After Kia, Lexus is Britain's fastest-growing brand and is currently in the process of bringing three new models to its line-up with a further three additions next year. But the IS200 remains the entry point to the Lexus line-up and our test car, which arrived with 2,500 miles on the clock, is the SE version - there are also S and Sport models - costing a bargain ú19,995 on the road (satellite navigation is a ú2,100 option).
Power is from an amazingly smooth straight-six 2.0-litre engine and, matched with a unique in the class six-speed gearbox, the IS200 pumps out 153 bhp, has a top-speed of 134 mph and a 0 - 62 mph time of 9.5 seconds.
Just like a stunning fashion model, the statistics make pleasant viewing for any fleet manager or company car driver, but it is when viewed against the available competition - mostly powered by four cylinder engines - that the performance and value for money of the Lexus comes into its own. Our test car makes the majority of its rivals look like poor relations. The BMW 318i SE costing ú20,130 on-the-road may win on carbon dioxide emissions (188g/km against the IS200's 229g/km) but it is a slug by comparison (118bhp); the Mercedes-Benz C180 Classic maybe a close competitor in price (ú20,675 on- the-road), but to obtain a like-for-like specification comparison the ú24,175 on-the-road C200 Kompressor Elegance is a closer rival.
So, perhaps surprisingly, it is Volvo's S60 2.0 T with the identical ú19,995 on the road price tag which comes closest to the IS200, offering more power (180bhp), better performance (0 - 62 mph in 8.8 seconds and a top speed of 140mph), better economy (30.7 mpg) and a lower CO2 figure (220 g/km). We'll compare residual values in the next report.
Spec on the IS200 is top-notch with the car boasting 17-inch aluminium wheels, climate control, radio/cassette/CD, ABS, twin airbags, traction control, a 'sporty' instrument panel layout, remote central locking and an anti-theft system which scored a perfect 100 points in the recent annual What Car? security test for the second year running - comfortably brushing aside all opposition.
Lexus is renowned for its technical expertise and the performance does not disappoint - neither do the ride and handling characteristics.
Fuel economy of well under 30 mpg may not be great and CO2 emission levels - admittedly only fractionally behind its rivals - need to be worked on with more than half-an-eye to the 2002 company car tax changes.
However, following a 10% price cut in September, the Lexus is the value-for-money choice for the company car driver who prefers understatement as an alternative to being compared with the gung-ho extroverts usually associated with 3-series variants.