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Lexus IS 300 Performance Tour
Englishtown, NJ - In what may be the most important product launch for Lexus since the division's inception a little over a decade ago, Lexus is going all out in its North American introduction of the IS series. Along with an all out media blitz focusing on a 'sufficiently radical' theme, Lexus is currently taking a cue from BMW and VW in taking the IS on a 'Performance Tour' around the country. We were on hand at the tri-state area stop over at Englishtown, NJ.
Similar in concept to BMW's 'Ultimate Driving Experience', the Performance Tour gives invited guests a chance to preview the IS on a closed autocross-style course. BMW has used its Driving Experience to introduce the current 3 series and the X5 SAV in the past couple of years. We have attended the X5 introduction at the Meadowlands Giant Stadium, and like everybody who attended, walked away impressed by the company's commitment to bringing the Ultimate Driving Machine to the general public to experience.
It is not surprising then, that Lexus brought us out to the familiar grounds of Raceway Park at Englishtown to introduce their competitor to lexus/dcp01919.jpg

lexus/dcp01919.jpgthe segment leading BMW 3 series in a BMW style format. In fact, at the pre-drive introduction in the theater of the hospitality tent, Lexus drove both a BMW 328I and Audi A4 across the stage for comparison before they finally drove the new IS onto the stage. Powered in the US by the same 3.0L engine that powers the GS300, the 200lb lighter IS package makes it an instant challenger to the Ultimate Driving Machine. The tent also featured a catered hot lunch, a preview of Sega Dreamcast's soon to be introduced Sega GT video game, interactive demos, and a pristine yellow IS 300 on display. After a brief introduction , which included a series of rather 'offbeat' videos, we were off into the driving sessions.
lexus/dcp01920.jpg

lexus/dcp01920.jpgTwo areas were set up. The first area was set up for 'hot laps' with driving pros. Equipped with helmets supplied by Lexus, we were given two laps around a sinuous course which featured a slalom, a hairpin, lexus/dcp01927.jpg

lexus/dcp01927.jpga chicane, as well as a decreasing radius turn. All this provided plenty of excitement in the hands of a pro. It was evident that they were determined to impress, as witnessed by the tail-out driving styles through the turns. Next, Lexus brought the Audi A4s and BMW 328Is out for comparison drives with their new IS through a specially designed course to simulate everyday driving dangers. The course had pop up hazards, sudden stop areas, and even a fake mountain complete with a guy throwing foam boulders across the course.
The comparison track certainly serves its purpose well. In our drives, we found that the IS is considerably more muscular feeling than the other two. Of the three the A4 felt the most out of its element. With a ride that was softer than that of the IS and the 328, the Audi felt more geared lexus/dcp01925.jpg

lexus/dcp01925.jpgtoward the comfort quotient of ride quality. Hard turns revealed considerable body roll and longish stopping distances compared to the others. Although the Quattro system would undoubtedly provide superior traction in certain conditions, in this venue the Quattro penalized performance with its weight. Our initial impressions left the new IS300 as the athlete of the bunch with a lighter, slightly more agile feel than the 328. On the other hand, the BMW showed more solidity and poise in its moves. Teutonic and solid are really good ways to describe the little Bimmer's manners. BMW has dialed in a lot of damping into its suspension, which isolates more road feel than the IS - this, however, may also be preferred in real world driving conditions. It wouldn't be a surprise if preference is decided along lines of driving styles. The IS begs to be driven hard. The gratifying snarl of the tuner-like exhaust can is enough reason to punch the throttle. The sequential shift t
 
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