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2002 Lexus IS 300

The little Lexus finally gets a manual

Jul 23, 2002
0112_01zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Distant_Front_View Photo 1/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

Jeff is bummed. I swear he's going to cry.

Funny, a minute ago he was the happiest full-grown man I've ever seen. Looked like Jimmy Carter on E.

Then he wandered over to our red IS 300 test car, and looked inside. The guy did a double take. "Is that a manual transmission?" he asks.

0112_02zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Speedometer_View Photo 2/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

"Yup, a five-speed." I say."Bbbbbbut the IS 300," he says. "Isn't available with a manual. I know, I just bought mine yesterday." He motions to his shiny red IS 300 parked on the other side of the Chevron station.

"It's a prototype," I explain. "Goes on sale next month." The guy looks like he's going to lose it. "How is it?" he asks. I can tell by the tone of his voice he hopes I hate it. But I don't. "It's good," I say. "The automatic is nice, but the five speed is better." Jeff's shoulders slump. His eyes go hollow. His skin pale.

0112scc_lexus03_zoom Photo 3/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

Without a word, he walks back to his brand-new Lexus, a car he loved just a minute ago, climbs in and drives off, presumably back to his Lexus dealer. Ideally, without a chain saw.

We suspect there are many more Jeffs out there. Guys who bought an IS 300 not knowing a proper manual transmission would soon be available in the car.

The five-speed equipped 2002 Lexus IS 300, which went on sale in August, is a car Lexus promised when it introduced the IS last year. It's a car Lexus had to make. A car the company needs if it truly expects the IS 300 to battle the BMW 3-Series in the sports sedan market.

0112_04zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Full_Rear_View Photo 4/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

With the same 215-hp, 3.0-liter inline six cylinder as Jeff's automatic transmissioned version, the manual IS 300 is not exactly the right machine for a night of M3 hunting. But the transmission, despite a taller final drive than the automatic (3.727:1 vs. 3.909:1) does improve the car's acceleration, and the manual model's firmer suspension tightens its handling.

At the test track, we put the Lexus through our usual body of tests and came away with respectable, if not impressive, numbers. With a hard launch, our test car accelerated from 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds, significantly better than the 7.8-second run we recorded in an automatic IS 300 back in the August of 2000 issue, but far from the 6.4-second performance Lexus told us the car is capable of.

0112_05zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Driver_Side_Front_View Photo 5/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

The 15.3-second quarter-mile time also left us cold. We ran a 15.6 in the automatic, and both cars turned the same 90-mph trap speed.

The additional quickness is due to the manual's higher first gear ratio. The manual's 2.5-second 0-to-30 mph performance proves the car gets out of the gate quicker than its automatic sister, which needs 2.9 seconds to hit 30 mph.

0112_06zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Front_Interior_View Photo 6/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

Still, we thought the car would be quicker. We're also disappointed by the amount of wheel hop we experienced when launching the car. Dump the clutch with any rpm, and the standard 17-inch "summer" tires skip along the road as they fight for traction.

Once out of the gate, the inline six revs sharply and smoothly, and provides a nice kick at 3000 rpm, when the engine's variable valve timing shows itself. Although we haven't tested a car with the optional 16-inch "all season" tires, we suspect they would spin easier, let the engine climb its powerband sooner and ultimately allow the car to accelerate quicker.

0112_07zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Front_Emblem_View Photo 7/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

Banging through the gears is a snap. The shifter is well placed, has short throws, and tight gates. Good feel, too, with plenty of visceral feedback. The clutch is also agreeable. It has nice pick up, doesn't require too much leg muscle and lived through a dozen dragstrip launches.

Our test car's middle pedal, however, never felt right. It was mushy and needed too much travel before the Lexus' four-wheel discs would start slowing the car. Still, the car stopped from 60 mph in a respectable 125 ft., although the automatic car we tested last year stopped in 115 ft. I think there was something wrong with our test car in the brake department.

