MM Retro-Ownership Write-Up: 2001 Lexus IS300

mmcartalk

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MM Retro-Ownership Write-Up: 2001 Lexus IS300






(My car was similar to this, except for the six-spoke wheels and all-season tires)








Since many of us are spending most of our time at home now because of the virus (I just go to the grocery store, CVS drug store, or Walmart's for needed supplies), and I'm temporarily out of the business of new-vehicle reviews or test-drives, some of you seem to like my write-ups of previous vehicles I or my family have owned. So, by request, I'll do some more of them. For this one, I'll write up the vehicle that originally got me onto Lexus forums to start with....my 2001 IS300. So, for those of you who can't stand me.....blame this car (Just Kidding). 😉

In the 1990s, being a car enthusiast, I bought (and owned) more vehicles (two Toyotas, one Mazda, and a Saturn) than I actually needed, sometimes owning more than one at a time. Virginia's car-ownership laws are not the most friendly in the nation.....there are yearly safety-inspections, early emissions-tests in the county I live in, yearly personal-property taxes based on the car's residual KBB value, registration-fees for both county and state, etc.... This, besides the usual expenses of insurance, gas, oil changes, service, trying to keep track of all that paperwork, service-requirements, and documents, and the hassles of parking them both in my small (and sometimes hard-to-find) condo-spaces, removing them both when major work had to be done the parking-lot, and frankly, it just got to be too much. I said the heck with it....time to go back to one car.

Despite a number of vehicles (and a nice blue 1995 Celica), I had not really owned a really premium or upmarket vehicle since the big used American luxury cars I had in college and as a young adult, decades earlier...and, of course I couldn't afford new ones then, so they were used and quite worn. Also, with my desire for winter traction, I had not owned a RWD vehicle since the mid-70s. So, with the advent at that time of ABS, traction control, and stability control, particularly in upmarket cars, I thought I'd just own one single, upmarket vehicle. I looked at and considered a number of vehicles (including another big Buick)...but GM interiors were pure crap in those days, and they weren't well-built.

At the 2001 D.C. Auto Show in January, when I looked at and sat in the then-new Lexus IS300 (actually a rebadged Toyota Altezza with a larger in-line 3.0L-six engine), I knew what I wanted, and fell in love with it..although, later, I almost wished I had gotten the new 4Gen ES300 instead. Still, I was clearly mesmerized by the IS300's bright Solar Yellow paint (it was the only Lexus product available then in that color), chronograph-style gauges, polished chrome-ball shifter (real polished-metal/chrome, not cheap plastic), and the availability of cloth seats (which I preferred over leather) and a larger all season wheel/tire option, with six spokes instead of five and higher-profile tires that rode smoother than the stiff-riding high-performance standard rubber.

I had also had previous experience with two Toyotas of my own, and my Mom's Corolla wagon, at one of the local Toyota shops, and, despite their reliability, was not only on a first-name basis with the Service Manager (later Service Director), but considered him a personal friend of mine. Indeed, more than once, he asked me for MY advice when he was vehicle-shopping for his own family. He suggested, when I told him I was getting an IS300, that I bring it into his shop for simple routine service, which he said he could do (and did) for about half of what the overpriced Lexus service departments wanted. I was used to doing my own oil-changes on the Toyotas I owned...which was simple with the 1.8L engine, but the 3.0L in-line 6 was much more difficult to access the crankcase drain-plug on, and the filter was mounted at an awkward angle. So, I figured, let the guys in the Toyota shop do it for the reduced price....especially since Toyota shops use the same filters, spark plugs, wiper-blades, etc....and most maintenance-items as Lexus shops. He said the only thing he couldn't do on a Lexus in that shop was warranty-work, because Lexus warranty work, officially, had to be done in Lexus shops....but he was working on getting a certification for that, which Lexus would recognize.

