car really great, reliable, dependable, fast, easy, car...verrrry fun!
mylexie - 2004 Lexus IS 300
By joejoe25 - October 16 - 10:00 am
a new, innovative design with plenty of safety features and the fun of a sports car. a delight to drive in the city or on curvy roads. sporty handling with the class and reliability of a Lexus. I can't wait for future designs and anticipate possibly getting one in the future.
A All around fun CAR to speed in - 2004 Lexus IS 300
By Lexusguy2003 - October 16 - 10:00 am
The acceleration literally just made me smile on my test drive. The comfort of the wheel and the sporty design won me over. I just feel happy driving my Lexus. If you want a car thats fun to drive, this is the one for you. I don't really even have to pounce on the gas to make this baby pass on the highway.
Assistaint General Manager - 2001 Lexus IS 300
By amspears54 - October 9 - 10:00 am