Second-Gen Lexus IS (XE20) Buyer’s Guide & History

As with many other older Lexus models, the second-generation IS (XE20) is an excellent choice if you are looking for something a bit more luxurious, but you don’t want to break the bank. The Lexus IS is a bit smaller than the GS or the LS, so if you don’t need the size, one of these cars may be the right choice for you.

There are a number of different versions of the second-generation IS and in this buyer’s guide we are going to cover them all along with any problems to watch out for. Additionally, we are going to look at the history of the XE20 IS to give you a bit of a background on the vehicle.

How to use This Lexus IS XE20 Buying Guide?

This is a big guide so make sure you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To begin with we will cover the history and specifications of the second-generation IS, so you know exactly what we are dealing with. Following this we will get into the buyer’s guide section of this article, with more general car purchasing advice following that. To finish off we will take a bit of a look at what you need to know about importing a Lexus IS from Japan.

Names That Will Be Used in this Guide

We will be using the following names interchangeably in this guide (not including specific model names – IS 250, IS 350, etc.)

  • Second-generation Lexus IS
  • Lexus IS XE20
  • 2IS

History of the Lexus IS XE20

Credit: Lexus

By the nineties, Lexus had already produced a number of excellent luxury vehicles that were in many ways better than a large number of the luxury cars coming out of Europe and America. However, while Lexus produced some great cars, many were calling for something a bit sportier from the marque.

Toyota and Lexus themselves were interested in a sporty luxury car and they started working on the XE10 platform as far back as 1994. The project was headed up by Nobuaki Katayama, while Tomoyasu Nishi would finish the final design two years later.

With the design work complete, the new sporty car would launch in 1998 in Japan. As the Lexus name was reserved for foreign bound cars at the time, the new XE10 car was sold as a Toyota Altezza. However, the next year the Lexus IS would be introduced for the European market and American buyers would get their hands on the new luxury car in 2000.

When the Altezza launched, it became an instant hit. The car was awarded Japan’s “Car of the Year” for 1998 – 1999 and foreign buyers were equally impressed when the IS launched in Europe and the United States.

Lexus Begins Developing the Second Generation IS

With excellent feedback on the first-generation car, Lexus and Toyota soon began development of the next generation XE20 platform. In fact, this work began just one year after the IS (XE10) was introduced into the United States.

Suguya Fukusato was put in charge of the project with design work being done under Kengo Matsumoto. The design team continued to work on the car until late 2003 when the final conceptual design was created by Hiroyuki Tada.

A glimpse of the new generation car could be seen in the 2003 LF-S (Lexus Future Sedan) concept and the 2004 LF-C concept. While the first concept car was more intended to show off the new features and design that would make its way into the Lexus S190 GS, it also showed off the overall design direction of the company. The LF-C built upon the design principles of the LF-S, but in a coupe form with a retractable hardtop roof.

Lexus named their new design principles as “L-finesse” with the name being represented by three Japanese Kanji characters which translate to “Intriguing Elegance, Incisive Simplicity, and Seamless Anticipation”.

In simple terms, the “L-finesse” design principles meant that their future cars would be designed with sculpted modern bodywork that was more striking in appearance. Additionally, their new cars would also feature more of a fastback design rather than the traditional sedan look of their previous models. Another common theme was the repeated arrowhead motifs in the front fascia and side windows.

The Lexus IS XE20 Makes its Debut

Credit: Lexus

After the final designs were completed, patents filed and the executive board was happy, the second-generation IS made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2005 as a pre-production model. With some final tweaks, the full production version was introduced later the same year at the New York International Auto Show.

Production & sales began in September 2005 and unlike the previous model IS, Japanese models shared the same name and badge. Lexus had completed an organisational separation from Toyota, with the marque now getting its own dedicated team of designers, engineers and manufacturing facilities. Along with this organisational change, Lexus was also introduced into its home market of Japan, in addition to other markets such as China as well. Toyota and Lexus wanted to expand the marque’s sales outside of its largest market in the United States, and Japan was an excellent place to start.

The Design of the Second Gen Lexus IS

The new model IS featured sleeker, almost coupé-like contours, with a fastback profile, and arrowhead designs on the front fascia and side windows that were similar to those on other new Lexus cars.

The front of the new car was much more inline with the LF-C concept from 2004 rather than the previous generation model. Both the width and length also changed, with the second generation IS being 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer and 76 mm (3 inches) wider than the old car. The wheelbase was also stretched by 58 mm (2.3 inches) and the new body design resulted in an excellent drag coefficient of 0.28.

A More Luxurious Interior

All versions of the new generation IS offered a more typically Lexus interior that buyers had come to expect from the brand. Engineers and designers equipped the new IS with memory leather seats with 10-way adjustability for the driver and front passenger, LED lighting accents, special electroluminescent instrument display lighting, SmartAccess keyless entry and the choice of Bird’s Eye Maple wood or faux-metallic trim crafted by Yamaha.

Other available interior features included heated and ventilated front seats, a moonroof, electrochromic side view mirrors, power rear sunshade, aluminium scuff plates, and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel. For those who wanted even more bells and whistles, a Mark Levinson premium sound system, Dynamic Rader Cruise Control, and a touchscreen satnav system with backup camera was also available.

Improved Safety

One of the biggest areas of improvement was safety. The Lexus IS now featured dual front airbags, front row knee airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, and finally front side torso airbags. A new twin-chamber, V-shaped passenger airbag was also introduced, and Lexus offered a Pre-Collision System (PCS) for the first time on an entry level luxury performance sedan.

When the new generation car first launched, the IS 250 version came with a Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system, while the more expensive IS 350 came with a more sophisticated Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system that was able to react much quicker.

IS 250 & IS 350 (2005)

Credit: Lexus

Both the IS 250 (GSE20) and the IS 350 (GSE21) were available at launch. The standard rear-wheel drive IS 250 was also joined by an all-wheel drive version of the car with the code GSE25. Both IS 250 models were given a 2.5-litre 4GR-FSE V6 engine that was matched to either a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual (only available on rear-wheel drive cars). Power was rated at 204 hp (152 kW) and 251 Nm (185 lb-ft) of torque at 4,800 rpm.

For those who wanted a bit more life under the bonnet, the IS 350 came with a 3.5-litre 2GR-FSE V6 engine that produced as much as 306 hp (228 kW) and 375 Nm (277 lb-ft) of torque at 4,800 rpm. This was matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission and Lexus equipped the car with the larger brake discs and calipers from the GS 430 to help tame the extra power (four-piston calipers as opposed to two-piston on the IS 250).

The extra power made the IS 350 one of the fastest cars in its class and many reviewers compared it favourably to its German competitors. However, some critics complained about a lack of feeling through the steering wheel and the somewhat limited legroom in the rear (although it was improved over the first-generation).

IS 220d (2006)

With a desire to expand European sales, Lexus decided to produce their first ever diesel-powered car, the IS220d (codename ALE20). The car was introduced for the 2006 model year and featured a 2.2-litre 2AD-FHV Inline-4 engine that produced as much as 175 hp (130 kW) and 400 Nm (300 lb-ft) of torque at 2,600 rpm. Lexus only offered the IS 220d with a 6-speed manual transmission.

