When the 2002 got bumped from the Machine Design Best Ride competition due to a glitch in timing, I was the lucky one who got to drive it.

In "give-me-a-speeding-ticket" red, complete with a luxurious leather interior, my personality began to change as I started driving. I felt like I needed a helmet and a pair of driving gloves. The IS 300 features a manual transmission with a 3.0-liter in-line V6. The powerplant provides 215 hp at 5,800 rpm and 218 lb-ft of peak torque at 3,800 rpm. The manual transmission model carries slightly firmer suspension tuning than the automatic. At one point my boyfriend yelled at me for driving too fast in a 25-mph zone. I couldn't help it, my lead foot was smitten with the overzealous engine. With every shift into a higher gear, the engine purred and the car zoomed ahead.

And every gear felt solid. There was no puttering to find its spot, as I find in my own five speed. Even when you shift quickly, the car adjusts, so you don't feel any uncomfortable jolts.

The exterior look of the IS 300 resembles that of a VW Jetta or similar midsize sedan, although the front grille sports a chain-mail look that I found sleek, and the clear-lens taillights characterize its sporty persona. I noticed a lot of people checking the car out as I drove by, including one Mercedes owner, who looked wistfully in my direction. The IS 300 is touted by Lexus as a challenge to European sport sedans. Luckily we weren't on the highway, so I wasn't given the opportunity to go head-to-head with him.

The high-tech interior includes brushed aluminum accelerator, clutch, and brake pedals, a black dashboard with aluminum touches, and a chrome shifter. Eight instrument readouts are within clear view through the standard leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel, including a chronograph-style combination gauge cluster that sits within the speedometer. Stainless-steel doorsill scuff plates with rubber pads are also a nice touch.

The tan leather sport seats are very comfortable, with enough controls to let the driver get positioned perfectly behind the wheel. Safety features include standard ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Brake Assist can determine emergency braking and, if the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal, it applies more stopping power. Also, new standard side-curtain airbags offer supplemental and head protection for front occupants in side impacts.

A torque-sensing limited-slip differential comes with VSC (Vehicle Skid Control), a separate option for the manual-transmission sedan.

Standard features include 17-in. wheels, low-profile performance-tread tires, automatic climate control, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, and a high-power audio system with cassette and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The instrument panel also includes an LCD-type digital odometer, trip-meter displays, and an exterior temperature gauge.

For a mere $33,351, the IS 300 can be yours. I believe it's worth every penny.

Heather Milgate