DAVE MOORE: How to buy a used Lexus

Luxury sports Lexus is nimble, good-looking and tough

Lexus’ talented competitor for the 3-series has become a very desirable and affordable used car, writes DAVE MOORE.

One of the most mechanically reliable new cars to come to New Zealand, the first generation Lexus IS model is getting old enough now to be an inexpensive luxury used car. It also came in as a used import called the Toyota Altezza, but hold fire, we’re talking about the six-cylinder model if you’re looking at the Toyota. Many Altezzas used a high-revving four-cylinder motor which may have had the power edge over the smaller versions of the six-cylinder cars but it’s not as refined or as easy to drive and we’d leave it off our prospect list.

The chiselled styling of the IS200/300 still looks crisp now even after 18 years on the market, and the interior, which is quite quirky with a big overlapping divers’ watch style instrument panel is tough, well made and lasts well.

For a six-cylinder car, the IS, like the 3-series BMW, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-class it was designed to compete with, is not huge inside and the boot is easy to fill, but once you’re in it’s comfortable enough and while the rear does restrict tall adults the front seats are superb and the driver gets one of the nicest driving positions in the business.

Thanks to New Zealand’s Lexus ownership plan, iyou can find a well-documented fully-serviced New Zealand new IS and if it hasn’t got the paperwork ask why and go for some money off. If it’s not forthcoming, walk away, there are a lot to choose from out there.

The IS’s tough six-cylinder engines can clock up huge mileages with a routine regular maintenance scheme and six-figures should not put you off at all.

The model grips, handles and balances beautifully, but things can get on the firm side, ride-wise if your car has sports low-profile wheels and tyres. This is all a matter of taste of course, but non-sporty factory standard wheels do give a better ride on rough going.

While it’s tempting to go for the flat-out performance of the 3.0-litre, the 2.0-litre six is the sweeter of the two and brisk enough for most of us.

The car can be had as a six-speed manual, and these work superbly, so while you might prefer an auto, the manual car is so easy to drive you’d be surprised, with excellent clutch take-up, throttle responses and shift action.

Unimpeachable build quality, top of the table reliability rating excellent equipment levels (make sure it all works though). The chassis is excellent and few cars on its used car price bracket can offer the levels of refinement afforded by this jewel of a motor car.

Best to buy:
Get the latest car you can find, and don’t worry too much about mileage, the IS will cover huge distances without a bother. The smaller six is the sweeter and cheaper and uses less fuel, so thatís what weíd go for. Some sportswagon versions came in as IS and Altezza models, and they do add some needed load space, but they might need some extra checking if they are rebadged ex-Japanese Toyotas and yes, people still do this sort of thing with no history.

Te Atatu house

Weak points:

Very few, as it happens, apart from some corrosion of the five-spoke alloy wheels if they have been scored, while some manual models did have noisy clutch judder.

You’ll have to live with:
People saying they have one too, when all they have is noisy boy racers’ Altezza four-cylinder model. Insurance companies trying to charge you more because it’s a Lexus.

What to pay:
We found a very clean 2001 IS200 with 120,000km for $6000, and a 90,000km car from the same year for $10,000. IS300s cost up to two thousand more with similar age and mileage, it’s up to you to decide if the extra performance is worth it.
The cheapest we came across was a manual 2001 IS200 with 200,000km on the odo for $4000 we’d consider that, with a good history.

Te Atatu house

What do they cost to run?

The sixes do use more gas than similarly-sized fours, so donít expect it to be an economy car. Having said that. Most people should manages about 9L/100km for the 2.0-litre and 11L/100km for the 3.0-litre ñ not the best, but not disastrous, either. By the time you buy it, the car will be long off its original Lexus ownership plan, and while servicing is expensive at a Lexus dealer, keeping up the factory stamps in the service books will work well for you when it comes to selling the car.

But wait:
If you fancy an IS you’ve probably looked at Audis, Beemers and Benzes, and it has to be said for the money the Lexus is as good as any of them and according to JD Power customer satisfaction surveys, more reliable than they are too.