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Bargain Buckets - 2005 Lexus IS200 (#1)

Ahhh, my happy place. The wonderful world of cars that you can buy for the equivalent of one monthly payment on a dreary box of despair such as a Kia Cee'd or a Nissan Qashqai. Cars that, until myself or other like minded fools come along, are destined for the scrapheap.

My day job as a car salesman means I get to see many of these each day. Scrappage schemes offering vast amounts of money off a brand-new car come and go, and with each one, a raft of cars still fit to serve a purpose are condemned to being crushed and compacted into a square of metal which, funnily enough, is probably still more interesting and engaging than either of the cars mentioned in the introduction.

Bargain Buckets, therefore, is a series that'll pretty much do what you expect it to. I'll do the inevitable, and buy an interesting, weird or just surprisingly good car for a very small amount of money, and then bring you along on the journey. First stop? This, a 2005 Lexus IS200 which is either an SE or a Sport. I've not actually figured it out yet.

I'm sure you'll agree, a simply stunning car. I'll be honest, the lighting does it a lot of favours - look closely and you'll see a front bumper lip that isn't quite on properly, a bonnet that has seen better days, and some frankly abysmal alloy wheels that appear to have been picked out of the 2001 Halfords Spring/Summer collection - but putting all that aside, as well as avoiding the fact of a short MOT, it's a massive amount of car for the princely sum of...£200.

Yep, that's right. If you were to take out a lease agreement on a Tunisian prison toilet-spec Kia Rio with a wheezy 1.25 litre engine tomorrow, you would be committing yourself to paying 34 pence more than the Lexus cost for every single soul-destroying month you would have to spend behind the wheel, for three years. I mean, to me, the choice would be simple. Japan's answer to the BMW 3-Series, or South Korea's answer to a question that we should never have asked.

Let me break it down for you. This £200 Lexus has done 165680 miles as I write this, but the engine is smoother than Morgan Freeman reading out the lyrics to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On'. The shift supplied by the six-speed manual 'box is silkier than eating chocolate fondue in a kimono. Nothing about this car screams out that it's spent 14 years doing pretty much 12000 miles a year, which is something the average new vehicle seems to scream out by the time it comes back to the dealer for the first service. Not only that, but nothing about the kit level suggests this car was registered back in 2005, in a time where mobile internet was non-existent and the idea of a 35C British Summer was laughable. It's easy to see that Lexus were really pining for a position in the UK's most popular premium car brands, as they seemed to outfit the cars as standard with the kind of equipment that would see you run up an options bill at your BMW, Audi or Mercedes dealer of multiple thousands of pounds. Climate control? You got it. Sunroof? Why not. Electric-controlled and heated leather seats? Of course. Automatic Headlights? Treat yo self. The amount of stuff in here is actually mental, I mean they even tried to make the gauge cluster look like a high-class diving watch, although I'll let you judge how good of a job they managed with that.

Back to that engine though. Many people kind of discount the 1G-FE used in the IS200 as a bit of a pup, and they would indeed be correct. Lexus got a lot of the IS200 right, the chassis, standard kit, looks and space. But the one thing they didn't really crack was the engine. Sure, as mentioned, the 2.0 straight-six is a beautifully smooth thing to operate, but with 153hp and just 144lb-ft of torque, the latter not arriving until the dizzying heights of 4400rpm, it's not quick. In fact, it's not even nippy, the IS200 is sadly just a bit slow. I can, however, forgive that for just how bloody well it runs given the fact that it's getting on for finishing it's seventh circumnavigation of the globe. But therein lies the appeal of a Toyota - they just seem to keep on plodding along, even when tarted up and given a Lexus badge.

The alloy wheels will be going - I'll try and find some 17-inch jobbies to replace them with - and I think they'll bring a certain amount of poise back to the handling, which while very good, is a little nervous on the edge - something that isn't surprising given the fact that there are four different budget tyres wrapped around the current wheels. It's also got a snapped spring, but at £20 for a full shock and spring assembly, I don't really think that's the end of the world at all.

I'm genuinely interested to see how it gets on over the next few weeks. I'll try and find the time to get some use out of it, but as it stands, £200 for this amount of luxury seems like a fantastic deal - the ideal car to begin the first series of Bargain Buckets with.

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