My first brush with the ‘car biz’ was doing dealer trades for Precision Motors. Precision, in the late ‘70s, was Dallas’ premier destination for the import car prospect. The dealership trafficked in Fiats, Triumphs and Volvos, but would also offer the occasional Ferrari and Land Rover for Dallas’ well-to-do. And given its North Central location (just south of NorthPark Mall) there were – in the adjacent zip codes – plenty of well-to-do.
I, of course, wasn’t one of them, but the purchase of an aggressively discounted Alfa sedan (and the kicking of tires necessary in buying the Alfa) led to handling some dealer trades on a part-time basis. And that led to learning of a part-time gig at Classic BMW in Richardson. There, the BMW 3 Series was establishing itself as the go-to answer for the growing number of people wanting a sport sedan. And while the 3 Series may have been one of the first, it wasn’t – of course – the last. Some fifteen years later the Lexus brand got into the act with the IS 300. And while its intro didn’t make a perceptible dent in the Bavarian business model, if looking for a 3 Series alternative today, the Lexus take on BMW’s take remains one viable alternative.
Our test IS300, equipped with all-wheel drive and a 3.5 liter V6, represents a logical alternative to not only BMW’s 3 Series but also Audi’s A3 and A4. While the Lexus footprint is almost an overlay of the BMW’s, the IS 300 is visually tighter, and in profile suggests more of a 4-door coupe than family sedan. BMW delivers a similar vibe in its 4 Series Gran Coupe, which packages a 3 Series drivetrain within a lower, sleeker shape. At Lexus, the lower, sleeker visual is standard equipment.
We’ve liked the current IS since its introduction, and while its front fascia has recently been expanded, a move that – in my opinion – did the shape no favors, the overall impression is one of a 30-something athlete. It retains the lithe build of a sprinter, while eschewing the perceived fragility of the highly tuned athlete. This Lexus is for the long, winding road, and you can feel comfortable opting for the long, winding payment book.
Given that sleeker profile, you won’t confuse ingress and egress (the getting in and getting out) with your mom’s older Volvo, but then, neither are you getting into and out of Alfa Romeo’s 4C. This is a sport sedan for the moderately limber, and given the mild challenge of seating yourself in it, represents one of the better arguments for early morning yoga. Once inside, you’ll find the dash info reasonably informative and the electronics comparably intuitive.
With the F Sport option, our IS 300 AWD supplied a more aggressive bolster in its front seating, but these weren’t the confining buckets you’ll find in dedicated sports coupes. If you’re a member of the Cowboys’ offensive line, you’re not going to fit – but then, you didn’t get that playoff money, anyway. If possessing average proportions it’s worth a try, and once seated you’re fully connected with your surroundings.
Under the hood the IS 300 is equipped with V6 power connected to an 8-speed automatic and full-time all-wheel drive. With the all-wheel drive and ‘300’ designation, this is a detuned V6, offering 260 horsepower when compared to the IS 350’s 311 horsepower from the same displacement. Not to worry, however, in that the sedan provides fully adequate acceleration in combination with the all-season capability of all-wheel drive. This is one of those unique vehicles in that it’s as fun as you want it to be, while as passive as you care to be.
At a suggested retail of $49,500 the Lexus is a competitive offering, but doesn’t supply the value of Lexus’ initial business model. If I was in the showroom I’d opt for the rear-wheel drive IS 300 F Sport, getting in at under $44K. But regardless of personal preferences you won’t find a better combination of sport and reliability, both of which will be around long after the payment book has been retired. Our recommendation: buy.