THE RAPIDLY rising young executive who lusts after a Mercedes-Benz but doesn't quite have the means for it might consider an alternative symbol of success - the Lexus IS300. This luxury sports sedan looks like a Mercedes, acts like one, is more comfortable and costs a lot less. At $319,050 from Crown Motors (tel: 2511 9430), the Lexus IS300 is one smart-looking machine. My test car gleams in black, including the door handles, bumpers, airdams - everything except the ultra-cool, five-spoke alloy wheels, the hot-looking low-profile 17-inch ZR tyres and the stylised L for Lexus. The face of the IS300 is similar to that of an angry rattlesnake. The rear, however, resembles a fairly hi-tech extraterrestrial. Inside, I begin to understand the blend of sports, luxury, and sedan. Settling into the recaro-style driver's seat, with its prominent lateral-hold cushions, and every-which-way electrical adjustments, I quickly forget I am in a four-door saloon. I am in the lap of luxury, the ultimate of which is the ability to adjust the seat until it absolutely suits my body. And, after a few miles of driving, I adjust it again, just a millimetre here and there, as I settle deeper into my preferred position. Of course, the seat has memory so you can get back to that perfect position next time. The sports styling is obvious in shiny metal pedals like those in a rally car, but with metal grips to prevent your feet from slipping. The three-spoke steering wheel, wrapped in two types of fine leather, shows impressive, chronometer-style instruments. But you could order the wood and leather option for $6,265, so the wheel would match the wood-trim in the armrests. A five-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission also offers a manual mode, with the option of two gear-shifter buttons on the steering wheel, one for each thumb, so you can shift constantly while keeping both hands on the wheel. Cruise controls are just behind the wheel, within easy reach. In addition, the auto transmission offers a sports mode to make every shift more powerful and snappy if you wish. In deference to the bright morning, I whirr the sunroof open - then turn up the air-conditioning to keep me cool. Getting under way, I am instantly impressed with the accelerator's response, a hint of potential from the three-litre, 215-horsepower engine under that sensuous bonnet. The firmness of the suspension gives a hint of feedback from the road, and I notice how smooth and positive the steering seems on Hong Kong's roads. A dazzling vehicle with all that power and elegance deserves a test that would include some high-speed manoeuvres. For the screechy tests, we drive to the deserted industrial estate beyond Tai Po, where a strip of bitumen acts as a dragstrip. There, I stop the IS300, shift to the drive range of the automatic transmission, then suddenly put the metal pedal to the wall. The IS300 hesitates for a nanosecond, then launches forward in a surge of power. I note the first automatic shift at exactly 6,000rpm, and the second just under, at about 5,800rpm. Even at 5,800 revs we have the maximum thrust at 215 horsepower, and have already passed the maximum torque of 288Nm at 3,800rpm. Going back along the empty bitumen strip, I test the brakes as hard as possible. The IS300 comes to a smooth stop, with almost no noise from the ABS, but seems to pull a few centimeters to the left. On a second try, the result is the same, so I recommend the brakes on the test car be re-checked. At a roundabout at the end of a dead-end street, we drive the IS300 around three times. A few centimetres of body-roll develop, but it did not increase, even at 30km/h to 40km/h. Full marks. In a Pak Tam Chung parking lot, my convoluted reversing manoeuvres show the IS300 is easy to handle, has good visibility even in reverse, and as indicated earlier, has a surprisingly small turning circle. On the return to Sai Kung, we close the sunroof, put windows up, and turn off the air-con to see how quiet the cabin would be. When I shift to neutral and rev the engine, the sound is barely discernible. But, thankfully, you can hear the tyres on the road and you can feel the road, just enough, through the steering wheel. I am very impressed with the Lexus IS300 and recommend it to anyone who likes to look and feel good on Hong Kong's roads. You can't do much better on a tighter budget.