Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book
KBB.com 2004 Lexus IS 300 Overview
Better than a Toy Surprise
The Lexus IS 300 is full of surprises. Though it clearly bears the Lexus nameplate on its trunk, this four-door sedan is designed more for thrills than first impressions. With the demographics of its lofty stable mates generally running towards the 40 plus crowd, the IS 300's aggressive styling, high-reving inline six-cylinder engine and sub-$30K sticker price are clearly intended to appeal to a much younger buyer.
You can't help but notice the IS 300. Its angular lines are tempered this year by the addition of smoked gray surrounds for the headlights, fog lights and tail lamps. Though getting on in years, the IS300 retains a seductive gaze that seems to stare you down with every encounter. With its short front and rear overhang and oversized wheels and tires, you can tell just by looking at the IS 300 that this is a machine meant for the driving enthusiast.
Once inside, you'll find a very tidy interior, with a truly original dash design that mimics the look and operation of a premium wristwatch. The small sport steering wheel allows for more rapid turns and you'll find the chrome shift knob falls readily into your hand. The cloth-covered seats provide firm support and though they lack any form of manual lumbar support, they remain relatively comfortable on long trips. Rear-seat passengers get their own head rests and dividing center armrest, but legroom back there is extremely tight, especially if the front seats are at their rear-most position. If you opt for the DVD-based navigation system, we think you'll be pleased with its design and operation. The screen is hidden atop the dash and flips up for easy viewing with the joystick controller placed on the center console just below the armrest.
Beyond the usual list of standard features such as power windows, automatic climate control and HID headlamps, the IS 300 comes standard with a really nice audio system, complete with a six-disc in-dash CD changer. Also onboard are front side-impact and front-head curtain airbags.
The IS 300 is offered as one model with two transmission choices. The five-speed manual is by far the most fun to drive, but the five-speed automatic is easier to operate and offers additional traction and stability programs not available with the manual. Automatic models are equipped with Lexus' E-Shift manual/automatic transmission that incorporates a set of steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles for changing gears. We loved this setup because it allows the driver to keep both hands on wheel while simultaneously changing gears. The E-Shift transmission works fairly well, though you may find that the transmission has a mind of its own, negating your commands when it feels the situation so demands. On more than one occasion, we tried to downshift while charging out of a tight turn and our request was roundly denied. True enthusiasts will want to stick with the five-speed manual.
Lexus knows its competition well. Cars such as the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Cadillac CTS leave little room for error. For this reason, the Lexus team has blessed the IS 300 with a responsive double-wishbone independent suspension, added a host of traction and stability controls and run power to the rear wheels via an optional limited-slip rear differential. They've also gone to great lengths to attain perfect balance, a fact we can vouch for. After a long drive through twisting back roads, the IS 300 displayed marvelous high-speed control with only the slightest signs of understeer as the tires reached their limits. Pay the extra $350 for the Vehicle Stability Control system and you get even better control, especially on wet or icy roads. The IS 300's steering feels tight and controlled and you'll find the car goes happily in whatever direction you point it. Pull the wheel hard, and you'll quickly discover that turn-in is almost instantaneous. Release the wheel, the IS 300 returns to plotting a straight line, anxiously awaiting your next command.
Of course, the suspension geometry and slick-shifting transmissions are useless without proper engine under the hood. For this job Lexus has chosen a brilliant 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that generates a healthy 215-horsepower and 218 lb-ft. of torque. This is a marvelous power plant that loves to rev high (its peak torque comes on full right a 3800 rpm) and employs Lexus's VVTi variable valve timing to boost the low and mid-range torque.
If you are in the market for a well-equipped performance sedan that won't bankrupt come signing day, take a good long look (and an even longer test drive) at the Lexus IS 300. You won't be disappointed.