The Lexus IS series has come a hell of a long way since it’s inception in Japan in 1998. Coming to Australia in 2000, the car was a bit of gamble on Lexus’ then soft and sensible reputation. Lexus wanted to add a dose of performance to the mix so they could hope to compete with the BMW 3 series and the Mercedes C class.
Lexus aimed to build a sensible car that didn’t just put you to sleep when you look at it, like the rest of their range at the time. Nobuaki Katayama is a name you shouldn’t try to pronounce because dishonouring the former racing driver and executive in Toyota’s Euro racing division, is also dishonouring the man behind a lot of Toyota’s world rally championship cars of the 90s, the Mark IV Toyota Supra and the original and iconic Sprinter AE86. This man would be the head engineer for the IS series. Lexus were clearly quite serious about going bonkers.
To begin with, the performance of the IS200 disappointed even Mr. Katayama himself. For a relatively small car, it weighed a lot from all the luxurious bits and pieces needed to deserve a Lexus badge, rather than being just a mismatched Toyota. Katayama immediately decided that the car needed a kick from his old masterpiece, so he dropped an updated version of the famous 2JZ 3 litre 6 cylinder in to replace the existing 2 litre.
I’ve become well acquainted with the IS300 and although its going on to be nearly 15 years old in this country, it still holds it’s own on the roads of Australia. The 2JZ is famously bulletproof and even gets the heavy little sedan moving at a surprising pace. With its 17-inch wheels and low profile tires sticking it to the road, it doesn’t sacrifice too much comfort by placing you gracefully in big soft leather seats that can be adjusted electrically and bake your bum on a cold winters morning. The big engine is in the front and it pushes all its power to the back wheels, a layout appreciated by anyone who enjoys driving.
The handling is good too; if you turn off the traction control and flip the gearbox into manual mode, where you can control the shifting from buttons on the steering wheel, you can quite easily make the back wheels slip as you turn onto your street without causing a need to clean the drivers seat and change your underwear when you reach the garage.
The style of the car is timeless, even if it is equipped with some vintage gadgets such as a ‘cassette player’. The interior is much better looking than any European equivalent of the same age, especially the centre console, where the knobs and dials wouldn’t be out of place on a car made today. As well as the design being timeless I’m also willing to bet that this car will outlive humanity and in the case of an atomic blast, it would remain standing after the cockroaches give up.
I’ve raved and ranted about how amazing the engine is and anyone who knows a thing or two about cars would agree that the 2JZ is iconic to Japanese motoring and set a new benchmark in its time for reliability and performance as well as its capability of taking the pressure when you decide to strap 18 turbochargers and 10 superchargers to it but now, more than 15 years after it was dropped into the Lexus IS300 and a staggering 24 years after the original 2JZ was built it does chug down the fuel like its going out of fashion. 10.6 litres of fuel per 100km average is a fair bit for cars of this size today and realistically, it IS going out of fashion. Electric cars are becoming more and more common and hybrids drives are flooding the market, small capacity engines with economical turbo chargers are coming in left right and centre.
This car is iconic, its engine is legendary, it was the start of the line of Lexus sports luxury cars that today includes a modern IS-F and the jaw dropping LFA. Even the rear light configuration is easily recognisable. This car may be slowly becoming impractical but it’s still exciting to drive and it will live on through the ages and that is why I’m predicting this to be a future classic, a rare purists car in the archives of history.