May 2, 2008

Lexus IS 300 SportCross: Saab Quirky Or Aztek Quirky?

lexus_is300_sportcross.jpg

Since I'm not an orthodontist, a middle market hip-hopper, or my parents, I haven't paid much attention to Lexus. So I had no idea Lexus ever made a wagon--or a 5-door hatchback, or a sportback sedan, or whatever phony nomenclature manufacturers used to avoid saying "wagon"--until I saw one on the street.

The IS 300 SportCross [see?] was around from 2002-2005, and it apparently never caught on. [It sold alright the first year, but only 12,000 units the year it was discontinued.] Lexus buyers, even the younger ones in the IS target demo, didn't have the the "active lifestyle" the SportCross was designed for. Or if they did, they bought the RX.

It was the SportCross's oddball proportions that caught my attention. From the C-pillar back, it looks like an entirely different car, or maybe just a different size, like the tail's been enlarged 110%.

But Saabs always looked weird, with a lot of junk in their trunk, and people loved those. They're certainly affordable, $10-15,000 if you can find them. Is the SportCross eligible for reconsideration in these less SUV-friendly times?

See specs for the Lexus IS300 SportCross in the Model Library [lexus.com]

23 Comments

I LOVE these things....though I am an admitted wagon enthusiast. If only they made them with a manual transmission. I wouldn't have rested until I found one during my recent vehicle search! As it is, I picked up a Mazda6 wagon with a stick shift and love every minute of it!

That's a very unflattering angle: these things look much, much better in person. When we started looking for wagons, I wanted the IS bad. I now realize it was just a phase of wagon denial/bargaining. I'm over it now.

I. WANT. One.

It actually reminds me of the Subaru Impreza. Looks like a fun mod vehicle if I was in college, but I can't imagine driving one now with two kids.

Why is a daddy site talking about gas guzzling cars versus some cool daddy topics? I'm confused? When our kids are old enough, they won't be driving these types of vehicles anyhow. Please refrain from talking about dumb topics

[How about refraining from making dumb comments? The main reason I talk about cars is because I hate SUV's even more than minivans, primarily for the reason you cite: their horrible, unnecessary waste of gas. Having a kid is a prime time for changing cars, and so I am very interested in alternatives to the giant "family cars" that the automakers have become so dependent on. An IS 300 gets 27mpg, so while it's not a Prius, it's much better than an SUV. Also, buying a used car doesn't saddle you with the environmental implications of making and transporting your new whatever from wherever. -ed.]

Lexus' schtick is kind of how innocuous they look on the outside while inside they're swanky. At least that's my non-car-obsessed opinion. My parents just got a V8 sedan (!) and it looks like a Taurus or something but inside it's the size of a private jet. Ridiculous.

Hey, man - you hurt my Hybrid Highlander's feelings...

[ah yes, the Sensitive SUV. good thing I didn't say "better than *all* SUV's" -ed.]

I always thought this was a cool alternative and I agree with the earlier comment...it's a pretty good looking car...this photo is not taken from the best angle. (That oversized C pillar was a sign of things to come in the new RX, Highlander, xB and FJ Cruiser. Somebody at Toyota decided blind spots aren't a concern.)

I'm a wagon fan and love my Legacy GT. I briefly considered the Sportcross in 05 when I made my purchase but the Sportcross was more expensive, less efficient, no more reliable and much slower than the Subaru. Not much more to consider other the Lexus name and what friends and neighbors would think of me. It was an easy choice.

Anyway, I am quickly annoyed by the bashing of various categories of vehicles in some of the above comments and elsewhere. Minivans and SUVs make perfect sense for some people.

[oops, that would be me. sorry. I usually just work on the "if I can't say anything nice" approach for SUV's, and I give minivans a break most of the time, or at least treat them as sources of amusement, not shame. -ed.]

We're struggling with this right now as kid #2 is on the way. Between the car seats, strollers, dog in the back and overfull Yakima box on the roof we know we'll have to move up in size sometime soon. We've had some good test drives with the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Mazda CX-9 crossovers and I'm cringing at the abuse I'll take from friends, in-laws, bloggers, etc. for destroying the planet. I hate using gas as much as the next person but I'm annoyed by the ignorance of these critics. The fact is that I'd get just as bad mileage in a BMW 5-series wagon or a Mercedes E-class wagon and I'd have less room for the family. For some reason I could show up at an Al Gore lecture with these German wagons and nobody would bat and eye while a GMC Acadia might get boos from the crowd. Let's base these discussions on real facts and specs rather than condemnations of entire classes of vehicles. As long as this site salivates over cars like the M5 Touring and the sure to be abysmal mileage that it brings with it, let's be a little gentler on the whole SUV/minivan class.