2006/2007 Updates

When the second-generation IS first launched, a number of drivers and owners complained about the lack of a stability/traction control switch. Drivers wanted the ability to turn off the system and there was simply no way to do it simply. Lexus answered their calls by adding a VSC/VDIM switch for the 2007 model year IS. While no switch was retrofitted to older cars, it was possible to disable the stability control system via a code during engine start-up (although this was much more of a hassle than a simple switch).

Along with the new stability control switch, Lexus also gave the 2007 model a roof-mounted shark-fin style antenna. However, this was delayed until the next year for some markets such as Australia.

IS 300 (2007)

The IS 300 joined the range in 2006 as a 2007 model year. This car was intended for the Chinese and Middle Eastern markets and was tailored to their fuel requirements. The car was fitted with a 3.0-litre 3GR-FE V6 engine without direct engine that produced as much as 230 hp (170 kW) and 300 Nm (220 lb-ft) of torque at 4,400 rpm.

All models produced were equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission and like the IS 350, Lexus did not offer an all-wheel drive version of the car. The IS 300 also made its way to some other markets as well such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Brunei.

The IS Goes High Performance

Credit: Lexus

Soon after the final design had been created for the second-generation Lexus IS, Yukihiko Yaguchi, an engineer at the company, brought together a small team to work on a more extreme version of the car. They wanted to create something that would take on the likes of the Audi RS 4, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and of course the mighty BMW M3 in their own distinct Lexus way.

Like its German counterparts, the IS F took the body of a standard car and followed the muscle-car recipe, stick a big engine inside and go fast. While muscle cars of old often had atrocious handling, these new luxury performance sedans were also given sharp suspension and excellent brakes to tame the monstrous engines inside.

The first glimpse of this new hot Lexus came in the first half of 2005 at the demanding Nürburgring. These XE20 prototypes were quickly labelled “IS 460” by the motoring press. Later in the year, test mules were spotted at the same track with panels manufactured from those from the Toyota Crown Royal.

While the final design would be completed in 2005, Lexus was in no hurry to launch the car. They finally confirmed the existence of the IS F (USE20) in a press release at the end of 2006. The following month on January 8 2007, the Japanese automaker would launch the new performance sedan at the North American International Auto Show.

To further wow the crowd, the IS F was displayed alongside the LF-A supercar concept. Interestingly, while the Nürburgring was a massive part of the development process, Lexus revealed that the majority of the work done on the IS F’s suspension design took place at Fuji Speedway.

Big Numbers from the IS-F
Credit: Lexus

On paper, the new IS F looked similarly capable to the M3. Under its bonnet was a monstrous 5.0-litre 2UR-GSE V8 engine that produced as much as 417 hp (311 kW) and 503 Nm (371 lb-ft). This titan of an engine was matched to an 8-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission that could shift faster than any driver could hope to achieve. The transmission was so fast in fact, that it could change gears just 50ms shy of Formula 1 gearboxes from the period. Additionally, it was also the world’s first

Burying the pedal in the carpets would get you to 100 km/h (62 mph) in roughly 4.8 seconds and continuing to do so would get you up to 270 km/h (168 mph) – however, several car magazines and journalists managed to squeeze a bit more out of the Lexus.

To create the mighty engine in the IS F, Lexus took the basic design of the 1UR-FSE in the 2007 LS 460 and built upon it. Extensive modifications were made by the engineering team behind the IS F and even Yamaha’s motorsport gurus gave a helping hand. They developed a new cast-aluminium intake manifold, new cylinder heads, and titanium intake valves. Additionally, the power unit received a forged crankshaft, connecting rods and cam lobes.

Lexus’s engineers combined the power unit and fast shifting transmission with an updated suspension and steering design. The car was given an all-electric rack and pinion steering system that was accompanied by a new sport version of the company’s VDIM stability control system that now featured three different modes.  Along with these changes, Lexus also reduced the ride height by a 25.4 mm (1 inch) and gave the car a suspension setup that allowed for more spirited driving.

To help tame the enormous power, a significant increase in braking power was needed. Huge 360 mm (14.2 inch) cross-drilled front discs from Brembo were matched to powerful six piston calipers. The rear also saw a significant upgrade as well with 345 mm (13.6 inch) cross-drilled discs gripped by two-piston calipers. Lexus also displayed their name on the updated calipers, a first for the company.

A More Aggressive Body & Sportier Interior
Credit: Lexus

The new IS F was instantly recognisable as a performance machine from its bulged bonnet/hood, massively flared wheel arches and small rear spoiler. A new wire-mesh front grille, side skirts and side air vents were also included, along with faux quad exhaust tailpipes that consisted of two vertically staked tips on each side. The fake tail pipes were never actually attached to the exhaust and were part of the bumper rather than the exhaust system.

Lexus hid the massive new brakes behind custom-designed 19-inch forged alloy wheels that were built to the company’s specifications by BBS.

Moving onto the inside, the IS F retained much of the luxury qualities of the standard models, but with a sprinkling of sportiness. Lexus included braided aluminium pedals, steering wheel paddle shifters, and a smattering of “F” labels and badges. The comfy seats from the non-performance model were also thrown out and replaced by body hugging luxurious bucket seats in both the front and rear.

Steering Updates and a Mid-Cycle Refresh  

Credit: Lexus

With feedback from critics and owners alike, Lexus decided to tweak the steering system for the 2008 model year. They also modified the rear seats to improve leg room over the older version of the IS.

More changes were on the way for the 2009 model with a mid-cycle refresh bringing the second generation IS up to date with its competitors. The exterior and interior styling, suspension and steering were all tweaked to make the 2IS an all round more accomplished luxury performance sedan.

The updated IS made its debut at the Paris Motor Show in October 2008, alongside two new coupé convertible versions of the car, the IS 250 C and the more powerful IS 350 C. As you can probably guess, the 250 C featured the same specs as the standard IS 250, while the more powerful convertible car was given the same power unit and features as the IS 350. Sportier versions of the two convertible cars were also available and were labelled with the F-Sport badge (also available on the fixed top).

F-Sport models could be optioned with a number of performance upgrades and accessories from bigger brakes, improved suspension, lightweight wheels, air intake improvements, special floor mats and more.

More Changes for 2010 and 2011

Sharper handling, new high-tech features and a cool new all-white interior headed up the main changes for the 2010 IS F.

Announced at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show, the updated performance sports saloon gained the benefit of a new limited slip differential. Fitted as standard, it gave the IS F significantly better traction and stability in high-speed corners.

On the inside the car received a new satellite navigation system that was powered by a 40GB hard disc drive (HDD). Lexus claimed it was one of the fastest-responding and most accurate guidance systems on the market and could even give the driver local traffic information.

The tuner in the IS F’s 14-speaker Mark Levinson 5.1 surround sound system was also upgraded to receive DAB digital broadcasts and Lexus’s engineers also added a USB port (in addition to the Aux-in jack), to allow for fully integrated connection of portable digital music players.

In the second quarter of 2010 some slight revisions were introduced for the upcoming 2011 model year. Lexus refreshed the exterior with new wheels, LED daytime running lights, and added additional interior features for all models including the IS-F.

In the same year, the IS 220d was replaced by the more efficient IS 200d with a retuned engine. All-wheel drive options were also extended beyond the IS 250, with an AWD version of the IS 350 now being available.

The End of the Second Generation Lexus IS

After nearly a decade of sales and success, it was time for a new version of the Lexus IS. Production was halted in April 2013 and the XE30 platform was introduced soon after.