0112_08zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Full_Engine_Bay_View Photo 8/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

In the slalom, the tighter suspension of the manual-equipped Lexus improved its time as compared to the automatic model, but not by much. It recorded a run of 67 mph in our 700-ft course. We've run 66.2 mph in the automatic. Both models use double wishbones, front and rear.

Because of a problem with our test facility, we were unable to skidpad this car, but we don't think it would improve much on the automatic's .87g performance.

0112_09zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Full_Front_View Photo 9/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

The exteriors of the two models are identical, as are their interiors, with the exception of the shifter, of course. The five-speed's shifter is as attractive as any. Its chrome ball, leather boot and surrounding brightwork are pleasant, but somehow Lexus missed the boat on this one. The shifter that controls the automatic is so much sexier. We were hoping for something really cool here, like a gated shifter with a chrome stick or something. Whatever.

0112_10zoom+2002_Lexus_IS_300+Driver_Side_Interior_View Photo 10/10   |   2002 Lexus IS 300

The rest of the interior still turns us on. The chronographic instruments aren't the easiest to read but are cool to look at. The placement of the controls is spot-on, and the three-spoke wheel and polished pedals are right. Our tester was equipped with the optional navigation system, which at the push of a button, would rise slowly from the dash like Dracula from his coffin. It worked fine once we figured out its unintuitive controls, but such crap just doesn't belong in a proper sports sedan.

Out on the road, this all adds up to an entertaining, if not boner-inducing drive. How would we improve it? First, we would give it more balls. Say 50 hp. Then, we would dial out the wheel hop, lose that cliche shifter, and chuck the Nav system.

Don't get us wrong, we like the manual better than the automatic, but it surprisingly doesn't change the car all that much. In fact, it only reveals the IS 300's need for more power. In other words, Jeff isn't really missing anything. But don't tell him.

2002 LEXUS {{{IS300}}}
Estimated Price : $34,180

Engine
Engine Code : 2JZ-GE
Type : In-line six, iron block, aluminum head
Valvetrain : DOHC, four valves-per-cylinder,
VVTi variable intake cam timing
Displacement : 2997cc
Bore & Stroke : 86.0 mm x 86.0 mm
Compression Ratio : 10.5:1
Claimed Flywheel Hp : 215 hp at 5800 rpm
Measured Wheel Hp : 184 hp at 5700 rpm
Claimed Flywheel Torque : 218 lb-ft at 3800 rpm
Measured Flywheel Torque : 196 lb-ft at 3800 rpm
Redline : 6400 rpm

Drivetrain

Layout : Front engine, rear wheel drive
Transmission : Five-speed manual
Gear Ratios
1 : 3.566:1
2 : 2.056:1
3 : 1.384:1
4 : 1.000:1
5 : 0.{{{850}}}:1
Final drive : 3.727:1
Differential : Helical limited slip

Chassis
Chassis Code : JCE10

Exterior Dimensions
Curb Weight : 3,255 lbs
Weight Distribution F/R : 54/46
Overall Length : 176.6 in.
Wheelbase : 105.1 in.
Overall Width : 67.7 in.
Track F/R : 58.9 in./58.5 in.
Height : 54.9 in.

Suspension

Front : Upper and lower control arms,
anti roll bar
Rear : Upper and lower control arms
with toe control link, anti roll bar

Brakes
Front : 11.65-in. vented discs,
two-piston sliding calipers
Rear : 12.09-in. solid discs,
two-piston fixed calipers

Wheels and Tires
Wheels : 17 x 7-inch aluminum
Tires : 215/45R-17

Performance
Acceleration
0-30 mph : 2.5 sec.
0-60 mph : 7.4 sec.
30-50 mph : 2.8 sec.
50-70 mph : 4.2 sec.
Quarter Mile time : 15.3 sec.
Quarter Mile speed : 90.2 mph

Handling
Slalom Speed (700ft slalom): 67 mph

Braking
60-0 stopping distance : 125 ft.

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