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2004 Lexus IS300

2004-01-20 15:16

John Oxley

I had taken over from my pal Colin after he had wrenched 200 km of tight bends and long straights out of the Lexus. "Ït's time to change drivers," I told him.

"No problem if you don't want to drive, I'll be happy to go the other 200."

"No way. My turn.""

It was amazing. At first the car seemed stiff and cautious. But maybe that was me. However as we warmed up together I felt closer and closer. And then those long sweeps as we approached George from Oudtshoorn. Faster and faster as the car and I became one.

The anti-skid control warning beeper was bleating like a cell phone with message mania, but we explored further and further, deeper and deeper into every corner.


And just as suddenly it was gone, a return to the N2 and the mind-numbing multi-speedtrap road that is the link between George and Knysna,

Some of the traps may save lives, but mostly it's trapping for money taken to extreme. Sin upon sin as the traffic department transfers responsibility from people to machines.

But I digress.

Lexus has come bouncing back into South Africa with its IS 300, a sporting sedan designed to give the sort of driving enjoyment and involvement once the sole province of German manufacturers.

Remember the original BMW M3? That's the sort of motoring this new "small" Lexus gives you, a mixture of power tempered by absolute control, refined ride comfort combined with pinsharp handling. Plus comfort and luxury, all packed into a delectable package that's still small enough to park, big enough to carry four or five people.


Of course, the basic "IS" shape hasn't changed from the IS200 which has been available in SA for a few years now, but at uncompetitive pricing because of the rand's weakness and a shortage of import rebates.

Now, though, things are different, and it has now been possible to upgrade from the 2-litre IS200 - considered to be superb in every department except power - to the six-cylinder (in-line) 3-litre IS300.

A smart move, for with 157 kW at 5 800 r/min and 288 Nm of torque at 3 800 r/min (250 Nm available in a wide band from 1 500 to 3 800 r/min), it's a quick and superbly driveable car.

Lexus claims 0-100 km/h in 8.2 seconds and a top speed of 230 km/h.

Not that it's the quickest on the block. But the Lexus excels in quality, handling and certainly appearance, to the point where it makes a viable and attractive alternative to German wheels.

Styling is attractive and forceful, with many of its styling cues so good that they have been ripped - especially the clear glass tail lights, copied by BMW on the original Compact, and by Mazda on the 6 - as well as dozens of tuning shops for restyled Golfs and Astras...

Strong credentials

Naturally the IS300 comes with strong credentials. Such as legendary Lexus quality and reliability as attested by top placings in JD Power ratings.

And high quality fixtures and fittings.

On the outside, the boot now gets its own spoiler, while the wide 17 inch alloy wheels are shod with fat 215/45ZR17 tyres.

Whereas the Lexus IS 200 was available with a choice of 6-speed manual transmission or 4-speed automatic, the IS 300 has an electronically controlled 5-speed automatic gearbox with Toyota's "E-Shift" system that allows manual shifting via steering wheel mounted shift buttons when this mode is selected.

Power for the IS 300 comes from Toyota's proven 2JZ-GE twin overhead camshaft 24-valve in-line six-cylinder engine which is also used in the Lexus GS luxury saloon.

In addition to a limited slip differential - the secret behind the IS 300's fantastic high speed handling and low speed power delivery - the car has a VSC anti-skid control that works via the ABS braking system and senses when a skid is imminent.

At the absolute limit the VSC system assists the driver to stabilise the vehicle by braking wheels which have lost traction, and at the same time reducing engine power.

Brake pressure

As mentioned ABS braking is standard, with EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution) and Brake Assist, the latter automatically increasing pedal pressure in an emergency stop.

Full airbag protection is provided with front, side, and curtain shield protection.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps are fitted, together with automatic headlight level control and automatic on and off.

Suspension is race-bred double wishbones back and front, and this, too, adds to the handling pleasure, while brakes are 295 mm ventilated discs up front, 307 mm solid discs rear.

Inside the accent is on luxury. Trim is leather and cloth, with lots of metallic inserts, but the coup de grace is the beautiful instrumentation pack, which features dials styled like a high-class chronometer - another feature which has been copied, but not bested.

Controls are grouped around the driver to create a "cockpit" feel with all switches and levers within easy reach.

A sweeping centre console houses the audio and full climate control air conditioning controls.

Cup holders

Storage space is provided in a console between the front seats. Cup holders for front and rear passengers are also provided in this area, while an additional covered storage is provided in the centre of the dashboard upper surface.

The six-speaker audio system is fully integrated into the dashboard and includes a six-disc CD changer and tape player.

Remote control central locking and electric power windows all round are standard, with one-touch control and jam protection for the driver's window.

There are also heated, electrically operated fold-back outside mirrors, front and rear fog lamps, illuminated vanity mirrors and seat belt warning lights for both the driver and passenger seats.

Driving position

It's easy to get a comfortable driving position thanks to the electric seats and tilt adjustable steering wheel - although I would have preferred reach adjustment too - and the seats are firm but comfy, and hold one well in hard cornering.

On the whole on the road there's a good balance between firmness for hard driving and interior comfort, although at high speed on secondary roads I felt the suspension lost some of its compliance and became a bit TOO firm.

The Lexus IS 300 is covered by a 5 year/90 000km service plan that is included in the purchase price. There's a three year/100 000 km warranty with 24 hour roadside assistance.

Price: R363 285.

Summing up, I'd say this is a car for those who want to stand out from the crowd, and don't mind paying above the odds to do so.

Don't expect to see hundreds of Lexus IS 300s on the road - indeed, the company only expects to sell 180 a year - but feel jealous, very jealous, each time you DO see one...


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