Lexus professes its IS 300 compact sport sedan, which bowed in '01, to be a success in its first year, exceeding anticipated sales of 25,000 units.
But the success didn't stopMotor Corp.'s luxury division from retreating to the drawing board after just one year, adding a new drivetrain option, a host of cosmetic changes and a sport wagon version.
The automaker acknowledges from the start it had erred by debuting the performance-oriented vehicle with only an automatic transmission — an oversight drawn to its attention by automotive journalists time and time again.
For '02, the IS 300 comes with the option of a 5-speed manual, designed to enhance the vehicle's fun quotient. The transmission has a bare-bones and notchy feel to it, matching the vehicle's overall black-and-chrome Generation-X vibe. It is supported by a stiffened 4-wheel independent double wishbone suspension, specifically designed for the manual model. Lexus plans for the manual to represent just 20% of total cars sold, or 4,800 units. That number, officials say, could change in the future, but for now Lexus is playing it conservative.
The SportCross — Lexus prays it doesn't get typecast as either a hatchback or a station wagon — also will be available in relatively low volumes, with 5,000 units projected for the first year. The fifth door opening starts rear of the C-pillar, and the car is larger than a typical hatchback, although less than half an inch longer than the sedan. The result: The SportCross, meant to appeal to those in search of added practicality, in appearance falls somewhere between the Saab 9-3 and theElantra hatchback (fortunately for Lexus, similarities to the Elantra stop with exterior design). The hatch, with seats up provides 11.3 cu.ft. (320 L) of space, with rear seats down, it expands to a none-too-impressive 21.5 cu. ft. (609 L). Presumably due to the small volumes of each, the SportCross is not available with the new manual transmission.
Some changes were applied across the board. The initial idea behind the IS 300 was to pull in young, 20-something consumers to the Lexus brand by building a techy-cool, almost “anti-luxury” luxury car. But the average age of the IS 300 buyer, though still young for Lexus, came in at 37, and those drivers apparently demanded a wee bit more refinement.
Cosmetic changes necessary to make buyers happy include: center armrest, wire mesh speaker covers, all-new, all-black instrument panel and several new exterior colors. Other changes include auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, brake assist as standard, and front-side curtain air bags.
A navigation system and spoiler now are optional.
Despite a new model, a new transmission and across-the-board improvements, the automaker does not expect IS 300 sales to exceed last year's 25,000 mark. The standard IS 300 sedan's price will remain fixed at $30,805, while the manual rings in a bit less expensive at $29,435, the SportCross, $32,305.