For starters, I don't really understand what Lexus is trying to achieve with this car. Is it an estate? If so it doesn't have a lot of luggage space. Is it a sporting compact executive? If so, I think it handles more like an estate car. The sum of the parts seems to be a mish-mash of ideas that doesn't work too well in my book.
Climbing aboard, I like the ambience of the cabin. It is all black and silver and is a curious mixture of old and new that works together quite well. The gearknob, for example, is like a huge chrome plated marble as in cars of old, while the pedals are made of stainless steel and have sporty looking holes drilled in them.
Meanwhile, the dials are set in a three dimensional binnacle and the centre console is a mass of knobs and switches for the heating and stereo systems.
But at every turn I seem to have a problem. For starters, despite driving the car for two weeks, I have yet to get really comfortable behind the wheel. I have tried adjusting the seats and steering column (which does not have enough reach adjustment) in just about every combination possible but I still end up squirming around in discomfort on long journeys.
Another problem I have is that there is virtually no vision through the rear screen. Even turning my head to the left as much as I might to view what's behind me, I can't see a thing.
When I first fired up the engine and put the car in reverse, an alarm started beeping and I assumed (rather naively as it turned out) that the car had a parking sensor. Luckily I checked because this device is purely an alert to let you know that you are in fact in reverse gear. It is probably there because reverse is just a push sideways from first. It won't tell you that you are about to bump into some rearward object.
On the road, ignoring the discomfort, it performs as well as you'd expect a Lexus to perform. It has six gears to help translate its power on to the road and the unwary driver will soon find him or herself speeding, such is the smoothness of the engine. With a rather heavy right foot, I have found myself unable to get anywhere near the claimed combined petrol consumption figure of 29.1mpg, which makes this car a rather expensive one to run.
For the 2003/04 tax year, the driver of IS200 SportCross will be in for a nasty shock as the benefit-in-kind tax system puts the squeeze on emissions. This tax year sees the Lexus taxed at 28% of P11d price, but from April it moves up to 30%. It might not sound a great deal but in real money terms the driver – if he or she is a 40% taxpayer – will have to fork out an extra £15 per month for the privilege of having this vehicle as a company car.
The car has now been returned to Lexus and as other testers have had nothing but praise for it, maybe my views give a rather biased picture.
My colleague Jo Fobbester drove it recently and loved the handling and the exhaust's bark, despite reservations about the lack of power, while Steve Moody, like me, struggled to get comfortable, but liked the fact the car had its own identity in a sector dominated by German seriousness and conservatism. At least on the reliability front, the IS200 has proved faultless.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (40% taxpayer): £218.10 per month