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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Lexus IS 300 Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Lexus IS 300 Overview

The IS Stands for Instant Satisfaction

Lexus cars are well known for their stellar reliability, luxurious appointments and flawless build quality. With the addition of the IS 300 sedan and Sport Cross wagon, Japan's premiere luxury maker is now also known for delivering blisteringly quick performance paired with seat-of-your-pants cornering and braking ability. Lexus' little gremlin has thrown down the gauntlet to the leading European sport sedans and awaits only your approval—and down payment—to prove itself worthy.

The IS 300 follows the well-established formula of tight, compact dimensions coupled with little front and rear overhang; it is powered by its rear wheels, which means the front tires are unencumbered by the added burden of pulling the car while simultaneously trying to steer it. In the case of the IS 300, this feat is made all the more simple by a set of 17-inch wheels shod in your choice of all-season or performance rubber. The front tires are slightly narrower than those found on the rear (215 vs. 225 mm), again this is done in the name of better steering and handling. The larger rear tires are connected to a fully-independent double-wishbone suspension with performance springs and bushings; IS 300s with manual transmissions get slightly stiffer settings than those on cars equipped with the optional automatic.

Before you bolt off into the wild blue yonder, you'll probably want to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the IS 300's bountiful interior. You'll find yourself sitting on a comfortable cloth sport seat, staring through a small diameter sport steering wheel at a set of chronographically inspired instruments. The IS 300's bucket seats provide good thigh and side bolstering, though they lack adjustable lumbar support. Lexus includes a pretty sweet sounding standard audio system complete with cassette deck and in-dash 6-disc CD changer. You'll also find a set of front side-impact airbags, a full side curtain airbag, auto-dimming side-view mirrors, automatic air conditioning, power windows and door locks, engine immobilizer, traction control and pre-wiring for your cell phone.

With all the IS 300 has to offer, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting more. You can opt for heated power-adjustable seats, covered in genuine leather or leather-trimmed with Ecsaine inserts. Optional on both the sedan and wagon is the Lexus Navigation system, which we think is one of the best-designed on-board navigation systems to date. The monitor is concealed atop the dash and automatically flips open when the system is activated. The controls for the navigation system are placed just below the center armrest and fall perfectly under the fingertips of the driver's resting arm. This configuration makes it possible to operate the system entirely by touch, allowing the driver to keep his eyes focused on the road ahead.

Lexus offers only one power choice for the IS: a 3.0-liter 6-Cyl. that produces 215 horsepower. The standard 5-speed manual feels wonderful, with a tight gate pattern and short throws that allow you to get off quick shifts. We did notice that the clutch friction point (the point when the clutch plate engages the engine) occurs high up near the end of the clutch pedal's travel, which made for a few jerky starts and clumsy gear changes. After a few hours of solid driving, we quickly adapted to the feel of the clutch and never had another problem. Optional on the sedan and standard on the Sport Cross is a 5-speed automatic with electronic sport shift, which allows the driver to shift gears without having to manipulate a clutch pedal. Two small buttons located on the reverse side of the steering wheel can be operated by the driver to tell the transmission when to shift up or down. Though the IS' sport shift is effective, we still think most drivers will find the manual to be more fun to drive.

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. Pushing your IS through twisting mountain roads will bring a smile to your face every time—so long as you respect the car's limits. Push too hard and you will discover the rear end has a tendency to hop a bit during aggressive cornering, prompting the standard traction control to come online. For those who plan to drive aggressively, we recommend the optional limited-slip differential.

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