Lexus IS XE20 Specifications

ModelIS 250IS 350IS 300IS 220/200 dIS F
Year of production2005 – 20132005 – 20132007 – 20132006 – 20132008 – 2013
LayoutFront-engine, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel driveFront-engine, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (from 2011)Front-engine, rear-wheel driveFront-engine, rear-wheel driveFront-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine/Engines2.5-litre 4GR-FSE V63.5-litre 2GR-FSE V63.0-litre 3GR-FE V62.2-litre 2AD-FHV Inline-45.0-litre 2UR-GSE V8
Power204 hp (152 kW)306 hp (228 kW)230 hp (170 kW)175 hp (130 kW)417 hp (311 kW)
Torque251 Nm (185 lb-ft)375 Nm (277 lb-ft)300 Nm (220 lb-ft)400 Nm (300 lb-ft)503 Nm (371 lb-ft)
GearboxSix-speed automatic or six-speed manualSix-speed automaticSix-speed automaticSix-speed manual8-speed Direct Shift automatic
Suspension FrontIndependent, Double wishboneIndependent, Double wishboneIndependent, Double wishboneIndependent, Double wishboneIndependent, Double wishbone
Suspension RearIndependent, multi-linkIndependent, multi-linkIndependent, multi-linkIndependent, multi-linkIndependent, multi-link
Brakes Front296 mm (11.6 inches)296 mm (11.6 inches)334 mm (13.1 inches)296 mm (11.6 inches)360 mm (14.2 inch) discs, six piston Brembo calipers
Brakes Rear291 mm (11.5 inches)291 mm (11.5 inches)310 mm (12.2 inches)291 mm (11.5 inches)345 mm (13.6 inch) discs, 2 piston calipers
WeightRoughly 1,560 kg (3,439 lb)1,600 kg (3,527 lb)1,562 kg (3,444 lb)1,585 kg (3,494 lb)1,690 kg (3,726 lb)
Top speed220 km/h (137 mph)229 km/h (142 mph)220 km/h (137 mph)208 km/h (129 mph)270 km/h (168 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)8.4 seconds5.6 seconds7.7 seconds10 seconds4.8 seconds


Lexus IS XE20 Buyer’s Guide

Credit: Lexus

Now that we have covered a bit about the background and specifications of the Lexus 2IS, let’s take a look at what you need to know before buying one. While the second-generation Lexus IS is generally a very reliable car, there are some problems that can occur on them. This is especially so if the vehicle has not been maintained properly or has been driven by a reckless owner.

Setting Up an Inspection of a Second Gen Lexus IS

Here are some things to consider when setting up an inspection of a Lexus 2IS:

  • Inspect the Lexus yourself or get a reliable third party to do so for you – While buying a used car sight unseen is possible (and sometimes the only way), it is a lot riskier. If you can physically inspect a used 2IS yourself you are much more likely to catch things such as a bad respray or engine issues. If you are looking at importing a second-generation Lexus IS from Japan we recommend that you go with a trusted importer who can get any promising looking cars checked over for you (read here for more).
  • If possible, look at the IS at the seller’s house or place of business – The main reason for this is so that you can get ab idea of how and where the car is stored – is the car garaged or stored on the road? Additionally, you will be able to get a look at the roads the car is regularly driven on as well. Rough holes with lots of potholes could lead to more issues with the tyres, wheels, suspension, etc.
  • Try to look at the car in the morning – This is generally a good idea as it will give the seller less time to pre-warm the engine and clean up any issues (oil leaks, etc.). If the engine has been pre-warmed you should be asking why (may be a perfectly reasonable explanation like they went to the shops).
  • Take along a friend/helper – A second pair of eyes is always useful as they may be able to spot something you missed. Additionally, they can give you their thoughts on the Lexus IS XE20 you are inspecting and whether or not they think it is a good buy. Another thing you can get them to do is to follow you while you are test driving the car to watch out for things such as exhaust smoke, etc.
  • Try to avoid looking at a used Lexus IS (or any car for that matter) in the rain – Water can hide numerous issues with the bodywork and make bad paint look much better than it really is. If you do happen to inspect a 2IS in the rain, try to go back for a second viewing prior to purchase.
  • Be cautious of freshly washed cars – This is largely for the same reason as above, but it may also be a sign that the owner is trying to cover something up.
  • Be cautious of inspecting a car in a showroom or garage – It is better to inspect a used IS XE20 in direct sunlight rather than under the lights of a showroom or garage. Direct sunlight will highlight any potential issues with the bodywork, so ask the seller to move the car outside if it is inside.

What Should I Spend on a Lexus IS XE20?

The price of second-generation Lexus IS will depend on numerous factors from the specific car’s spec level, its condition and mileage, where it is being sold and more. For example, an IS F in excellent condition is going to be worth a lot more than a base model IS 250 that has been to the moon and back.

To get a rough idea of what you need to spend we recommend that you go on your local auction/classifieds websites and dealers websites to see how much XE20s go for. If you want an IS 350, pay particular attention to other IS 350s for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly how much cash you need to spend to get an IS in a specific trim and condition level.

Which is the Best Second Gen IS to Buy?

Obviously, the IS F is the best and most desirable of the range, however, it is significantly more expensive than the lower spec models. Additionally, running costs will be a bit higher than the other models as well, but if you’ve got the money and want the best IS, the IS F is the one to go for.

We feel that the IS 350 is probably the best middle ground as it still offers great performance, while being quite a bit cheaper. However, there are some other things to consider as well. If you want a manual or AWD version you are going to have to go for an IS 250 (IS 220d was also manual but it is a diesel).

The IS 350 is known to be a bit more reliable and the fuel usage is only slightly more. Quite a few owners have complained about the IS 250 being underpowered so keep that in mind as well.

The diesel versions of the car are by far the worst reviewed and it is generally recommended that you avoid these cars unless you really want a diesel.

Is the 2IS Expensive to Maintain and Run

Once again this comes down to a number of factors. If the car you are looking at has been maintained properly it really shouldn’t cause too many issues over the course of its life (although things do eventually wear).

However, the 2IS is a luxury car and as such when things do go wrong they can be a bit more expensive to fix, especially higher end models such as the IS F.

Getting one of these cars serviced shouldn’t cause too many issues as there are plenty of competent Lexus/Toyota specialists and mechanics. Taking the car to a dealer to have it serviced will usually cost quite a bit more, so keep that in mind if you are trying to minimise running costs.

Where Can I Find Lexus IS XE20s for Sale?

Lexus sold quite a few of these cars so you should be able to find plenty of them for sale. If you are looking for a really good example, we recommend that you hunt out any Lexus or Toyota clubs in your area. The owners in these sorts of clubs are usually very enthusiastic about their vehicles and tend to look after them well. Additionally, if nobody in the club has any XE20s for sale, they may be able to point you in the direction of some good ones. We have listed a few examples of some online clubs below:

Club LexusArguably the biggest online club for Lexus. All Lexus models are covered, including the second-generation IS.

Lexus Owners ClubOnce again covers all models and has different sites/domains for the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Europe.

Club Lexus New ZealandFacebook group for Lexus owners in NZ (there are Lexus Facebook groups in other locations as well). Quite a few owners in this group have modified vehicles so bear that in mind.

