Still Underrated: The First-Gen Lexus IS

For years, the first-generation Lexus IS was a wannabe BMW with a weird clock dashboard. But slowly, surely, the car has revealed its true self. These cars are absolute classics and icons in equal measure.

(Welcome back to Carspotting! We’re back with The Worst Walking Tour of New York City, headed by me, a hack who is barely qualified to tell you how to get to the Empire State Building from here. We’re out to find the best cars of the Big Apple.)

The first thing: the classic.

This is a rear-wheel drive, manual, straight-six sports sedan. But it’s made by Toyota and Lexus, so unlike the other rear-wheel drive, manual, straight-six sports sedans, it won’t needlessly or ruinously break down.


Moreover, that’s not just any straight-six. That’s a Toyota 2JZ, a product of the Bubble Era, when no automotive project was too ambitious, or engineer’s pride too great. These 3.0-liter engines are iron block and are meant to survive turbocharging, probably good for three times the 200-odd horsepower it makes naturally-aspirated in this Lex.

This was a moonshot kind of motor, and later ISes just got V6s and V8s. No manuals, either.

The other thing is that this car, sold overseas as the Toyota Altezza, is it is a style maker, a trendsetter. You may be tired of clear taillights on tuner cars, but calling them “Altezza lights” didn’t come from nowhere.

So it’s good, it’s durable, and it’s important. It’s still easy to find these cars being used as street runners and drift missiles, but both you and I know those days are dwindling. An IS like this one we found parked on the street in Astoria, Queens, has only so much time left before it’s crashed or restored. I wonder which it will be.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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Still terrible: that interior

Still overpriced: all of them

Still beat to shit: most of them

Still wants one: me