The Lexus IS350 is big news for Tokyo urbanites because it represents the first time a Lexus-branded vehicle has been offered in Japan. Consider our Lexus SC300/SC400/SC430 is known as their Toyota Soarer, our IS300 was their Toyota Altezza and you get the idea. To roll an Altezza with Lexus badging was a unique USDM statement in downtown Tokyo; until now.
A bit of a stopgap measure in many ways to get Lexus in the luxury/sport segment dominated by BMW, the IS300 was the Altezza converted to left-hand drive. The IS300 was then massaged on the luxury side of the equation and fitted with a bigger inline six engine. The new IS moves the luxury needle where Lexus likes it, at full boost and expands the lineup to include the IS250, which can be ordered with all-wheel drive and a manual gearbox and the top-of-the-line IS350, which sports a direct injection 306hp V-6 and paddle-actuated six-speed automatic transmission.
The big question on both sides of the Pacific centers on whether tuners and enthusiasts will embrace the new platform. The previous car's direct lineage with the Altezza gave it a distinct JDM aura, which played out well in America where the car was greeted with full-tilt body kits, turbo systems, and 2JZ Supra swaps. The Altezza felt sportier than any Lexus before it but still did not challenge BMW's position as the leader in packaging sportiness and luxury. So the core question is: Will the enhanced luxury deflect from the performance aspect of the car? There was a substantial jump in tuned Lexus vehicles at the 2006 Tokyo Auto Salon, which we deem as very promising. The standout that graces these pages was uncovered in the Blitz booth.
For the rest of the story, along with technical specifications, photos, and more, pick up the June 2006 issue of Turbo & High Tech Performance, on news stands now!