(Also, the IS Sportcross doesn't get 27 mpg. It was rated at 18/24 in 2005 and that was under the old EPA standards. I would imagine the numbers would come in even lower today.)

[fair enough. and the 27 was from a review, not an EPA rating. -ed.]

Here's the kicker, Seth: they're unsafe. For you and others.

"Here's the kicker, Seth: they're unsafe. For you and others."

So's smoking.

[I think the jury's still out on whether it's unsafe for kids to smoke. -ed.]

I've always liked this oddball Lexus-meets-Pacer thing... I was living in Japan when the first IS (er, Altezza) came out and one of my friends got this wagon when it debuted... it was the first Japanese one to get the Lexus straight-size 3.0L.

There was talk about extending the current IS to match all the bodystyles the BMW 3 series offers... they already have a coupe and convertible testing but I'd love that car in wagon form. The current IS is the best looking car Lexus sells (not a hard titled to claim, true) and a neat wagon version would make my day, and certainly make me reconsider my Jetta Sportwagen/Saab 9-3 Sportcombi lust. :)

I was interested in one of these until I actually drove it- completely boring, with lackluster quality and finishes (especially compared to most other Lexuses). Plus, the thing drives like most other Lexuses- more like an appliance than a car. But then, don't all Toyotas?

Conventional wisdom in car geek circles is that whereas BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Infiniti consider their entry level models to be their bread and butter, Lexus has always focused on their top of the line LS model first, and then their mid-range GS model next. The IS was always an afterthought and it drives like one. I'm not a fan of the new generation IS, either, but it's now a serious contender.

[fwiw, i buy into that conventional wisdom. And coming to a car like this after it's off the market, it's too easy for me to ignore the competition it was targeting at the time--the Audi A4 and the 3-series--to figure out why it didn't do so well. -ed.]

"As long as this site salivates over cars like the M5 Touring and the sure to be abysmal mileage that it brings with it, let's be a little gentler on the whole SUV/minivan class."

The M5 and the like are horrible, indeed.

And I think you for considering minivans. More utility for you (and likely a little better mileage) and if you're going to T-bone me in my normal car, I'd rather you be in a 4,500 pound minivan with a low bumper than a 5,000 pound SUV with a bumper right at head height. Every little bit helps.

Personally, I think the responsible purchase if you're going from one kid to two is the whole CR-V/Mazda5/'09 Forrester/RAV4/Escape class of vehicles -- IF you really, really can't make your current vehicle work.

The Legacy wagon is borderline -- I know the back seats are small. A tallish driver and a rear-facing car seat won't fit behind.

However, it's not like you're driving an Insight. You probably can find some way to make you, the kids, the wife/husband, and stuff for a week fit. Plus it's infinitely cooler than any of the other vehicles mentioned in this thread.

And you have to be honest with yourself about how you're packing. Does the dog always have to come along? Do you own two Bugaboos or other large strollers that could be replaced with something more reasonable? I think most people overpack and could make it with a smaller vehicle if they tried.

Try the Legacy for a while. If it works, put the Acadia money you saved in the college fund.

AgnesDad,
I have not problem with Escapes/Foresters/CRVs/etc but they don't do anything for me that my Legacy can't do. They make have more cubic volume but the floor space in the cargo area is no bigger (maybe even smaller) so unless you pack to the ceiling they don't do you much good. Certainly nothing there to justify the fuel economy hit.
Those GM and Mazda crossovers are pretty nice. They have really useful interiors and drive well. I didn't take out a tape measure but I don't think their bumpers are as high as what you think of as typical for an SUV. Again, I'm going to stick with the Legacy as long as I can.
Two Bugaboos? No way! That's a college fund right there.

It's a lexus, by default, that makes it a toyota which places it a step ahead of the aztek, but below a subaru forrester.

[heh. I actually saw another one yesterday, and it is definitely not Aztek material. It does remind me of the Saab 900, though, which is not a bad thing. -ed.]

