Used 2002 Lexus IS 300 Review

Edmunds expert review

Improvements this year make the IS 300 a true sport sedan. We feel sorry for those who couldn't wait and bought '01s.

What's new for 2002

Once a goal is set, Lexus is not a company to dillydally. Witness the 2002 IS 300. After just one year on the fiercely contested entry-level luxury sport sedan battlefield, Lexus has quickly moved to address the IS 300's short list of faults. A five-speed manual transmission is available, and it comes packaged with a sportier suspension than what is offered on the "regular" IS 300. The luxury side of the equation has also been upped. A navigation system and an all-leather interior are optional this year, and the rearview and driver-side mirrors are auto-dimming. Safety is also enhanced with the addition of head-protecting side curtain airbags (in addition to the regular side airbags), a BrakeAssist function and a stability control system. And for all of those golden retrievers out there tired of riding around in numbing RX 300s, take notice that Lexus has expanded the IS 300's lineup with a wagon version.

Vehicle overview

Lexus, traditional purveyor or highly refined but generally characterless luxury automobiles, has been on a mission to change that very image. Have you noticed the subtle change in the company's tagline from "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection" to "The Passionate Pursuit of Perfection"?

Fortunately, there is actually product to back up this change in philosophy, as opposed to some other auto companies whose idea of sport is often a couple of decals and embroidered floor mats.

No car in the Lexus lineup comes closer to embodying "sport" than the IS 300. Designed to offer the same (or better) spirited driving experience found in stalwart sedans like the Audi A4 and BMW 330i, the IS 300 is a well-built rear-drive sedan that can be had for thousands of dollars less than the competition.

The IS 300 looks and acts like a GS 300 that has been filed down and given a sharper edge. Its styling is subtle, angular and aggressive. Standard high-intensity headlights are mounted up front, and the whole shape manages to achieve a low 0.28 coefficient of drag. We aren't fans of the circular decklid-mounted taillights, though, and the clear rear lens covers look too much like the ones you see on your neighbor kid's lowered '94 Accord.

The car certainly doesn't drive like an Accord, though. The body structure is extremely stiff, and Lexus has done an excellent job of tuning the suspension to provide sticky handling without hurting ride quality on the street. The IS 300 is an easy car to pilot aggressively, thanks to its responsive steering and braking, nimble size and excellent driving position.

Power comes from a DOHC 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. Other than some minor tweaks, this is the same engine that is used in the GS 300. Equipped with variable valve timing, the engine spins out 215 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 218 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. Last year, buyers could have any transmission they wanted as long as it was the five-speed automatic with E-Shift sequential shift mode. For '02, Lexus offers an IS 300 equipped with a five-speed manual as a separate model that also features slightly firmer suspension tuning than the automatic model.

Safety is also enhanced this year. Along with three-point seatbelts for each of the five seating positions, front seat-mounted side airbags, and pre-tensioners and force limiters for the front harnesses, Lexus has added head-protecting side curtain airbags and a brake-assist function to improve performance in emergency-braking situations. The SportCross and the automatic sedan also come standard with Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), a system that can help reduce dangerous spins and skids.

With a base price in the low 30s, the IS 300 isn't the bargain the LS 400 was when Lexus debuted a decade ago. And with both Audi and BMW offering all-wheel-drive technology in their elegant and smooth-riding compact sedans, not to mention superlative interior materials and manual transmissions, Lexus may find that it still has some work cut out for it as it learns what it takes to tackle Germany's finest.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.