Premium compact car; Built in Japan
  • 4-door sedan
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $5,800 – $11,400*

2001 Lexus IS 300 4-door sedan

2001 Lexus IS 300 4-door sedan

2001 Lexus IS 300 4-door sedan

2004 Lexus IS 300 SportCross

2004 Lexus IS 300 4-door sedan

  • Acceleration
  • Build quality
  • Steering/handling
  • Brake performance
  • Rear-seat comfort

Rival BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 models have “built for the autobahn” cachet and deliver greater ultimate dynamic ability. Even so, the IS 300s offer sporty driving fun Lexus-style, and that’s appealing in its own way.


Toyota’s luxury division introduced a brand-new sport-luxury compact sedan for 2001. Built with rear-wheel drive, the sedan held a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that made 215 horsepower.

Shared with Lexus’s larger GS 300, the engine operated with VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence). Only a five-speed automatic transmission was offered in the IS 300’s first season, but it incorporated Formula One-inspired E-Shift gear selection on the steering wheel.

Sharp-edged in design, the wedge-shaped IS body had a semi-fastback roofline. Lexus called it a “condensed high performance stance.” Either 16- or 17-inch wheels could be mounted.

Front side airbags were installed, along with antilock braking and traction control. A limited-slip differential was available. A chronograph-style instrument panel was said to be inspired by sport watches.

Initially designed for the European market, the IS promised to give a “compelling challenge” to European sport sedans. Rivals included the Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Yearly Updates

2002 IS 300
A SportCross wagon joined the original sedan for 2002. The SportCross had a slightly different front-end look, a fold-down front passenger seat, split-folding rear seat, and an upgraded stereo system. A subtle roof spoiler was installed.
The same inline six-cylinder engine powered both body styles.`Sedans now came with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, but wagons were automatic-only. The manual-shift sedan included a firmer suspension.
New this year was a full-power Brake Assist feature for the antilock braking system, plus a self-dimming inside mirror with integral compass. New options included an antiskid system and a navigation system with in-dash display screen.
All IS 300s now had curtain side airbags as well as front side airbags. They also had traction control, 17-inch wheels, and performance tires. Wagons had wider tires at the rear.
2003 IS 300
Revised wheel/tire options were the only 2003 news for the twin sporty compacts at Toyota’s luxury division. All-season tires on 16-inch wheels were a no-charge option. For 2003, all-season tires also were available with 17-inch wheels, and both wheels had new designs.
An antiskid system was available with automatic transmission; a limited-slip differential with manual. Also optional were a navigation system, power moonroof, heated front seats, and leather upholstery.
2004 IS 300
All IS models added a standard maintenance indicator light for 2004, along with automatic power door locks.
2005 IS 300
No changes were made this year.


longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

In all models, a dual-overhead-cam, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine develops 215 horsepower, teamed with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/183
Engine HP 215
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 218
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
5-speed automatic

Road Test

With either manual shift or automatic, test IS 300s accelerated from 0-60 mph in a class-competitive 7.3 seconds. Manual-shift action is positive and precise. The responsive automatic transmission complements good midrange punch, though one new test car tended to stumble on launch. The automatic’s steering-wheel gear-change buttons provide quick shifts–but they take practice and don’t provide full manual operation.

Regardless of transmission, IS 300 test cars have averaged 17.2 to 18.9 mpg, including gas-eating performance tests. A stick-shift sedan returned 20.8 mpg in mostly highway driving. Lexus requires premium gas.

Ride quality is firm and occasionally thumpy over sharp bumps, but all models cope well with broken pavement at higher speeds and are always stable. Any IS is an agile handler, but steering feel and overall balance lack the precision of top European rivals.

Overly sensitive traction control cuts in too quickly on manual-transmission models, yet fast cornering with traction control disengaged risks an early tail slide. Simulated panic stops showed good stability and shorter-than-average distances.

Wagons are a little noisier than sedans. Coarse-pavement tire thrum can intrude on both versions, and wind rush is higher than in some competitors. Engines are invariably smooth, subdued at low rpm, and pleasant to the ear at high revs.

The “chronograph-style” gauge cluster looks nice, but legibility is not ideal. In addition, the optional navigation system looks like an afterthought. Its screen motors up from the dashboard, but controls are on the center console, dangerously difficult to use while driving. The metallic gear-shift handle is sensitive to heat and cold. Optional leather upholstery is Lexus-worthy, but some other interior materials lack class.

Passenger space is a bit snug up front, and limited rearward seat travel mars an otherwise good driving stance. Seats are generally comfortable, though some drivers might prefer longer cushions with better thigh support. In the SportCross, a sloped roofline and back-seat headrests hinder rear visibility.

Don’t expect a lot of space in any dimension, in the back seat. Two adults are the practical limit. Narrow floor-level passages and small doors squeeze entry/exit, too.

Space is decent in the sedan’s usefully-cubic trunk, but it’s hampered by bulky U-shaped hinges. Wagon utility in the SportCross is compromised by the sloped rear roofline and intrusive rear wheel arches.


Model Tested: 2002 Lexus IS 300 sedan w/automatic

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 7
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 5
Steering/Handling - 7
Quietness - 6


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 6
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
Cargo Room - 2


Value - 4

Total: 51


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
105.1 176.6 67.9 55.5
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
10.1 17.5 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.1 37.7 42.7 30.2
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
105.1 177.0 67.9 56.7
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
21.8 17.5 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.1 37.7 42.7 30.2
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: N/A


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Manual transmission
Description: A chirping noise may come from the manual transmission but go away when the clutch is depressed requiring a revised clutch release cylinder. (2002-03)
Electrical problem
Description: The in-mirror compass may display two dashes instead of the direction and an improved mirror must be installed. (2001-02)

Recall History

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


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