Funny that I read this right now since I saw one of these on the road yesterday. At first I thought it was a Hyundai Elantra hatchback, but nope. It was a Lexus.

One major difference between the IS series and the SAAB and most other Japanese cars is that they are RWD.

I have the IS300 SportCross and love it. Someone said they don't like how it drives. Well I can't compare it to sports cars since I have never had one, but I cross-shopped this with the A4 and ES330, and liked driving it a lot better.

The interior is clean and uncluttered, with the all lux features that are actually useful, like autodim mirrors and compass, electronic adjustable seats with heaters, sunroof, etc.

It has RWD so is much more fun on a nice twisty road than most wagons, comfy leather seats with side bolsters, auto with manual paddle shifters (fun to play with every once in a while), and has great handling.

With the back folded down you have almost as much room as a small SUV, and for long items the front passanger seat folds flat as well.

Finally the IS was made in Japan of 100% Japanese parts. I have the 02 model and six years later I have not had the slightest problem with it. Not a single repair.

The back seat is not huge, but it is fine for those under 6 feet. For a small car wagon this car is very heavy, about 3600lbs, so it feels very solid and safe, and a lot of safety features like side airbags and traction control are standard, though you can turn traction control off.

One more thing, the engine sounds wonderful when you floor it and it climbs up to speed. Just the right volume too.

I love wagons. I had a '95 volvo 850 GLT for a year in 2004. I found it too clunky...but safe as heck. I now drive a 2002 Mazda Protege 5. It's sportier, lighter and better on gas than most wagons out there. I heard the KIA Spectra5 and Rio5 as well as the Suzuki SX4 give it a run for the money gas-wise.

The IS300 SportCross is a beautiful rare beast, a great alternative to the Merc, Audi and Bimmer wagons...but a pricey one. I saw a 2002 going for 30K!

I refuse on principal to buy a SportUte of any size or a minivan. So wagons are great for family and dog hauling adventures.

I'm still looking for a cool-looking front-wheel drive German wagon...no such luck. My next wagon will be a front-wheel drive Mazda3 Sport. I've looked at the 6-passenger Mazda5 and 7-passenger Kia Rondo...but heck the out-of-towners can take the bus! :-)

I own one of these babies and it is a hoot to drive. RWD DOES make a difference, and it has one of the better auto-manual shifts out there. I can verify that is it very reliable.
On the down side, it's just too small for a rear-facing infant seat behind anyone over 5'8" max. We only own one car, and the Sportcross will have change when the 2nd arrives.
Let me add one feature that many men wont admit: most of us have to sell our wives on a sporty vehicle of ANY kind. This beauty sells itself...

I own a 2004 IS300 Sportcross, and it is my second Lexus car. Yes the fuel consumption is bad compared to the BMW 330i, yes the boot space isn't huge, yes the power and overall performance isn't overwhelming, and your right, this thing chucks out buckets of C02. But I love it, I love the fact that it is different, one could say it is ‘a break from the mould’. I could have purchased the BMW equivalent, or the C-Class, or the A4 Avant, or even the Saab 9-3 estate, but I didn't. Why would I want to do what everyone else does? Why would I want to follow the crowd? I am sure I am not the only one bored stiff of these German cars plaguing the school/work rush hour.

Whether you are a fan of Lexus or not, you can't help but admire them. Who was the first prestige car company to offer us hybrids? Take for instance the Lexus LS600h L, the first luxury hybrid limo to be placed on the market. We are reading now that both BMW and Mercedes are soon going to be offering similar cars in the 7-Series and S-Class ranges. Who's leading the way now?? Jeremy Clarkson reviewed the IS-F not too long ago on Top Gear, and compared it to the new BMW M3. His final thought was the Lexus is great, but the M3 was better. The M3 should be better!! This is the first ever Lexus to tackle the M3, BMW have been making these cars for decades! It was impossible for Lexus to win, it was never going to happen. People in general do not buy a Lexus for it’s ‘driving dynamics’, or it’s ‘steering feedback’, they buy them because they are reliable, loaded with kit, and are easily the best alternative on the market for a German equivalent.

I am getting slightly bored of car journalists reviewing Lexus cars and telling us they are good, but the German cars are so much better. They may be better, but you are boring and so are the cars you forever ass lick.

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