Lexus History: IS, IS F, Altezza

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Lexus, manufactured by the luxury car division of the Japanese Toyota Motor Corporation, was introduced to the world in 1989 and has since become the highest selling luxury car in the world. Lexus’ origins date back to 1983 with its flagship sedan; today the make manufactures sedans, convertibles, coupes, SUVs and hybrids, and is sold in over 68 countries and territories around the world. Lexus has been named the most reliable brand by J.D. Power and Associates for 14 years running since 1994, famous for its brand cachet and stellar “white glove” customer service.

Lexus vehicles are named alphanumerically: two-letter designations followed by three numbers. The first letter signifies the Lexus rank; the second letter indicates the body style. The numbers indicate the engine displacement multiplied by ten. A lowercase letter after the numbers signifies the power plant type, such as “d” for diesel or “h” for hybrid. Capital letters after the numbers indicate class subtype like “C” for coupe or “AWD” for All-Wheel Drive. Marquee models bear no letters except for an “F” placed behind the two-letter designation after a space.

The Lexus IS

Brand Development, Growth & Expansion
Lexus IS (Intelligent Sport) models are considered to be either compact executive cars or entry-level luxury cars. Manufactured since 1999, the Toyota Altezza was actually the first Lexus IS until 2000 when the 2nd generation IS line was formally introduced. The Lexus IS is offered as a 2-door convertible, 4-door sedan, or 5-door hatchback/station wagon.

The Altezza (or IS) was launched in Japan in 1998 and was actually the Lexus IS 200 and the Lexus IS 300, nameplated differently for the different continents debuted in. Europe’s IS 200 debuted in 1999, followed by the IS 300 as a 2001 model the next year. The 2001 IS 300 marked the 2nd generation, and was formally introduced as the Lexus.

The Altezza was manufactured as a Japanese luxury vehicle and was the first of its kind. After the first generation, Lexus manufactured the IS 250, IS 250 AWD, IS 350, and the IS 220d in 2006. The IS F marque premiered in 2008, sporting a 5.0L, direct-injected V8 with 419 HP and 371 feet-pound of torque. Speculation concerning the “F”, is that it stands for flagship, fast, or Fuji Speedway. The latest IS models are the 2010 IS 250 C and the 350 C convertibles, and are being touted for their sleek styling and power.

Design & Technology
The Altezza/IS was designed with more emphasis on performance than other luxury cars around its time and was competitive to the European luxury cars of that time period. The IS 200, manufactured from 1998 to 2004, was offered as a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback station wagon. The 2nd generation IS 200 was released in 2005 as a 4-door sedan and a 2-door convertible. All of the IS models used a front-engine, rear wheel drive layout, but the 2nd generation models displayed the sportier four-wheel drive system. The engine options are 2.0L to the 3.5L on the IS 350. Depending on the year and the model, the Lexus IS has been compared to the Toyota Mark II, Crown, and Mark X.

Team Lexus ran three IS 300’s in the Grand-Am Cup in 2001. In 2002, Team Lexus won the Driver’s Championship and Team Championship. And in 2003, Team Lexus saw victory at Miami-Homestead.

Pop Culture
The first IS (Altezza) was awarded Japan’s “Car of the Year” when it made its debut in 1998. Speculation is that the extreme success of this car is what generated worldwide production.

The Lexus IS 200 is featured in the codemaster video game TOCA Race Driver. The Lexus IS 300 and the IS F are featured in the Need for Speed series of video games, while Forza Motorsport 2 features the IS 300, 350, and the IS 430 project car.

The Lexus IS 300 has made appearances in Law & Order: Criminal Intent from 2001 to 2009 and The Transformers in 2007. Cindy McCain, wife of Senator John McCain, owns a Lexus IS 250.

In addition to the Lexus IS’ cameos in many videos games, it has received many awards and accolades: 2008’s Top Car to Drive for Females, the 2007 Golden Steering Wheel Award in the Luxury category, 2006 and 2007’s Best Prestige Car in Australia’s Best Cars awards, Top Gear magazine’s Executive Car of the Year in 2006, J.D. Power and Associates named the IS 300 sedan and Sportcross the best vehicles in the entry-level luxury class, and Kelley Blue Book awarded the first generation IS 300 the Best to Hold Value Award in 2001 — to name a few.

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