Auction/classifieds websites such as Craigslist, eBay, TradeMe and GumTree are great options. You are probably going to find a wider variety of second gen IS cars for sale on these sorts of sites and they tend to be the easiest to search. Dealers tend to be a bit more pricey, but they can usually offer extra things such as an extended warranty.

If you are struggling to find a suitable 2IS in your location, you may want to look at importing one from Japan. Using a trusted importer is always a good idea if you plan to do this. We have included more information on this at the end of the article.

Should I Get a Mechanic to Inspect a Lexus 2IS Prior to Purchase?

Getting a mechanic or specialist to inspect a used Lexus IS prior to purchase is not completely necessary, but it can be a good idea. A competent mechanic or specialist will be able to give you a second opinion on a particular second gen IS and may be able to spot something you missed. Even if you do not plan to take the car to a mechanic before buying it, we recommend that you ask the seller if you can. If they seem funny or hesitant about it, it suggests there may be a hidden problem.

Checking the VIN/Chassis Number

It is always a good idea to check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) or chassis number. The VIN can tell you quite a bit of information about a specific IS XE20 and its history. VINs and chassis numbers usually consist of a series of characters and numbers and they are assigned by manufacturers to a vehicle at the factory.

The VIN should start with JTH and can usually be found on most panels of the car. The easiest places to find the VIN on a second gen IS is on the firewall at the back of the engine bay and on a sticker in the driver’s side door jam. Japanese domestic models should have a chassis/frame number rather than a VIN.

Make sure that all of the VINs/chassis numbers you come across match as if they don’t it may be a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident or had some other sort of issue. It is worth checking the VIN or frame number with Lexus to see if they have give you any information on the vehicle.


Credit: Lexus

As we mentioned earlier in the history and specifications section of this article, the second-generation Lexus IS was fitted with the following engines:

  • 5-litre 4GR-FSE V6 – IS 250
  • 5-litre 2GR-FSE V6 – IS 350
  • 0-litre 3GR-FE V6 – IS 300
  • 2-litre 2AD-FHV Inline-4 – IS 220/200d
  • 0-litre 2UR-GSE V8 – IS F

The engines listed above are all generally pretty reliable, but some of them do have issues you need to be aware of that can turn your Lexus IS purchase into a nightmare. Additionally, poor maintenance can be a death sentence for any car, including a 2IS, so make sure the one you are looking at has been maintained properly!

To begin your inspection of the power unit and the surrounding engine bay, move to the front of the vehicle and open the bonnet/hood. Make sure the bonnet goes up smoothly and the release/catch works nicely. If the bonnet doesn’t stay in position the struts may need replacing. Not a terribly serious issue, but if they haven’t been replaced it indicates that the owner probably doesn’t care much for their Lexus 2IS.

The engine should be covered by a plastic cover so make sure it is there (some owners remove them). If possible, see if this cover can be removed so you can get a better look at the engine and if there are any horrors underneath. It is probably better to get the seller to remove the cover for you to prevent any embarrassing breakages, but it is really up to you.

IS 250s used a weak mount on the engine cover that often breaks overtime. The other models such as the IS 350 don’t seem to have this problem. Check that the engine cover is in good condition as if its in a really bad way a new one may be required. Check the video below to see how to fix the engine cover if it is broken.

Once you have had a bit of a look at the engine cover, move onto checking the rest of the engine and surrounding engine bay. A completely spotless engine is usually a sign of a good owner, however, it may also be a sign that the car has been cleaned to hide an issue such as a big oil leak.

Inspecting the Fluids

After you have taken a good overall look at the engine, move onto checking the fluids. A problem here could cause major issues, so take your time. If the fluid levels in the Lexus 2IS you are inspecting are too low or high and/or they look like they have not been changed in a long time it suggests poor maintenance.

Metallic particles, dirt or grit in the engine oil and on the dipstick are a sign of big issues. Additionally, watch out for any froth on the dipstick as well (more on that later).

Ask the seller/owner about the service schedule for their second-generation Lexus IS. Talk to them about what oil, oil filter and other service parts are used (if they know) as the wrong parts can cause issues.

Depending on where you live in the world, the recommended service schedule for a second generation Lexus IS may be different. In some markets (like the United States) Lexus recommends replacing the oil every 8,000 km (5,000) miles or every six months, while in other ones they recommend replacing it every 16,000 km (10,000 miles) or so. Remember to make sure that the oil filter has been replaced with every oil change. can cause issues.

It is a good sign if the owner has replaced the oil and filter more frequently than the service intervals stated above.

Originally, Lexus recommended 0W-30 and 5W-30 weight oils, but from around 2010 onwards 0W-20 and 5W-20 oils are recommended (in truth it probably doesn’t matter too much for most driving conditions).

Checking for Oil Leaks

The different engines fitted to the second-generation Lexus IS don’t seem to have too many issues with leaking oil, but it can happen. Leaking issues will also become more common as these cars age as well, so bare that in mind.

The main areas to watch out for are around the timing cover, valve cover, oil pan gasket (especially on earlier models), oil filter, etc. Leaks from the timing cover can be very expensive to fix, so watch out for them. Most other leaks are fixable for a reasonable price but pinpointing the exact cause of an issue can be difficult. If the second-gen IS you are looking at is leaking oil and you are still thinking about purchasing the vehicle, take it to a competent mechanic before handing over any money.

Remember to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive as you may find that spotless engine bay isn’t so spotless after a trip around the block. Remember to look under the car as well and if the Lexus 2IS you are inspecting has a puddle of oil underneath walk away.

Oil Consumption Issues

Talk to the owner about how much oil their second-generation Lexus IS uses. They will probably tell you it doesn’t use a drop at all, but you may get a seller who is honest. Oil burning/consumption seems to be more of an issue on IS 350 models (especially early ones) and diesel cars produced around 2009 (however, all XE20s can suffer from excess oil consumption just like any used vehicle).

Does the Second-Gen Lexus IS Use a Timing Chain or Belt?

Luckily, all of the engines in the XE20 range use a timing chain instead of a belt, so you don’t have to worry about replacing them at a certain service interval. The timing chain is stated to be a lifetime component, but in some rare cases they do need to be replaced (chain stretch, etc.). If you notice any rattling or other strange noises from the timing chain area it may be a sign that the chain needs to be replaced. However, these sorts of noises are probably more likely to be caused by an issue with the chain tensioner or guide pulley.

The timing chain and other timing components are lubricated from the engine oil, so it is vital that regular servicing is conducted to keep these components in tip-top condition. If the timing chain has been replaced on the 2IS you are looking at, it may suggest that the car has been neglected and not properly maintained.

Variable Valve Timing Actuator Recall

Make sure that the Variable Valve Timing Actuator recall was actioned upon for IS 350 models. There is really no reason it shouldn’t have been, but you never know. There was also a recall for a fuel pressure sensor for 2006 – 2009 model year IS 250 and 2006 – 2008 IS 350s, so make sure that has been done as well.

Checking the Cooling System of a 2IS

There should be no problems with the cooling system of the second-gen IS you are inspecting as if there are it could lead to engine damage or failure and a very expensive repair bill. Here are some of the main components of the cooling system:

  • Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
  • Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
  • Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine – usually needs to be replaced around the 96,000 to 145,000 km (60,000 to 90,000 mile mark)
  • Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
  • Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system

Try to get a look at the coolant lines and check for any leaks or crusted coolant. Do the same around the coolant tank and if the tank itself looks in a bad way it may need to be replaced (same with the coolant lines). Try to get a look at the water pump (around the front of the engine) and see if you can spot any leaks.

