2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross

For a while, BMW's 3-series was the undisputed king of the sport sedan segment. In fact, it pretty much invented the segment. There really wasn't much competition until the dawn of the new millennium, when cars like the IS300 were launched to directly take a bite out of 3-series sales. Just as the full-size luxury sedan segment was extremely competitive at the start of the 90s, the race to develop the best entry-level sports sedan was really heating up by the end of the decade.

The first generation IS was actually a re-badged Toyota Altezza AS200/300, which went on sale in Japan in 1998. Power was directed from 6-cylinders to the rear wheels. For markets outside of Japan, it was known as the Lexus IS200/300. It was available here from 2001-2005.

Styling is pretty basic but hits the right notes and doesn't offend. The Japanese designers are better known for their interpretations then outright creativity, and the IS300 follows suit, mimicking the long-hood and short rear deck of the 3-series. The body is smooth and simple. The sharp and slanted front headlights give the car a feisty look coupled with the huge five-spoke wheels. The exhaust-like round taillights covered by clear perspex were trend-setting however in that tons of aftermarket taillights have copied the look directly, which could be seen as a good or bad thing.

Inside the driver was treated to a pretty cool red-lit chronograph-style instrument cluster, with miniature gauges for temperature, battery life and fuel economy tucked neatly inside the speedometer. The rest of the interior is hard and cold grey, silvery and black plastics. There is no wood, emphasizing sport and frugality over luxury. The shifter features a chrome-ball knob a la Ferrari. Lexus, long known for their dull interiors, aced this one.

All IS300 were offered with automatic transmissions until 2002, when a 5-speed manual was offered. In 2002, a wagon version was also added. It basically took the sedan styling and added an extended roof and rear hatchback, with new taillights. Aesthetically, it worked. I don't have sales figures but you never see these on the road. Given how Americans don't take to wagons, I'm sure not many were sold. But since the IS300 is a pretty neat car already, the wagon version is especially noteworthy.

This example is being offered up by a dealer who state the mileage as 157,400 and say it runs, drives, and looks "fantastic". Since these were actually Toyota, parts and repairs should be relatively inexpensive. I haven't heard of any major problems with them. This thing could be good for another 100k-200k miles of rear-wheel drive hauling.

Available here on carsforsale.com in Lebanon, Indiana for $7,500

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