The ultimate standard bearers of a luxury car company' true worth are its sedans. Four-door vehicles form the backbone of every high class automotive lineup in the world, from Bentley to BMW, Rolls-Royce to Maserati. There is something about the grandeur of a truly opulent sedan that speaks to the quality of craftsmanship and the pride invested by an automaker into their brand. Since sedans are the single highest-selling class of vehicle in the world, it is also a practical matter for luxury manufacturers to make sure that their four-door offerings meet the expectations of their most discriminating customers.
Lexus was well positioned from the company's inception to offer an exceptional sedan right out of the gate. When the automaker opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1989, they not only had the collective engineering might of Toyota behind them - who practically owned the mid-size sedan market in North America with the Camry - but they also had 6 years of intensive research and development on a project known as 'F1'. This internal Toyota endeavor aimed at creating one of the best luxury sedans ever built would form the seed of what would later become the Lexus LS, the company's top of the line sedan option and the first vehicle ever marketed under the Lexus name. The years of hard work paid off and the LS became an instant hit thanks to its impressive build quality and technological innovation.
Lexus was intent on providing a fully fleshed out lineup of sedans to match the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and they did not spend too long basking in the praise that had been directed at the LS before heading off on a new mid-size sedan design. The GS would follow in 1993, a sports sedan which was available with a V-8 engine and which employed the same rear-wheel drive architecture as a Japanese four-door found only in their home market. The GS created enough positive momentum to convince Lexus to return to the rear-drive well once again with the 2001 IS 300, a compact sport sedan which was marketed as a competitor to the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4.
This article focuses on these 3 vehicles as the best used sedans available from Lexus. Each is closely targeted to a specific type of driver, but they all represent the same level of quality and exclusivity offered by the Lexus brand.
2001 - 2005 Lexus IS 300
It takes a lot of gumption to create a vehicle specifically designed to take on one of the most popular luxury cars on the planet, the BMW 3-Series. Accomplishing such a task requires an attractive design, great handling characteristics and enough power to keep drivers interested behind the wheel. The 2001 - 2005 Lexus IS 300 manages to score highly in all three categories and position itself as a legitimate contender to the premium compact car crown.
The Lexus IS 300 takes advantage of Toyota's long history of developing excellent inline 6 engines, employing a 215 horsepower, 3.0-liter version of this design that also provides an excellent 218 lb-ft of torque. When matched with either a 5-speed manual or automatic transmission, the IS 300 proves to be a spirited automobile, with a very stiff chassis and good weight balance contributing to excellent controllability. Braking is quite solid, well up to the task of handling a vehicle which can hit 60 miles per hour in only 7.1 seconds. Fuel economy from the 6-cylinder engine is average, turning in 18 miles per gallon in stop and go traffic and only 23 miles per gallon on the highway.
The 2001 - 2005 IS 300's rear seat displays 2+2 leanings, especially with the rear center arm rest in the folded-down position - the vehicle is really best enjoyed with a maximum of 4 passengers. The IS 300 comes fairly loaded right from the factory, with automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, heated exterior mirrors and a 6-CD changer. Leather seats and a moonroof can be ordered as options, as can a limited-slip differential to assist with hard launches or slippery conditions.
As a used sedan, the 2001 - 2005 Lexus IS 300 is worth a second look from buyers shopping German options who might not have considered a rear-wheel drive luxury compact from Japan.
1998 - 2005 Lexus GS
When designing a mid-size luxury sport sedan, it is inevitable that a vehicle will draw comparisons to the usual cast of Teutonic characters. After all, their advertising campaigns would have the entire world believe that they invented the concept of a powerful and comfortable four-door car with sporty pretensions. However, Toyota has a long history of marching to their own drummer, albeit a drummer that is well informed regarding market trends and customer needs. It should therefore be no surprise that the 1998 - 2005 Lexus GS is a competent and well-conceived sedan that takes a different route towards luxury sport nirvana.
The Lexus GS presents a formidable range of engine choices for the discerning driver. Base GS 300's have a 3.0-liter straight 6 sending 220 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through a 5-speed automatic transmission. A substantial power boost is offered in the form of the GS 400, which takes on all comers with its 300 horsepower, 4.0-liter V-8 engine that also cranks out an impressive 310 lb-ft of torque. In 2001 this edition of the vehicle was updated with a 4.3-liter V-8 that produced very similar power numbers but was renamed the GS 430. The 8-cylinder vehicle makes for quite a thrill ride, and while handling is certainly responsive the Lexus GS much more refined than wild, never surrendering the driver's feeling of control even under the hardest acceleration.
The inside of the 1998 - 2005 Lexus GS is replete with the ergonomics that buyers have come to expect from the Japanese car company. Everything is in its place, and controls and gauges are intuitive and easy to use and read. Rather than overwhelm occupants with leather and wood, materials are used sparingly and the overall effect is one of taste and restraint. Comfort is excellent, making this a vehicle that could be driven 1000 miles in a single sitting without any dissenting voices from passengers or the driver.
The 1998 - 2005 Lexus GS is an exceptional used sedan that is perfect for drivers who want power on tap, but who don't want to deal with twitchy vehicle characteristics when piloting their vehicle at law-abiding speeds.
2001 - 2006 Lexus LS 430
The Lexus LS 430 is a sedan which has been slowly peeling customers away from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class hegemony for years. Once accused of being merely a carbon copy of the famous German brand, the LS is so much more than that, representing the cumulative engineering effort and careful market observation of Toyota's talented designers and stylists. With an appearance that is bold without being over the top, the 2001 - 2006 Lexus LS 430 is a true benchmark in the luxury sedan world.
Only one motor graces this generation of LS 430's engine bay, a 290 horsepower, 4.3-liter V-8 that tears up the tarmac with 320 lb-ft of torque. Power was shunted to the rear wheels through a 5-speed automatic transmission until 2004, when a 6-speed unit took its place. The LS 430 is much quicker than its large dimensions let on, sprinting to 60 miles per hour in just 6.3 seconds and doing it without a hint of vibration or road noise to occupants surrounded by the safety cocoon of the vehicle's cockpit. The LS is also outfitted with dynamic cruise control, making Lexus one of the first brands to implement the technology in an actual production vehicle.
It's hard to find a more accommodating place than the passenger compartment of the Lexus LS 430. Aside from the usual assortment of leather seats and trim pieces, along with elegant wood paneling, the Lexus LS 430 is packed with more gadgets than the local video arcade. Climate controlled buckets use fans to cool overheated posteriors, sonar guides drivers when piloting the vehicle in reverse, rear air conditioning is capable of deodorizing the air and back row occupants can also enjoy an automatic massage should they require a little relaxation after a hard day at work.
The 2001 - 2006 Lexus LS 430 is one of the most fully-featured used sedans available, making it a steal on the secondhand market for budget-conscious luxury lovers.