Check with the owner to see what coolant is used in their 2IS. Lexus states that Toyota Pink (Super Long Life) Coolant is recommended for the second-generation IS. Toyota’s cheaper Red Long Life Coolant can be used as well, but Toyota Pink is more suited to newer vehicles (you can read about the differences here).

Third party coolants such as Prestone can be used as well, but the wrong stuff can cause trouble. If you notice that the coolant is not from Toyota (is not pink or reddish in colour), try to find out what the coolant is and check to make sure it is suitable for the engine.

The coolant should have been replaced at 160,000 km (100,000 miles) or after 10 years if Toyota Pink was used, while Toyota Red needs to be replaced every 100,000 km (60,000 miles). If the coolant is brown or muddy in colour it suggests it needs to be replaced and the vehicle has been a bit neglected.

If you hear gurgling noises it could be anything from low coolant level to a leak or possibly even a failing/failed water pump.

What Are the Signs of an Overheating Lexus 2IS?

Below we have listed some of the main signs of overheating and a blown head gasket. There is a bigger possibility of head gasket failure occurring on diesel engined IS 200d and 220d cars produced in 2009.

  • Temperature gauge on that is on the high side
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • White and milky oil
  • Spark plugs that are fouled
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Smell of coolant from the oil
  • Sweet smelling exhaust
  • Leaking or crusted coolant
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)

If you notice any of the issues above on the second-generation Lexus IS you are looking at it is probably better to move onto another car. There are plenty of these cars on the road, so don’t go for one with major overheating issues.

Take a Look at the Exhaust

Try to get a view of as much of the exhaust system as you can as a problem here could be expensive depending on what it is. Use a torch/flashlight or your phone to get a better look at hard to see areas, and you can use a mirror as well. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Accident damage – Expect the odd scrape and scratch, but if you notice any large dents or serious damage you should probably walk away as it suggests that the car has been owned by somebody a bit careless.
  • Black sooty stains – This is usually a sign of a leak. Sometimes the fix is simple, but if the problem seems really bad a new exhaust may be required. Pay particular attention around any welded areas.
  • Bad Repairs – A well repaired exhaust is perfectly fine, but watch out for bodge jobs that have been done for a quick sale
  • Corrosion/Rust – Shouldn’t be too much of an issue but can occur, especially on cars that have spent significant amounts of time in places with salted roads and harsh winters.
  • Low rumbling, scraping and rattling noises –These sorts of noises can indicate a problem with the exhaust, so keep an ear out for them.

Catalytic Converter Issues

It is not uncommon for the catalytic converter to fail around the 160,000 to 240,000 km (100,000 to 150,000 mile) mark. Dealers will often charge an arm and a leg for this repair, so it is usually better to get the work done at a smaller specialist. If the Lexus 2IS you are inspecting displays the following symptoms, it may have a failing/failed cat.

  • Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
  • Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
  • Excessive heat under the 2IS
  • Dark smoke from the IS’s exhaust

Aftermarket Exhausts

Lots of second-generation IS owners like to fit aftermarket exhausts to their cars. An aftermarket exhaust is usually fitted to alter the exhaust note, increase performance, or it may have been done because the original one failed or was in a bad shape.

If you are looking at a Lexus 2IS with an aftermarket exhaust, try to find out the manufacturer or custom builder. Note them down and then check any reviews. If the exhaust is a crappy mild steel one from some no name brand you are probably better off finding another second-generation IS as it shows that the car probably has not been cared for properly.

Check to see if the Spark Plugs Have Been Replaced

The spark plugs should have been replaced every 160,000 km (100,000 miles) if iridium or platinum plugs have been used. Quite a lot of owners like to replace the plugs much earlier at around 96,000 km (60,000 miles), which is a sign of a good owner.

If you get a mechanic or specialist to inspect the car for you, make sure you get them to check the spark plugs as they can tell you quite a bit of information about how the engine is running. This guide has a bit more information on spark plug analysis.

Carbon Build-Up

Carbon build-up can be a various serious issue on IS 250 models with the 4GR engine. The problem seems to be an issue due to the high compression nature of the IS 250’s engine. When the carbon builds up on the valves and other components surrounding the combustion area the engine can display the following symptoms:

  • Idle that is rough/inconsistent
  • Vehicle shaking and low idle (may feel like the car is about to stall)
  • Surging revs when you stop at the lights
  • Illumination of the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) with the codes P0300, P0301, P0302, P0303, P0304, P0305, and/or P0306
  • Excessive oil consumption that exceeds 1 litre every 2,000 km (1,250 miles)

The carbon build-up issue was so bad that Lexus had to issue a service bulletin to all 2006 – 2010 IS 250 and GS 300 owners explaining the problem. Lexus offered to perform a ‘top engine clean’ for these owners and extended the warranty by 112,000 km (70,000 miles) or 72 months.

These warranties will have expired by now so if you are looking at one of these cars you need to be very cautious. If the IS 250 you are inspecting is displaying any of the symptoms listed above, walk away and move onto another car. Other petrol models in the range don’t seem to suffer from this issue as they have both port and direct fuel injection.

If you do happen to purchase an IS 250 with the problem, or the issue develops while you own the vehicle, Toyota/Lexus can help, but at a cost. Below we have listed some things that can help prevent or delay carbon build-up in a Lexus IS 250:

  • High octane gas
  • Full synthetic oil
  • Synthetic oil stabilizer
  • Intake manifold cleaning – should be done every 80,000 km (50,000 miles), so check to see if the owner has done this.

Fifth Cylinder Failure on 2GR and 3GR Engines

While there isn’t too much information on this issue, there have been reports of scouring on the fifth cylinder on 2GR-FSE and 3GR-FSE engines. These power units are found in the IS 350 (2GR) and the IS 300 (3GR). This issue is caused by a design flaw that leads to excessive amounts of oil consumption. With time, scratches can appear on the cylinder wall.

Apparently, the only wall to fix this issue is to replace the entire cylinder block as the thin walls of the cylinder liners make it impossible to bore the block. The main signs of this problem seem to be excessive oil consumption.

Regular servicing should go a long way to prevent this issue, so be very cautious of a poorly maintained IS 300 or IS 350. Once again, there really isn’t much information on this issue, so it shouldn’t be a problem you encounter.

Diesel Problems

The engine in the IS 200d is essentially the same as the IS 220d but detuned for lower emissions and subsequently less power. As this is the case, both the 2AD-FHV and the 2AD-FTV share the same common issues.

After around 200,000 km (124,000 miles), the injectors can become a bit of a problem on these two diesel power units (can occur earlier as well). Here are some signs that may indicate that the injectors in the IS 220d/200d you are inspecting are worn:

  • Difficulty starting the vehicle or uneven idle. Engine will crank, but doesn’t start unless you crank it for a long time.
  • Misfires
  • Fuel smell
  • Increased fuel consumption (will be hard to gauge during a test drive, but worth asking the owner what they get out of a tank)
  • Dirty emissions

EGR and DPF Issues

The Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve and Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) can cause issues and become clogged up with city driving. Talk to the owner about what sort of driving they do and if it seems like a lot of start-stop driving, be cautious. Driving one of these cars like a grandma all the time can increase the chances of these issues occurring as well, so be mindful of that.

