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2003 Entry Level Luxury Buyer's Guide
by Steve Siler

Lexus IS300/SportCross
2003 Lexus IS300

By offering not one, but two very divergent cars in the entry-level luxury segment, Lexus is attempting to attract a wider audience within it-more specifically, those who are attracted to comfort above all, and those who place priority on performance. The comfort crowd has taken a liking to the mature, quiet ES300-a virtual mobile isolation chamber in which miles fade away while you bask in your own leather-lined reverie. The IS300, on the other hand, presents the road to you like a loyal retriever. Lexus' relentless pursuit of the BMW 3-Series has resulted in a serious sport sedan that rewards its driver with lightning-quick reflexes and a sinewy powertrain.

One look and you can tell that this isn't your mother-in-law's Lexus. The IS300 sedan is edgy, with short overhangs, a lowered stance and huge wheels. Lexus also offers an intriguing pseudo-wagon version of the IS300 called the SportCross, which some of us think is just way cool and others think is just way weird. Regardless, the hatch/wagon tush adds practicality and funk in equal measures to the IS300's already hip package.

Now if there's one word that aptly describes the IS300, it would be "tight." First, the interior is quite snug by luxury car standards, especially in the back seat. Still, that renders everything close at hand in terms of controls. The chronograph-style gauge cluster looks cool, and interior materials, fit and finish and all up to Lexus standards.

"Tight" also describes the IS300's driving dynamics, thanks to its rear-wheel-drive layout, brilliant steering, responsive brakes and the handling-biased suspension. Motivation is provided by a willing 215-hp inline-6-cylinder engine. Truly, the IS300's performance backs up what its looks promise.

If you're looking for cush, then, check out the ES300 (virtually unchanged since we covered it in 2002's Entry Level Luxury Car Buyer's guide). But if you're looking for a good time, this one IS for you.