The Lexus brand has always been built on this idea of exclusivity, and the IS is no exception. This car introduced those notable taillights you've come to associate with the Lexus, and its built its success on integrating technology, comfort and power into the driving experience. If you had purchased the original version of this car in Japan, you would have actually been buying it under
the name of Toyota, with the model name of Altezza meaning awesome. (Just kidding, it means highness.)After several iterations of the car and a boatload of improvements to boot, Lexus seems to have a winner on its hands.
1998 - 2000
It was clear that Toyota needed a luxury brand, after seeing a demand for the more expensive sports sedans in Europe and America. From 1998 to 2005, the First Generation concentrated on establishing themselves in the market. The Altezzas sold in Japan in 1998 with a 2.0 L with either manual or automatic transmission. It was especially loved for its design, so much so that it
won Car of the Year in Japan. The relative success in their home country prompted the company to make a bolder move to introduce these cars by the name of Lexus to North America, Europe and Australia. The IS 200 debuted in 1999 and the 300 in 2000 with a V6 engine and horsepower that clocked in at 155 and 214 respectively, with both versions having rear-wheel drive. The focus was put on performance in the earliest versions, and came with a straight-six engine in both a sedan and wagon option. It was marketed as having the acceleration and brakes to go from 0 to 60 MPH in less than 9 seconds while still being able to stop on a dime. Interestingly enough, it was their circular lights that made quite a splash with consumers. The internal lamps and rear light clusters on these models were distinctive enough to create an after-market industry for putting these lights on other vehicles and was the basis for how the clear-glass LED taillights look today.
2000 - 2003
It was in 2000 that a hatchback and station wagon came out with a 3.0 L straight-six engine and all-wheel drive. In the US and Europe, you could only find the IS 300 model in automatic. The first generation of the 300 gained some headway when introducing the luxury features we equate with Lexus, like full leather interior for the European crowd and navigational tools for the US folks. It received a subcompact classification, and mainly Good (if not excellent) crash test ratings. Lexus had decent numbers in 2001, but was seriously floundering by 2004 in the US. Lexus managed to score more customers in Europe and Asia, though they were still losing ground to the manual option in both the BMW and Mercedes competitors. While the Lexus was by no means a chore to drive, it wasn't rated as being as seamless and effortless as those who were leading in sales.
2003 - 2005
The 6-cylinder IS Sportcross was now available for those who liked to get out and go. Smooth and stylish, this car was meant for a power couple as opposed to a 5-person family. The IS series now came with options for 11-spoke alloy wheels, fancier trim and better fog lights for a more aesthetic appeal as well as safety features. The seat came with a memory function for its settings so two drivers never had to fight about the positioning again. Doors now locked automatically (so the forgetful could rest easy), and owners got a heads up about when to service their car with a maintenance light. There were more storage compartments added to certain models, and they also introduced the ball gear shift to continue in the tradition of setting themselves apart. The 430 concept model that came out in Vegas had a 4.3 L V-8 engine, and while that particular version never made it further, Europe did get a Lexus option with a supercharged 4.3 L in the IS 300 body (note: not the easiest task to fit that in.)
2005 - 2008
With the Altezza name dropped altogether, these second generation cars became more like a coupe, and came with leather seats and striking interior lighting which made an instant first impression on customers. The interior had maple wood trim, keyless entry and the backup camera that has now become the standard. Options also included premium stereos and cruise control that automatically adjusts to the speed of the cars in front of you for safer driving. The 3.5 L V6 engine had 306 horsepower with the 2.5L V6 version was at 208. The 250 series came in a manual 6-speed with the other options being automatic. The IS F with a V8 that was available in Australia could go from 0 to 60 in just over 4.5 seconds, and topped out at 170 miles per hour. It was also styled to look like a force on the road like wider grilles and a distinctive bulge under the hood to show the larger engine (insert your own joke here.) These new features made it more popular than Acura, Audi and Infinit's counterparts, and made the IS number three in the US in terms of the best-selling Lexus models.
2008 - 2013
In 2008, you could now get the IS in a hardtop convertible (V6, 204 HP), and the IS series also had more work done on the suspension and steering wheel for better handling. Lexus continued to work on offering more models with new features for a fairly demanding audience, as well as improving its fuel economy for a world who saw gas prices rise exponentially during this time. In 2013, Lexus continued to work on their technology with anti-crash equipment becoming standard in the IS C, and
further cosmetic, interior and internal work being done on their IS F model in Japan. These changes signified their continued commitment and flexibility when it came to servicing customers whose expectations continued to climb. During this time, they were also tinkering and experimenting with different options in concept cars, which ultimately led to the current generation.
2013 to Today
Known as the third generation, Lexus worked on their steering and suspension even more with the IS F models. Quiet but with a powerful V8 engine and luxurious while still being safe, Lexus knew it had laid the groundwork to make a splash with its prospective buyers. Foglamps, trim and the brakes all were painstakingly improved upon for better comfort on the road, and even the tires got the exclusive treatment having been manufactured by Michelin and Bridgestone to accommodate this particular
car. In 2015, the IS got a 2.0 L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine instead of the standard 2.5 L V6. The car continues to evolve to be more compatible with smartphones, and the latest version was seen in April 2016 in China with different headlights and a new hood.
Lexus clearly went for style, and it wound up paying off for them. The lights alone were enough to set apart a new niche industry, and it was the details that seemed to make it a truly stand-alone car.But their other major strength was ensuring that their marketing stayed relevant today. They were using social media to interact with customers, and getting them involved in decisions about their business. These campaigns served to both connect them to potential buyers as well as stir conversation up about what their brand represents. Ultimately Lexus is not known for being the fastest car in the world or the most practical. What it is known is a symbol of what wealthy people own. The brand caters to those who expect a higher standard, and Lexus continues to reach out to its base to find out what it can do on their end to further encourage this image.
Specs (2011 Model)
- MSRP: Starts at $37,325
- Horsepower: Up to 306
- Dimensions: 184? L x 71" W x 56" H
- MPG: 22 city / 33 highway
- Engine: 2.0 L 4-cylinder or 3.5 L V6
- Weight: up to 3,737 lbs
- Tank Capacity: 17.4 gal
Despite not being the most popular of the Lexus models (that honor goes to the ES), it's still managed to make an impression on both customers and experts alike. In 2001, Kelley Blue Book named the IS 300 number one in terms of holding its value. JD Power and Associates and their readers liked this car a lot, and named both generations as best vehicles in the luxury class (2005 and 2006), and this car also came in first for buyers in terms of overall satisfaction in 2010 and 2011. The IS also had accolades for the engine and design from Ward's Auto and International Forum Design in Germany. Intellichoice/AutoPacificist named it as the Motorist Choice for Aspirational Luxury Car, further supporting the fact that you can capture an audience's attention by emphasizing the extras. It received a Golden Steering Wheel Award in Germany in their Luxury category, and the automotive
gurus at Top Gear gave it the honor of Executive Car of the Year in 2006 and it took second in Top Gear's customer satisfaction survey in 2005. It's also won in Canada and Australia for its use of technology and its luxury appeal.