Watch out for “CHECK VSC” and CEL warning lights that may indicate there is a problem with the EGR or DPF. Its worth taking along an OBDII scanner to an inspection so you can read the codes to see if any problems are present (watch out for owners who clear the codes).

If you notice that the IS 200d or 220d you are driving feels a bit sluggish or down on power, it may be a sign of these issues as well. Additionally, if the car enters limp mode, it is a good sign of this problem (may also be caused by other issues).

Cleaning the EGR occasionally is a good habit to get into if you purchase a diesel XE20 IS (check the video below. While both diesel XE20s get a bit of a bad rap, they really aren’t as unreliable as the internet would lead you to believe. Despite this, the petrol versions of the second generation IS are definitely the ones to go for in our opinion.

Turning on a Lexus IS XE20 for the First Time

We recommend that you get the owner or seller to start the 2IS for you for the first time for the following couple of reasons:

  • So, you can see what comes out the back
  • If they give the car a lot of gas when it is cold you know to move onto another second-generation Lexus IS

Remember to start the vehicle yourself at a later point during the inspection and watch out for any warning lights on the dashboard. If no warning lights appear on the dash (especially the CEL, ABS, etc.) it may be a sign that they have been disconnected to hide a problem. Take a closer look at any warning lights that stay on and if it is something like the CEL do not purchase the car until you find out what the problem is. Below you can see the start process of an IS 350 and the warning lights that should appear.

What is the Correct Idle Speed for a Lexus 2IS?

Expect the idle speed to be anywhere from around 700 to 800 rpm, however, some IS F owners find that their cars idle around the 500 rpm mark in D and 700 rpm in N. Don’t be concerned if the idle speed is a bit higher when the car is first started from cold, but it should drop after a while. Turning on the AC will increase the idle speed as well, so check to see what happens.

Finding the cause of idle issues can be difficult as it could be anything from bad spark plugs, dirty intake components or the dreaded carbon build-up issue. If the issue was a simple fix the owner probably would have got it sorted before putting their 2IS on the market. Alternatively, they may not care or may have not noticed.

Clattering or Clicking Sounds

There was an issue with the valve springs and cam gears on 2006 to 2008 IS 350 and IS 250s (only cam gears for IS 250). Cars that are experiencing issues with the valve springs or cam gears may display the following symptoms:

  • Clicking, crackling or clattering noises especially when cold
  • Excess amounts of vibration
  • Rough idle
  • Poor performance

Lexus did offer an extended warranty to cover this issue, but most IS 350s still on the road today won’t be covered anymore (some didn’t even get them in the first place). If you have to pay yourself you could be looking at upwards of $2,000 for a repair (some places will charge you less, some more).

As this problem is quite an expensive repair, we would personally avoid any 2IS showing the symptoms above, unless you can get it checked out prior to purchase. A competent Toyota/Lexus specialist should be able to help you with this issue. One other thing to keep in mind is that the problem can be hidden if the car has been pre-warmed, so watch out for sellers who do that.

A number of owners have had luck eliminating the issue by changing the oil they use in their 2IS from conventional to synthetic. This is more of a band-aid over the problem rather than a true fix, and the issue will probably return at some point.

Some aftermarket exhausts can produce a bit of a crackling noise that can be easily confused with the valve spring/cam gear issue, so keep that in mind if you are looking at an XE20 with a non-stock exhaust.

Smoking Lexus 2IS

As we mentioned above, get the seller or owner to start their 2IS for you. Position yourself at the rear of the vehicle and if you have a white piece of paper or cloth, hold it up in front of the exhaust. Lots of soot on the paper/cloth indicates that there is an issue.

A small amount of vapour on engine start-up is perfectly normal, especially on a cold day. This vapour is usually just caused by condensation in the exhaust system and should disappear fairly quickly. If you notice lots of smoke or vapour walk away and find yourself another second-generation Lexus IS. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke indicate.

White smoke – If you notice lots of white smoke from the Lexus 2IS you are inspecting, it may be a sign that water has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. Diesel versions of the second-generation Lexus IS are more likely to experience this problem, but it can affect all cars.

Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things from worn piston rings, valve seals. If you see this colour smoke on startup it may be a sign of a bit of an oil burning issue or that the vehicle has been thrashed. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the 2IS. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back.

Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.

Are Rebuilt or Replaced Engines Okay in a Lexus 2IS?

An engine rebuild or replacement that has been done by a skilled Lexus/Toyota specialist or mechanic is perfectly fine. If you are looking at a second-generation Lexus IS with a rebuilt or replaced engine, find out who did the work and check their reviews. Additionally, find out the reason for the rebuild or replacement as well.

It is best to avoid XE20s that have only a few hundred miles on a rebuild or replacement. For example, an IS with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.

Should I Get a Leakdown or Compression Test Conducted Prior to Purchase?

A leakdown or compression test is not completely necessary when purchasing a used second-generation Lexus IS, however, they are a good idea. These tests can be a good way to find out the health of a particular XE20’s engine and may save you from big expense down the line. If you are taking the car to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, you may as well pay to get one of these tests done.

A leak down test usually takes more time to perform, but it will give you a more accurate and detailed picture of the engine’s overall health and condition.

Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).


Credit: Lexus

Lexus equipped the second-generation Lexus IS with a range of different transmissions. Here is what you need to know about them.

Manual Transmission

The only models that were fitted with a manual transmission were the IS 250 and the diesel IS 220d/200d models. The manual gearbox fitted to these cars is nothing to write home about and to be honest the automatic is probably a better option as hard as it is to say (we love our manuals). Many find that the gearbox on the diesel versions of the car has poor gearing with sixth gear only really being useful over around 120 km/h (75 mph).

When it comes to any problems, shift through all of the gears at both low and high speeds to see how the gearbox performs under various different conditions. Quite a few owners complain about notchiness from their manual transmissions, so check for that.

Another thing to do is to hill start the vehicle and check for a jar of marbles-type rattle sound. There is really not much you can do about this, but it is worth asking a Lexus specialist prior to purchase. If you can’t stand the noise, don’t purchase the car as it probably won’t get better.

Listen out for any graunching or grinding sounds on both upshifts and downshifts. Synchro wear can occur with the main problem gears usually being second and third (however, all gears can experience this problem). If the synchro issues seem really bad, except to replace or rebuild the transmission in the near future. Higher mileage cars or those that have repeatedly been thrashed are more likely to suffer from synchro wear.


Clutch Engagement – The first thing we recommend that you do is to see how the clutch engages. If it engages high up in the pedal travel there could be a problem. Alternatively, if the clutch feels soft or stays on the floor there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.

Clutch Drag – Find a nice flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor with the car in first. Keep your foot of the brake and rev the car. If the car moves it suggests that the clutch is not disengaging when you shift, leading to premature wear.

Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.

Automatic Transmissions

Most automatic second-generation IS models were fitted with the 6-speed A960E automatic transmission, with the 8-speed AA80E being reserved for the top of the line IS F. Both of these transmissions seem to be more reliable than the manual ones, but make sure you check that the one in the 2IS you are test driving is smooth.

If you notice any strange noises such as whirring or grinding it could be a sign of a very expensive issue. Clunking or jolting when shifting is another big problem and you should probably walk away if you notice these issues. Remember to check all the positions of the transmission when stationary and check how the shifts are at both low and high speeds.