So, anyhow, despite the generally good Lexus customer-service reputation, buying this vehicle was nowhere near the extremely pleasant experience that buying the Saturn SL-2 had been a few years earlier (I covered the SL-2 in another thread). I went up to the Lexus shop, with my checkbook in hand, expecting to order a new base-level IS in yellow, without options, and, of course, leave a deposit. Sure enough, they didn't have a yellow one in stock...but they DID have them in stock in virtually every other color. They went on and on, trying to sell me one in silver, white, black, blue, gray, dark green, you name it. The Auburn Sky Metallic, a kind of reddish burnt-orange, was gorgeous, and I almost went for it, but decided to hold out for yellow, and got ready to have them fill out an order-form. Then, they tried to screw me, apparently because I wouldn't take one of their in-stock models off their hands. They seriously low-balled my trade, despite the fact that I had taken excellent care of it and not put that many miles on it. I could hear my salesperson arguing with the dealership's sales manager, and then he came back and told me, privately, in a low voice so the manager could not hear it, that he thought my trade was worth a lot more that the manager was willing to accept. I said never mind, I'd sell it myself, and he said no, wait, let me go back and try one more time. This time, when the manager realized that the deal was slipping away, he decided to offer me a more reasonable figure, and, by then, I was tired, so we shook hands on it. Then, just as they were getting ready to formally special-order another one (base-model / cloth seats, without sunroof, and with the all-season tire-package...the way I wanted it), the manager comes out and said, "Wait, Mr. Marshall, there's a yellow one on a ship, headed to the port in New York City, right now, exactly the way you want it." I said..."Are you sure?" He said, "Yep".....and showed me the stats on it. "We'll divert it down here for you, Mr. Marshall" I said "Sold", pulled out my checkbook, scribbled out a $1000 check, handed it to him, said "There's my deposit...give me a recipt, and call me when it comes in. Good night, Gentleman". Turned out, BTW, that my Lexus salesperson, a relatively young man, was the son of a Ford Tycoon who owned one of the largest Ford dealerships in the area. He had a white 2-seat 2001 Thunderbird on the lot (even though it was a Lexus shop)....they sold it for (get this) a 17K mark-over list. A woman came in and wanted it. It listed for 37K, and they sold it for 54K. I told the salesperson "You've got to be kidding...she wrote a check for that much", and he said, 'Yep". Simple supply-and-demand...when that car came out, its popularity bordered on freakish. I liked it myself, but was not willing to pay that kind of mark-up....and my own IS300 was 31K, not exactly cheap in those days. When his dad passed away, he inherited the big Ford/Lincoln shop, and is still the head of it today...I saw him a few weeks ago when I test-drove the Lincoln Corsair.

So, without further ado...the car itself (as I sometimes do, I went off on a long side-story). Sure enough, as promised, it came in a few days later, I got the call from the dealership, went out to the Lexus shop, looked it over, and it appeared OK, with no damage or defects. It passed my test-drive, and I handed them a check for the balance (I don't believe in being in debt with car-payments, and won't buy any vehicle that I cannot pay off). Then, when I asked if I could wash and dry it myself in the wash-bay, the General Manager of the place said no. The Saturn place I had dealt with before didn't care.....they let me wash it any time I wanted to, but this place was a lot different. They apparently felt we were idiots, despite the fact that I had been washing and detailing vehicles before most of the guys working in the wash-bay were even born. Well, I simply wasn't going to take no for an answer, so I grabbed the hose and started cleaning it myself. He came out of the office, walked over to the bay, and firmly asked me, once again, to not wash the vehicle. I was mad, but decided not to make a public confrontation with him, and let them wash it. But I made sure they did it correctly....no brooms or other devices that could scratch paint or chrome.

Driving it home, I was amazed at how well this car was built. The basic structural-feel of it was like something carved out of a block of granite...Toyota and Lexus, IMO, made some of their best products right around this time, and I noticed a sharp downgrade in solidness in both the 2Gen and 3Gen IS models later on. But, with experience, there were a few glitches in its design and operation which I didn't like.....mostly in the 5-speed automatic transmission. The chrome-ball shifter had to be used to get L, or first gear......you could not use the downshift buttons on the front of the steering wheel spokes for first gear (the upshift buttons were hidden on the back side of the spokes). In cold weather, the transmission would not shift out of third or fourth gear until the engine temperature got up to the bottom end of normal, which meant you had to creep along rather slowly to keep RPMs down when the engine was cold. The transmission sometimes (once in a while) hiccuped /flared slightly on the 2-3 shift, and the ECU would give very sluggish throttle-response and downshifting at low-rolling speeds...a factory re-flash was supposed to address that, but didn't. The climate-control system, in several functions, kept reverting to an (unwanted) recirculate-mode, which could fog up the windows on defrost...you often had to manually keep the **** set to fresh-outside air to keep the defrosting effective, which I found annoying. The 3.0L in-line six, which was otherwise butter-smooth but tough as an anvil, used expensive premium gas at about the same rate as the larger 4.0L V8. And despite ABS and traction-control (my car did not have the stability-system), Bridgestone all-season tires, Snow-Mode for the transmission which limits engine-torque, and careful driving on my part, this car was truly awful in the winter, particularly on a hard-frozen surface....even though I kept this car for a good five years, my next vehicle was a Subaru Outback, which simply laughed at anything that winter or nature could send it.

