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Used car focus: Lexus IS – 1999-2005

The BMW 3-series rivalling IS was a real hit for Lexus: stylish, well equipped and good to drive. Buyers tended to be affluent, aspirational, and appreciated Lexus’ famed precision engineering. Some saw it as a ‘Japanese Mercedes’.


The IS saloon was originally launched in 1999 with a 2.0-litre 24-valve VVT-i engine. The range was expanded in September 2001 with the addition of the 3.0-litre powerplant and the Sportcross ‘lifestyle estate’.

As expected from Lexus, trim levels are generous.

S models have a six-speed manual gearbox (or optional four-speed auto), traction control, front and rear fog lamps and 16-inch alloy wheels. SE adds heated front seats with leather/suede-effect upholstery, 17-inch alloy wheels and an uprated stereo. The range-topping Sport has drilled aluminium pedals, rear spoiler, stainless steel scuff plates and rear privacy glass.

Driving performance

IS pitches itself as a 3-series competitor for driving experience. Like the BMW (long touted as the “ultimate driving machine”), it’s rear-wheel-drive and has an agile yet composed feel. The steering is well weighted, direct and offers plenty of feedback. A six-speed gearbox adds to IS’s fun-to-drive feel and is ideally suited to the engine.

The chassis is responsive and offers plenty of grip. But while IS undoubtedly is a better drive than most in its class, it lacks the poise and refinement of 3-series.


The Lexus stylists didn’t hold back when they designed the interior. It’s a question of taste: some see it as sporty and dynamic; others find it overblown and a little tacky.

The low-slung driving position is both sporty and comfortable – the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, but legroom for rear passengers is cramped.

The eye-catching Sportcross has a smaller load area than a traditional medium estate but still has a useful amount of space for luggage and shopping.


The 2.0 and 3.0 six-cylinder units are flexible, if a little noisy and not as smooth as BMW’s sixes. But they’re powerful (outputs are 153bhp and 211bhp), give rapid acceleration (0-60mph in 9.5 and 8.2 seconds) and offer lots of pulling power – especially the 3.0-litre.


There’s no Euro NCAP crash test rating, but IS is a solid and fairly modern design. All models have driver, passenger and side airbags plus ABS. It’s a very secure car – consistently topping break-in tests – with strong locks and a standard alarm. Some owners may also have fitted a tracking system.

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