Should the Transmission Fluid Be Changed?

In some markets Lexus recommends changing the transmission fluid every 96,000 – 160,000 km (60,000 – 100,000 miles), however, in others they don’t recommend that you change it at all. If it hasn’t been done it doesn’t necessarily suggest poor maintenance as it depends on what Lexus recommended.

Steering & Suspension

Credit: Lexus

Quite a few of these cars are getting up there in terms of mileage and age, so don’t be surprised to find more than a few XE20s with worn suspension and steering components. If the Lexus 2IS you are looking at is fitted with has aftermarket suspension, make sure you are happy with the ride. Sometimes aftermarket suspension can be tuned too hard, making the ride unbearable on normal roads.

Coilovers do offer adjustability through the choice of springs, so if you aren’t 100% happy you can change them to softer/harder ones down the line (however, we would prefer to find something we are happy with from the get-go).

Overall, the stock handling and feel of a second-generation IS should be fairly tight and responsive, so if the car you are driving feels floaty or nervous there could be a problem. The ride on the OEM suspension should be smooth and not harsh, with the F Sport package suspension being a bit stiffer (but still smooth).

Vibrations through the steering wheel could be anything from a damaged tyre, an out of balance wheel or even a bent wheel. Below we have created a list of the main things to watch out for when it comes to the suspension and steering on a second-generation Lexus IS:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
  • Tipping during cornering
  • High speed instability
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Sagging or uneven suspension
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive (this may be caused by something else, but bad suspension and steering componentry is a common issue)
  • Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
  • Clicking sounds (especially at full lock) – usually a bad CV joint. However, clicking sounds may also indicate something like a bad wheel bearing as well

Don’t forget to visually inspect as many of the suspension and steering components as possible. Watch out for any leaks, grease around the CV joints, damage, etc. If the components on one corner/side look different to the other corners/side it may be a sign that the 2IS you are looking at has been in an accident. It is a good idea to bring along a torch/flashlight and a mirror to help inspect these components.

Make Sure the Wheel Alignment is Good

It is important to check that the 2IS you are test driving runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. This is best done on a nice flat, straight section of road. If the wheel alignment is incorrect it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear and may make the driving experience less safe and enjoyable. Incorrect wheel alignment can also be a sign of bigger issues such as accident damage.

Checking the Wheels & Tyres

Take a good look at the wheels and tyres. Don’t be surprised to find a few scuffs and scratches on the wheels, but if the damage is really bad it is a sign that the 2IS has been owned by a careless driver.

Lots of XE20s have been fitted with aftermarket wheels and while the seller probably doesn’t have the originals, it is still worth asking for them. If they don’t have the originals, ask for a bit of a discount (even if you like the aftermarket ones). Apart from the above, check the tyres for the following:

  • Amount of tread– Check how much tread is left on the tyres as if they need to be replaced soon you should try to get a discount on the Lexus 2IS.
  • Uneven wear– Wear should be even between the right and left tyres. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself (check the inside and outside edge)
  • Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
  • Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.


Credit: Lexus

Lexus created a Technical Service Information Bulletin (TSIB or TSB in some other locations) for excessive amounts of brake dust from the original pads. An alternative brake pad was made available for those who wanted it in some markets. A number of aftermarket options are also available that should offer improved braking performance and reduced amounts of brake dust.

During a test drive make sure you try the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. If they feel weak or spongy there is an issue that needs to be investigated as the stock brakes should be more than adequate for road use. Another thing to do is to listen out for any squealing or rumbling noises when the brakes are applied.

Watch out for any shuddering or shaking though the steering wheel of a second-gen IS as it may be a sign that the discs are warped and need to be replaced. This problem usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking.

Seizing brake calipers are an issue on these cars, particularly on the rear, so check for the following signs of the problem:

  • Pulling to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
  • Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on
  • Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
  • Car won’t move at all in serious cases
  • Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time

There is only one bolt on the caliper of these cars, with the bottom one being a blind pin. There are rubber boots that are designed to keep moisture out and grease in, however, these boots eventually dry out and seize, causing the caliper to not be able to slide. In some cases, they can be loosened, separated, cleaned and regreased, but in most cases the calipers are replaced. Price and labour can add up on this job, so make sure the brakes are in good condition!

Apart from that, visually inspect the brakes and check for any damage or wear. If the pads and discs need to be replaced anytime soon make sure you get a discount on the vehicle or make the seller replace them for you. The brake fluid should have been replaced every 2 years or so.

Some owners have replaced the stock brakes on there IS 250s with larger ones from the IS 350. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this unless you want complete originality.

Exterior of a 2IS

Credit: Lexus

Problems with the bodywork, paint and overall structure of the vehicle can be a nightmare to put right, so make sure you are happy with the overall condition of the exterior. Inspect all body panels and exterior components thoroughly for the following issues:

Accident Damage/Repairs

Crash damage is always a problem and is probably going to be your biggest concern when it comes to the exterior (and possibly the whole car). Many owners and sellers will lie about the severity of an incident and the resultant repairs and some may even claim the vehicle hasn’t been in a crash when it clearly has.

In the section below we have outlined some of the main things to check that may indicate that the Lexus 2IS you are inspecting has been in an accident:

  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the second-generation IS and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
  • Rust in strange locations – As we will talk about below, rust isn’t a major issue on the second-gen IS, so if you notice any, especially if it is in strange locations it may indicate that the vehicle has been in an accident.
  • Paint runs or overspray – While this could be a factory issue, Lexus’s quality control is exceptional so it is probably due to repair work.
  • Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. Once again Lexus’s quality control is outstanding, so this problem is much more likely to be from some sort of accident.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Lexus 2IS you are inspecting may have been in an accident.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the XE20 you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
  • Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights– This is very difficult to fix if the car has been in an accident, so watch out for this.

While accident damage is a serious issue, don’t instantly dismiss a vehicle because of it unless the damage was clearly very serious and/or the repair work was poor. Crash damage that is moderate to light and repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is usually fine.

If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.

Do XE20s Rust?

By the mid-2000s Toyota/Lexus and most car manufacturers had got a pretty good handle on rust, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about this issue (unless you live in places like the North of America, Britain, etc.). However, while rust/corrosion is far less of an issue on these cars as older Lexus models, you should still keep an eye out for it.

Check around the wheel arches and inside the wheel wells. Inspect the doors closely, especially the edges of them and take a good look at the sills. Check the suspension components as well, along with the exhaust and other underbody parts.

Small amounts of surface rust are usually fine, however, the problem is often much more serious than it first appears. Rust/corrosion can also be a sign of accident damage as well. If you notice lots of rust move onto another second-generation Lexus IS as the one you are looking at probably isn’t worth your time or money.

Things That May Make Rust More Likely to Form

  • Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads
  • The Lexus IS you are looking at has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
  • If the Lexus XE20 has always been kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)

Make Sure the 2IS Has Been Rust Proofed if you Live in a Problem Area

If you live in a country or area that is known to cause rust issues such as the north of the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom, make sure you check that the Lexus 2IS you are inspecting has been rust proofed. Cars originally sold in Japan aren’t usually rust proofed, so if you are looking at an import make sure proofing has been done. It is generally a good idea to apply rust protection/underseal every year or two to make sure the vehicle is as protected as possible.

Looking for Rust Repairs

It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).

Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Cracking Windshield Molding/Trim

It is very common for the molding around the windshield to crack and chip. This allows water to seep in and creates unwanted wind noise. Lexus did cover this problem under the factory warranty, but if you want to get the issue sorted now you will have to pay out of your own pocket. Ask the owner/seller if the windshield molding has ever been replaced and if it looks in bad condition make sure you get a discount.

Peeling Up Boot/Trunk Lip Spoiler

The boot lip spoiler fitted to some cars (not all XE20s) is attached via screws and an adhesive strip. The screws are located in the centre of the spoiler while adhesive strip helps hold down the ends. This adhesive strip can wear overtime leading to the ends of the spoiler lifting up. Not a major problem to fix, but worth keeping in your bargaining arsenal.

Paint Fade and Clear Coat Peel

Not something specific to the XE20 range of cars, but worth keeping in mind. Paint fade and clear coat peel can often be a sign of a car that has lived outside its entire life. These two issues are usually more of an issue in locations where there is lots of sun and it is very strong. If the paint fade is really bad you will have to weigh up the cost of getting a respray done or just leaving it as is (or find yourself a 2IS without paint or clearcoat issues).


Credit: Lexus

Arguably the biggest problem here is dashboard rattle. Drive the car over uneven surfaces and press on the dashboard at various different points so that it flexes up and down. If the dash rattles or creaks when doing either of these things you need both TSIB L-SB-0090-08 (Upper/Lower Windshield Tick Noise) and TSIB L-SB-0044-08 (Instrument Panel Rattle) performed. Remember to check that these TSIBs have been actioned upon for the XE20 you are inspection.

Dashboard rattle is a very common and annoying issue on second-generation IS models. If the 2IS you are inspecting has a dashboard rattle it could cost you well north of $1,000 to get the problem sorted.

Apart from that, check the interior components, seats and trim for any damage, wear, scuffs and stains. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is very dangerous and is an MOT/WOF failure.

Check around the carpets in both the cabin and the boot/trunk for any dampness. Additionally, lift up the floor mats and check for any water residue that may indicate a past or present leak. Leaks may come from a number of different things, with quite a few owners complaining about the evaporator housing cracking on their XE20s and the air conditioning drain leaking (will often make the carpets completely saturated).

Excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage may indicate that the 2IS you are looking at has had a hard life.

Remember to have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the second-gen IS you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.

Electronics, Gauges, Air Con, Etc.

Credit: Lexus

Without a doubt the biggest problem to watch out for here is navigation screen failure. More than a few owners have experienced this problem with early cars produced until about 2008 being the most likely to suffer from this problem. While the screen will still usually display, none of the buttons will work and you can’t make any changes by touching it, effectively making it unusable.

There isn’t really anyway to predict if the screen will fail and if it does you could be up for a very expensive repair bill at Lexus (at least a couple of thousand dollars). Independent specialists and technicians may be able to fix the problem for you, but you will still probably be down at least US$1,000.

We recommend that you check with the owner/seller to see if the navigation screen has ever been replaced. While this doesn’t ensure that it won’t fail while you own the vehicle, it does lessen the chance if it is a newer unit. If the navigation screen does fail you may be able to get it going with a guide like the one below:

If the 2IS is being advertised with a Mark Levinson sound system make sure the logo is present next to the Lexus logo under the CD slot (at the bottom of the centre stack). The base sound system is still good, but the Mark Levinson one is much more desirable. Check that the sound system works properly and there are no crackling noises from the speakers. If the Mark Levinson sound system has failed it will be expensive to repair.

Apart from the above check that all the other electrics work. Make sure the windows, lights, door locks, etc. work as intended. Check that the seats move properly and the heaters work. Electrical problems can often be very expensive to fix, so take your time here.

You may notice that the LEDs for the needles on the gauges (speedo, tachometer, etc.) have failed or are dim. This is really not a major issue when it comes to the overall function of the vehicle, but Lexus charges an arm and a leg to fix it.

Another thing to check is that the air con/climate control system works properly. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).

Don’t forget to check the warning lights on the dash both during engine start-up and while the car is running. If no lights appear during start-up the seller may have disconnected them to hide an issue. Lastly, take along an OBDII scanner or take the car to a Lexus or Toyota specialist or dealer to have the codes read as there may be a hidden issue. Watch out for sellers who have cleared codes without fixing or investigating the cause.

General Car Buying Advice the for a Lexus IS XE20

Credit: Lexus

How to Get the Best Deal on a Second-Gen IS

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a Lexus 2IS, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage IS F or are you happy with a base IS 250 that has travelled far? Are modifications okay or do you want a stock model?
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of different XE20s out there in different levels of condition and spec, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Go look at and test drive multiple 2IS cars – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad second-generation IS.
  4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a Lexus 2IS for sale and only go for promising looking cars.
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
  7. Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple cars, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition 

Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.

Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Service History and Other Documentation

Credit: Lexus

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Lexus or Toyota specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work).

The service history will give you a good idea of how the second-generation IS you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.

Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner 

  • How often do you drive the car?
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been replaced?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
  • Has the car had any problems with carbon build-up?
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
  • How are the speakers
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
  • Where do you store/park the car usually?

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a 2IS

Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems or blown head gasket
  • Significant Crash Damage
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression
  • Bad resprays
  • Significant rust problems
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines
  • Significant track use
  • Major engine or transmission issues
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)

Notes on the Owner 

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Lexus (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
  • Do they know anything about the 2IS and the model they are selling (do they know about the differences between the different second-gen IS models, etc.)?
  • What can they tell you about previous owners?
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another XE20 IS.

Importing a Second-Gen Lexus IS from Japan

The second-generation IS was fairly popular in Japan, so if you can’t find one in your country you may want to look at importing one from the land of the rising sun (if your country’s import laws allow it).

How to Import a 2IS from Japan

While importing a Lexus IS XE20 from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually relatively simple. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search something like “import Lexus IS (whatever model you are interested in)”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.

Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.

Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:

JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.

Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.

Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.

Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!

Use a Private Importer

While the websites above are a handy way to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a second-generation Lexus IS, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a suitable 2IS for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.

You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.

How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work? 

The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles

They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.

Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.

While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.

Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.

Use the grade to reduce the number of XE20s you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).

The Auction Check Sheet 

Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a fourth gen Lexus LS and where any problems are located.

Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.

What Does the Number Grade Mean? 
  • Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
  • Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
  • Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
  • Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
  • Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
  • Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
  • Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
  • Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
  • Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
  • Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade

As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.

The Car Map 

The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.

Our Guidelines for Importing a Lexus 2IS from Japan

  • Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
  • If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
  • Try to go through a private importer
  • Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
  • Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
  • Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
  • Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
  • Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
  • Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
  • Avoid cars with unknown mileages
  • Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
  • Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents

Know Your Country’s Importation Laws 

Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

6 thoughts on “Second-Gen Lexus IS (XE20) Buyer’s Guide & History”

    • Hi Aaron, there is actually another video in the works right now (audio is just being recorded at the moment).

      One of the team – who does most of the work on the videos – moved countries earlier in the year which has slowed down progress.

  1. This is hands-down the most in-depth Buyers Guide for any vehicle that I have ever come across! I am totally new to the Lexus brand & this article was a massive help to gain useful insight on what to look out for with the Second-Gen IS (XE20). I am pleased to say that I am now the proud owner of a 10′ Lexus IS250 F-Sport (ML + Nav). Thank you for such a fantastic article!


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