IS 300: Lexus pushes performance image

2002 Lexus IS 300
  • SportCross, a 5-door hatchback, aims at European wagons.
  • A 5-speed manual gearbox is available.
  • L-Tuned Limited Edition models are available in Western states.
  • Safety features have been added.
  • Prices are unchanged from 2001.

  • COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - "Faster." "Louder." These words don't often come to mind when consumers think about Lexus. That's something Toyota's luxury brand wants to change with its revamped and expanded IS 300 lineup.

    For 2002, the IS 300:

  • Adds a five-speed manual transmission.

  • Offers a firmer suspension system.

  • Is available with a pair of optional performance packages developed by Toyota Racing Development.

  • Adds a five-door hatchback variant called the SportCross.

    The IS 300 got off to a good start last year, selling 15,540 units from its June 2000 debut to December. But sales slowed this spring, and Lexus was forced to offer incentives on the sports sedan, which is aimed at BMW 3-series buyers. Sales through August totaled 14,113.

    Lexus General Manager Denny Clements said the IS 300 will meet its target of 25,000 sales this year and hold at about the same level next year, despite the new model and other upgrades. Clements said Lexus can sell as many as 4,800 IS 300s with the five-speed manual gearbox. Prices start at $29,980 for the five-speed, including a $545 destination charge.

    "We'll take what the market gives us," Clements said at a press event for the 2002 models. "We could sell more, but we want to grow intelligently and steadily. We don't want to lose the customer interaction that has made us number one."

    Though he says Lexus "can't be all things to all people," Clements acknowledges that to compete with BMW and attract younger male drivers, the division must move away from its image of bland technical perfection.

    Help from TRD

    Toyota Racing Development, the branch of Toyota that markets high-performance parts, engineered two packages for the IS 300 L-Tuned Limited Edition. The Series I adds $3,999 to the price and includes a carbon fiber grille, aggressive looking front fascia with bigger fog lights, lower side body panels, a spoiler and an exhaust system with larger pipes that makes a deeper sound.

    The Series II packages contains all the Series I items and adds 18-inch wheels, Z-rated high-speed tires, springs that lower the car an inch and anti-sway bars. Price: $7,698.

    Lexus is offering the package to dealers in Western states first and then making it available nationally by the end of the year. Both cars offer an increase of about 8 hp. Zero to 60 mph takes about 6.8 seconds in the five-speed IS 300.

    SportCross wagon

    The IS 300 SportCross is a wagon-like variant that has a long, sloping roof and is much closer to a five-door hatchback. Mechanically, it's identical to the standard IS 300 sedan. The five-speed manual gearbox and the L-Tuned option will not be available in the SportCross.

    Lexus hopes to sell 5,000 units in 2002. Prices start at $32,850, including the destination charge. Competition includes the Mercedes-Benz C-class wagon and Saab 9-5 wagon.

  • You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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