211 miles of range, nippy acceleration and neat looks
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£22,164 when new
It’s clearly pretty humiliating to own an estate car. An estate is simply a large wheeled box designed to accommodate the detritus of cloying middle-age boredom - charcoal briquettes, terracotta pots, dogs, antique furniture, stuff for the dump. An estate, as campaigners everywhere would say, ‘sends out the wrong message’. That must be why we have this thing called the sports estate; a car offering a hint of estate capability without committing the hideous faux-pas of actually looking like one. BMW and Audi are masters of the non-estate, and Alfa produces a particularly fatuous one in the 156 Sportwagon. Lexus gives us this IS200 SportCross, which is not an estate at all but an example of ‘crossover styling’ and ‘a new segment in the luxury car marketplace’. But I’m not fooled. It’s for people who like to think they’re sporty and who, in my book, end up looking like a bunch of twonts. We’ll begin at the tradesman’s entrance, which is where the SportCross differs from the saloon (or ‘individual athlete sedan’ - they don’t give up) on which it is based. There’s a bit more volume but not enough to cause embarrassment, largely because the tailgate slopes sportily and the rear wheel arches intrude to prevent you filling it with anything like flatpack furniture. There is but one option available on the SportCross, and that’s satnav. It’s a good system and, as in the original LS400, the instructions are delivered by a woman of such patience and candour, and in such tremulous and fainting tones, that all men’s hearts must burn and beat furiously. So, no spec complications, excellent standard equipment and - yes - that chronograph-inspired instrument binnacle is still there. Curiously, Lexus has now commissioned a watch based on the car’s dials, so this watch-dashboard-watch business has come - wait for it - full circle.
Thanks largely to chief engineer Katayama-san and his ruthless limits on weight increase (it amounts to 50kg) the SportCross feels just like the saloon from behind the wheel. Not fast, then, but pleasing in its operation and not too overtly sporting. The ride, for example, is very forgiving and engine and tyre noise are properly subdued. At the same time, the steering is wonderfully direct and the six-speed manual gearbox is, I suppose, a performance-oriented item. Car spotters may be thinking that there is already a three-litre version of this car, and they’d be right. The lesser engined, manual-only IS200 SportCross is the more pleasing of the two and leaves you with £6,500 to spare, enough for a decent secondhand Volvo estate. And that’s a genuinely useful car. James May