Advantages Stylish, bullet proof build, tons of equipment and not a BMW.
Disadvantages Poor fuel consumption and performance for it's class and not a BMW.
The Japanese, apparently, are fantastic at developing existing ideas into something new but seldom create something original. Invent a calculator, the Japanese will make it smaller. Make a television, they come back with a 42 inch plasma screen that you hang on the wall. All of this is brilliant for cold, functional devices, but how well does it work when they put their minds to something with a bit of soul, a little passion… like a sports saloon.Lexus is the luxury division of Toyota, formed several years ago when Toyota realised that nobody was going to buy one of their cars instead of a BMW 7 series or Mercedes S Class, no matter how good it was. They needed to create a premium brand car, which normally takes decades, with an immediate presence. This led to the Lexus LS400, which was superb but did not have the brand impact to impress European snob values. Years later it is regarded as a fine car, but people still can’t get past the fact that it isn’t a German limo.
In 1999, Lexus launched the IS200 – aimed at the executive sports saloon market.King of the sports saloons was, and still is, the BMW 3 series. Fine engines, great driving experience, bags of driveway kudos and built so solidly that you would think it was carved out of granite. Nobody in Europe has been able to shift the 3 series from the top of every thrusting exec’s wish list (who said yuppies were a thing of the past) but Lexus were undaunted and decided to clone this winning formula.
Just like the 3 series, the IS200 got a straight six 2.0 litre engine, rear wheel drive, sporty, and aggressive styling. Everything, in fact, to make it look like a strong contender – on paper at least. It was in June 2000 that I joined a company with a pretty generous company car policy and for the first (and only) time in my life I had my pick of a really tasty choice of vehicles.Ruling out the VW’s, Fords, Vauxhalls, etc., I found that I could just about scrape into a BMW 320 SE and even went for a test drive. It was an impressive car, everything responded as I had imagined – precise steering, instant brakes, gear changes that flattered, a healthy shove in the back whenever the accelerator was applied and so on. However, there was just one problem – it was a BMW. You see, I don’t associate myself with the pushy, superior image that I personally perceived BMW still had. I liked the car, but I just didn’t like the baggage – so where was I going to get a non-BMW BMW? I think you can see where this is going.
By coincidence, the IS200 was doing the usual round of new car reviews in all the auto magazines and it really caught my eye. All the reviews said the same thing – it was like a BMW 3 series, but not quite, which sounded just the job.I booked myself a test drive and arrived at Lexus (Leeds) on a sunny afternoon. The first thing that struck me was the immaculate design of the showroom. Great walls of curved glass, the swirly Lexus ‘L’ logo scattered subtly around the pristine walls. The cars were fantastically well presented, gleaming like jewels.
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