DETROIT — Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota Motors Sales U.S.A. Inc., is bringing a modified version of its new IS200 European sports sedan to the U.S. market in mid-2000 to attract younger, affluent buyers, says Bryan Bergsteinsson, Lexus group vice president and general manager.

The car, which is made in Japan and marketed there as the Altezza, goes on sale in Europe this spring and was introduced at the Detroit auto show. Named the 1998 car of the year in Japan, the IS200 is available in both countries in 4- and 6-cyl. versions.

“We see an opportunity in the sports sedan market and we are racing toward it,” Bergsteinsson says. Positioned as an affordable performance sedan, the IS is expected to compete with the BMW 3 series and the Audi A4. The U.S. version will have a 6-cyl. engine featuring Toyota's Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i), although engine displacement has not yet been decided.

Bergsteinsson describes the Lexus IS as individualistic and athletic. Angled headlamps, a low slung air dam, built-in fog lamps and a sharply wedged-shaped silhouette all are meant to emphasize the sporty nature of the car, he notes, but it's the car's responsiveness that was the primary goal of the chief engineer. “We think people will be amazed when they experience the driving capability of the IS,” Bergsteinsson says.

To further enhance performance, the IS features a front engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration.

“People who may have never considered buying a Lexus will now give us a closer look,” says Bergsteinsson. Lexus closes 1998 with record sales of 155,000 units in the U.S., up 60% from 1997 and 90% over the last two years.