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L-tuned - Available Over Here?

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Here's a Canadian article, pretty complimentary about the new set up:

In the ongoing saga of Honda trying to become Toyota and Toyota trying to become Honda, this "L-Tuned" Lexus IS 300 is probably the most exciting chapter yet.

If you've been watching the two companies' evolving product lines lately, you've probably already noticed that Honda once the brand that pitched itself at Formula One fanatics and road-racing maniacs has begun to adopt decidedly more sensible ideals in its products both here and worldwide.

All the while, Toyota's performance models have gotten more and more extreme. The Celica needs to be caned to six grand before any real speed happens. The Matrix XRS brings a screaming engine and fantastic handling into a very utilitarian class. And most important, Lexus's IS 300 is so hard-edged, so sporty, that it's almost the four-door equivalent of Honda's previously unassailable S2000 two-seater roadster.

Narrow, edgy and poorly packaged, the IS 300 is the antithesis of what a Toyota, or a Lexus, should be, and is thus perhaps the most exciting driving machine in the company's current stable.

As if to further accentuate the whole company's newfound vigour, Toyota/Lexus is now offering parts from its Toyota Racing Development subsidiary in Japan for the IS 300, parts that take an already extreme car even further.

Functional improvements to my gunmetal-gray tester included revised front and rear sway bars ($513 and change), a custom-tuned set of springs that lowered the car 2.5 cm below stock ($520), and a sport muffler that liberated it's claimed 8 hp from the IS's stock 215-horse inline-six ($1,359).

The car was also fitted with 18-inch wheels and tires, more about which later.

It was also decked out with a number of cosmetic additions, including an outrageous L-Tuned body kit ($7,210, with each of the pieces available separately), special badges ($86) and floor mats ($199), bringing the grand total to $47,665, from a base IS 300 at $37,775; start with an optioned-up IS 300 as a base and you could be looking at almost 60 grand.

That's a lot of money for a car that's about the size of a Corolla, but at least each of the pieces is exquisitely made. L-Tuned parts are the only line of aftermarket pieces approved by Lexus, and it shows in their finish, in the way they perfectly fit the car, and in the solidity of their construction. When installed by an authorized dealer, they're also covered under Lexus's factory warranty.

The suspension pieces are, to put it mildly, a bargain. They take the IS's already excellent road manners and elevate them to the point where this small sedan can now launch on racy two-doors. Body roll around any corner you'll likely encounter is now non-existent, rather than just minimal. Bumps or pavement imperfections around turns are dealt with dismissively; the suspension simply shrugs them off.

Body control at high speeds is exceptional; even over serious whoop-dee-dos, there are no secondary bounces, nothing to deflect you off your chosen line. You will, however, need a tighter grasp of the steering wheel, because the car's revised set-up follows ruts in the road more eagerly ("tramlining," as it's called) and wanders a bit at freeway speeds.

The monster wheels and tires provide a prodigious amount of grip, enough to make your passengers sick along a long, winding road. Unfortunately, they're not available through the L-Tuned program; Lexus says that shipping costs from the U.S. are prohibitive and that customers must use local suppliers. I say phooey, especially when the L-Tuned wheel and tire package is so aggressively styled and manages to preserve the signature Lexus ride.

Largely unaltered except for a couple of subtle badges, the L-Tuned IS's interior is now appropriate for its aggressive, road-warrior mission. I've always thought that the interior was a mismatch for the regular Lexus, its chronograph-inspired gauges, ribbed dashboard and metal accents out of sync with the brand's sumptuous wood-and-leather image.

But rendered in black leather and suede, and with that menacing body kit, the chrome pedals and shifter ball, the sexy red backlighting, the general, um, pointy-ness of the whole design, all make a weird sort of sense. It's still a small cabin, very narrow around the elbows, with not a lot of legroom in the back, but the seats remain superbly comfortable and supportive, and the tiny three-spoke steering wheel is a joy to use.

So is the snappily precise, five-speed shifter, once you've gotten used to the clutch's somewhat abrupt engagement.

Though I'm not yet sold on the exterior components, they certainly alter the attitude of the car or, more accurately, they reveal this road racer's real attitude to the rest of the world. Gone is the IS's soft-looking front fascia, replaced by a jutting, edgy jaw punctuated by rocket-shaped fog-lights and a debadged grille. The side sills have been lowered, there's a wing on the back (I'd lose it, personally) and the obligatory coffee-can exhaust pipe.

The overall effect is stunning, if not particularly beautiful; it certainly drew all sorts of stares from teens and twentysomethings in puffy jackets and expensive sneakers. Those that didn't stare did at least turn an appreciative ear: that fancy-pants exhaust sounds fantastic, with a mellow thrum when cruising and a snarly edge under hard acceleration.

Whether there's actually any extra power or not is almost moot, because the added aural stimulation always means you're tempted to drive faster than you would with a quieter car. Given that, maybe I'll go with the stock body after all.

But the fact that there's even such a body kit available it's one of a dozen you can find in any sport-compact tuning magazine speaks volumes about this Lexus's passionate appeal. There's something about the IS that inspires way more love, and love for customization, than any other Lexus out there.

Sold as the Toyota Altezza in Japan (if only we could get their RS 200 edition with the 2.0 L, 220-hp four-cylinder and six-speed gearbox), the IS has engendered a cult following all over the world, to the extent where the real fans here in Toronto have replaced their Lexus badges with the triangular Altezza insignia.

Such passion is wonderful, but what really seals the deal is the fact that the L-Tuned Lexus is a Lexus as well, with a full four-year/80,000 km warranty and the amazing resale value you would expect of Toyota's high-end brand. Pick your L-Tuned pieces carefully, and a souped-up IS 300 is a pretty good deal as well as a fantastically entertaining car.

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Sadly not - I work at a rather large motor company whose UK headquarters are in Essex (Duh) and they scour the newspapers for anything motoring related and post it on the intranet. This article came out of the Toronto Star but there's nothing obvious on their site...

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