A current favorite sings a new L-Tune
If this car looks like it’s benefited from sanitary installation of a well-conceived, factory-authorized aftermarket kit, that’s because it has. Better still, the L-Tuned package actually enhances the IS 300’s above-average performance without voiding the Lexus warranty. Is this a win-win-win situation? Yes, but for a price.
L-Tuned Editions start life as stock IS 300s. Lexus dealers offer two packages engineered by Toyota Racing Development, dubbed Series I and II. Both are available in Millennium Silver Metallic, Graphite Gray Pearl, or Black Onyx. Series I consists of a six-piece body kit and 55-watt foglamps plus a larger-diameter stainless-steel exhaust system that adds a claimed 8 hp to the stock car’s 215. This package gives the basic street attitude (including the gratuitous exhaust note) with a little extra punch for $3999. Installation takes a day or two.
Our test car was equipped with the suspension/handling-dedicated Series II package which goes even further and costs substantially more at $7698. With a two-to-three-day install, Series II includes all the Series I mods augmented with larger cast-aluminum wheels and 225/40ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport tires, progressive-rate springs, and larger anti-roll bars. The 1.0-in.-lower stance underscores the package’s performance gains and provides the fast and furious look.
Getting a chance to sample the L-Tuned IS 300’s abilities allowed us also to test the new-for-’02 five-speed manual transmissionfinally. Lexus made us wait an entire model year to put a check mark next to our single-item IS 300 wish list, but it was worth the wait. The new tranny has more closely spaced first-through-fifth-gear ratios, making it easier to keep the engine in the rich part of the torque curve. The result of the L-Tuned edition’s added horsepower, the ’02 self-change box, wider tires, and an optional limited-slip differential is, well, quicker acceleration.
We recorded a 0-60-mph time of just 6.56 sec, which is nearly a full second quicker than a stock five-speed-automatic-equipped IS 300, but it’s still four ticks behind a manual BMW 330i. The IS 300 shifter is positive, accurate within its gate, without any overrun that feels rubbery or vague.
The clutch pedal’s action is smooth and easy to modulate whether you drive sedately around town or have a tendency to get aggressive. In other words, the manual transmission is exactly what this car has been begging for, and it’s superbly executed. Besides, not buying the automatic saves you exactly $1370 off the top and about 30 lb of weight off the bottom. Do yourself a favor: Get the manual.
Enhanced road holding and acceptable ride comfort are usually at odds, but not so with the L-Tuned IS 300. Surprisingly, nobody who drove the Series II L-Tuned car said a word about stiff-shouldered low-profile rubber or lack of road isolation, although it would be expected. Perhaps because MT’s main office is in sunny California, we admittedly have a higher tolerance for stiffly sprung sport sedans with low-profile tirespotholes are few, and Detroit’s Ford Street is thousands of miles away. But the progressive-rate springs do the excellent job they were designed to do, while the larger anti-roll bars keep the car cornering as flat as a race car.
The Michelin tires’ added width (and assumed added grip) didn’t translate directly into improved slalom speeds. A stock IS 300 posted slightly better speeds through the cones. Had our tester’s tires not seen over 4000 miles of aggressive journalist “testing” prior to our day at the track, they likely would’ve stuck better. Still, the 65.9-mph slalom run belies the L-Tuned edition’s even crisper turn-in, sharper reflexes, and generally neutral at-the-limit predictability. At lower speeds, however, the L-Tuned car still understeers considerably unless a trunkload of throttle is used to coax the tail around. It turns out, this test-track feat is easier with the manual transmission’s gear ratios.
Brakes remain unchanged from the already large-diameter stock discs at all four corners. What rubber was left on the tires was sufficient to produce an expected (and at the same time remarkable) 112-ft stop from 60 mph. Hey, TRD: Don’t do a thing to the brakes, please.
Our test car was loaded with just about every available option, so the as-tested price was a bit inflated at $43,172. However, that price (and its added handling performance) is in line with a comparably equipped BMW 3 Series. If you’d like to customize your IS 300, but don’t have the inclination or experience to do so, here’s a way that’ll keep your warranty intact while keeping your knuckles uninjured and blemish-free.