Review: Lexus IS (1999 – 2005)

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Well equipped, reliable and rated highly by owners. Controlled rear-drive handling, rewarding manual gearshift and decent ride.

Fuel consumption is nothing to email home about. The straight six has to be worked hard to perform. Used prices stayed quite high for a while.

Lexus IS (1999 – 2005): At A Glance

I remember the launch of the Lexus IS200 at the 1998 Motor Show. There was a lot to feast your eyes on because the same show also saw UK launches of the Jaguar S Type, the Rover 75 and the E46 BMW 3-Series.

The Rover 75 and the Jaguar S Type seemed satisfyingly retro (the Rover more so than the Jag) and, while the E46 3-Series was a pre-Bangled evolution of the E36, the one car that stood out as clean, fresh and new was the exquisite IS200.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with it from any angle. And, thankfully, after this year's enhancements, there is still nothing to offend the purist. The Audi A4 B6 and the new Volvo S40 get very close. But neither quite match the neatness of the IS200.

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What does a Lexus IS (1999 – 2005) cost?

List Price from £33,265
Buy new from £30,037
Contract hire from £318.74 per month

Lexus IS (1999 – 2005): What's It Like Inside?

The interior is a pleasant place to be, too. The chronograph instruments are nicer to look at than they are to read in a hurry. (If you want an ideal instrument display, buy a Prius II). The chrome gearknob operates the short-throw six-speed gearbox like a classic rifle bolt. And instead of a range of four and six cylinder engines, you get just one: a smooth 155PS two-litre twin belt-cam six. True, you can now also choose a 215PS three-litre IS300, and you can have either engine in the aesthetically challenged Sportcross body. But the essence of the IS200 saloon remains as the original 1998 Motor Show cars. And used values reflect how right that always was.

You also get a lot of kit, and now more in the ‘enhanced specification' from April 2004. Even the base model at a far from unreasonable £18,850 comes with a 6-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual gearbox, 6-disk in-dash CD multiplayer + cassette RDS radio with 6 speakers, climate control, electric windows, electric folding mirrors and a lot more. Some 2.0 litre rep's cars list at more money for much the same goody level. Move up to the SE and you get a lot more, including sports suspension, leather upholstery and new 11 spoke 17" alloy wheels. Automatics come with cruise control. But more important than any of that is the sheer quality of the car. Fit and finish is excellent. Paint perfect. Plastic fantastic. And that as well as the looks is probably why IS200s hold their money so well. You'll be really pushed to find even a high mileage 5 year old SE at auction for less than £8,000. As far as I can see they hang on to their money even better than a BMW 3-Series.

Child seats that fit a Lexus IS (1999 – 2005)

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What's the Lexus IS (1999 – 2005) like to drive?

The driving doesn't disappoint. It isn't overgeared, so 6th corresponds to about 22 mph per 1,000rpm and makes the most of the power and torque. No complaints about the radio signal, which held Magic further up the M40 than any other car I've taken there. Handling and roadholding is fine, well controlled, traditional, rear drive with no dodgy quirks and traction control you can switch off if you really want to. The steering is a bit lighter than a 3-Series, but far from over-light and still gives decent ‘feel'. Seats are excellent with a full range of adjustment. Even the back is a nice place to be, though centre rear is strictly for children. The only downside is fuel consumption of around 30mpg.

Finally, the JD Power survey results. No car has ever done as well as consistently as the Lexus IS200. It carries the status of a 3-Series and a C-Class. But it has proven to be more satisfying to its owners than either.

What have we been asked about the Lexus IS (1999 – 2005)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

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Is the Lexus IS 300 a future classic?

My elderly father-in-law owns a 2003 Lexus IS300 Auto Limited Edition. He purchased it from the first owner who had done 17k miles in 2003. He has now clocked up 80k miles. It has a FSH. We think it might be worth keeping rather than selling as it may have classic potential. What do you advise please?
It does indeed have classic potential, but only to a limited audience. Many Japanases car fans seem to favour either the high-performance models like the Toyota Supra or the quirkier/mundane models. The problem facing this car is its low market value versus its high running and repair costs. There is a chance that enthusiasts will get bored of BMW/Audi/Mercedes saloons and cast out for something a bit different to drive... but that could be a few years away. So rather than focus on what it's future might hold, just focus on enjoying this lovely example.
Answered by Keith Moody
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