But, a few quirks aside, this was a superbly-built car, and I kept it for a good five years, until I decided that I just wanted something better in the snow. (I also will probably never own another RWD car again). I only had one (simple) warranty-repair...a premature replacement of a fog light bulb. I had most of the basic service done at the Toyota shop, for a cheap price. In the early 2000s, the Lexus IS and LS were arguably the two most reliable vehicles in Consumer Reports' data-base. The power-steering pump needed its fluid replaced a little earlier than I would have thought, but, again the Toyota shop took care of that. Everywhere I went, heads would turn when they saw that bright-yellow-canary go by...even the Military MPs remarked on how much they liked it when they would stop me at the gates to check my ID.

And, as always, Happy Car-Memories.


MM
 

ssun30

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We only had the IS200s imported in early 2000s and they were extremely rare and very expensive. At that time I really wanted one because of that chronograph gauge and 'ferrari gear selector' but was way beyond my budget.

I wish they bring back the chronograph in digital form for next IS. The 'LFA gauge on everything' is becoming stale to be honest...
 

mmcartalk

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At that time I really wanted one because of that chronograph gauge and 'ferrari gear selector' but was way beyond my budget.
It only partly-imitated the Ferrari gear-selector, though.....Ferrari, in addition to the ball, traditionally uses a gated-shifter, which shows what slot you are putting the lever in. The manual-transmission IS models, of course, lacked the gated-feature.

I also don't know what kind of climate you have in your area, but the 1Gen IS could be a real handful on hard-slick surfaces, even with electronic traction-aids. This was definitely not a winter car.
 

ssun30

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It only partly-imitated the Ferrari gear-selector, though.....Ferrari, in addition to the ball, traditionally uses a gated-shifter, which shows what slot you are putting the lever in. The manual-transmission IS models, of course, lacked the gated-feature.

I also don't know what kind of climate you have in your area, but the 1Gen IS could be a real handful on hard-slick surfaces, even with electronic traction-aids. This was definitely not a winter car.
Not surprised given it was based on a shortened Mark II platform. And Mark.IIs and JDM Altezzas were notorious drift machines.
I've driven the first-gen Mark X (Reiz) which is the spiritual successor to the first-gen IS and Mark II. 2.5 litre V6 driving less than 1500kg, no TC no VSC (China did not mandate those back then), cheap tyres with no grip. It was very hard to drive in rain and undrivable in snow, and my cousin who owned the car got it totalled in the second winter he bought the car. The 3 litre was actually easier to drive because it had TC. People today really don't appreciate how hard it used to be to drive RWD without TC even with only 200hp.
The gen 1 Reiz 2.5 was known as a death trap in China with a lot of accidents because most people only drove the FWD VW Santana before. It became popular among drift enthusiasts in Guangdong since we couldn't drive the RHD Mark II/Chaser as in Hong Kong.
 
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Levi

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Before covid19 I was looking to buy one here in Europe. They all have about 200k km and cost waaay toooo much for such an old car. It is not like many collectors are looking to buy them, in Europe noone cares about first IS. Those cars are still listed for sale, they would be even without covid. I'd buy one for 2k Euro max, 1k is a fair price. The current owners are foolishly greedy, I am not spending 4k on a 20 year old beaten IS.
 
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Before covid19 I was looking to buy one here in Europe. They all have about 200k km and cost waaay toooo much for such an old car. It is not like many collectors are looking to buy them, in Europe noone cares about first IS. Those cars are still listed for sale, they would be even without covid. I'd buy one for 2k Euro max, 1k is a fair price. The current owners are foolishly greedy, I am not spending 4k on a 20 year old beaten IS.
I wonder if those that have the cars are charging a "drift tax", trying to hook those JDM drift crowd buyers to buy in. Other than that, in UK at least, it might be a good market to buy old Lexuses if no one really wants them there.

I remember hearing that UK has a lot of great deals on used ISs too
 

Levi

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Steering wheel is on wrong side for me.

I ll just wait, maybe some time I'll find some good deal on a Sportcross, but for now I have other issues.
 
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