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Japanese Luxury: From the Toyota Altezza to the Lexus IS

Updated on June 23, 2014

The Lexus IS may be one of the most popular entry level luxury sedans on the market today, but it had modest beginnings and slowly climbed its way to the top of the car food chain. The first ever generation was launched in October of 1998 and has evolved into a household name today. The IS stands for Intelligent Sport and has quite a few variants now, including hybrids and F Sports. The Lexus IS is currently on its 3rd generation and is only ever growing in popularity and fans.

First Generation (1998-2005)

1998-2000: This car was first introduced as the Toyota Altezza, with the name meaning "high-class" in Italian. It was designed with a great performance emphasis than was observed on previous luxury vehicles from Japan. The Altezza had a shortened, front engine that gave Japanese consumers the advantage of saving money on taxes because of the regulations imposed by the Japanese government. This vehicle was actually awarded the "Car of the Year" in Japan, and Lexus started to make models named the Lexus IS to be sold in Europe. The stylized circular lights are now known today as the "Lexus-style" or "Altezza lights" and is an iconic symbol of the Lexus IS today.


A hatchback model was introduced in 2000 with a rear or all wheel drive. The IS 300 sedan debuted in the US in 2000 and was available in 5-speed automatic transmission. The first generation of Lexus IS had an interior that wasn't available in other Lexus models, including a metal ball shifter in chrome, navigation screen that popped out, and a chronograph instrument panel. The European version had full-on leather seats, making it quite a luxurious ride, plus automatically dimming rear and side view mirrors. It was also stocked with HID headlamps.

The first generation Lexus IS also had excellent crash test results, achieving a 5 out of 5 in side driver and side rear passenger and a good rating of four stars in frontal driver and frontal passenger. However, some subsequent years of the Lexus IS didn't sell as well as it was anticipated. This was because Lexus didn't have much of a global status then as it does now. The IS wasn't offered in manual in Europe so that may also have contributed to its slow sale.

Second Generation (2005-2013)

2005-2008: The second generation Lexus IS was debuted in March of 2008 and the models sold were IS 250 and IS 350 sedans. The second generation actually bumped sales up from the previous generation and even made it to the list of the best-selling luxury cars in the United States. It was in the same category as the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes Benz C-Class, Cadillac CTS, Acura TL, Audi A4, and Infiniti G35. In 2011, the Lexus IS was the 3rd best-selling car from the Lexus lineup, behind the Lexus ES and the Lexus RX.

The second generation Lexus IS models are more typical along the lines of the other Lexus cars and focuses on luxury. They IS interior had memory leather seats, LED interior that accented various part of the cabin, faux-metallic or maple wood trip, keyless entry and push start. The extra options included navigation, backup camera, and a premium sound system from Mark Levinson.


In 2008, the IS had a refreshed styling upgrade where the suspension and the steering were upgraded for stability. The IS 250 C was introduced as a hardtop convertible as well as a more powerful IS 350.


A factory produced F sport IS model was introduced with some interior updates as well.

Third Generation (2013-Present):

The third generation had a facelift complete with a new spindle grille that's earned itself some pretty rave reviews from car reports and consumers alike. It has a rear wheel drive with a nice mesh pattern on the spindle grille, L-shaped daytime running lights, 12.3 inch LCD screens for the navigation, and gorgeous leather and suede interior. The front seats are inspired by racing and carbon fiber integrated controls and push start.

The IS F Sport includes an enhanced and upgraded performance and handling with Adaptive Variable Suspension and Variable Gear Ratio Steering. Its more aggressive handling sets it apart from the base model IS. Safety features include a multitude of airbags and stability control systems. There's also a pre-collision system that was offered and crash test results rated the IS with five stars.

Based on the track record of the IS, satisfaction and popularity and ever so rising and will continue to grow higher as the Lexus IS gains footing in the world market. Not only is the car sporty with a great looking exterior, the fancy and luxurious interior with all of the updated technological features is sure to help the IS advance in popularity and become a car world classic.


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