Face Off: Lexus IS 300 vs. Mercedes-Benz C 350
Editor's Note: in all the photo gallery to the right part of the story, the Leuxs IS 300 is always on top of each two photo panel except when indicated.

The sport sedan is quintessentially associated with German makes. After all, its creation was needed for a country with speed limitless highways and winding mountain roads that go up and down like there is no tomorrow. In that respect, German marques have continued to hone and polish this concept, raising the bar higher and higher with each succeeding new model. But be it a circa 1970’s or modern sports sedan, three main ingredients set a true sport sedan apart from a pretender: a powerful motor, nicely balanced chassis and comfortable at speed. Everything else, be it air conditioned seats, night vision or an integrated multimedia system are all just icing on the cake.

But times are changing, and you have to thank globalization for that. Suddenly, the iron grip of German brands on the sports sedan realm is not as tight as it once was. Now, everyone wants to make a sports sedan, everyone wants to be compared, to be benchmarked next to a known and established brand. And you can’t blame them: after all, if you have the Nürburgring in your backyard, then beating the Germans in their own turf should be one great ego boosting exercise. One such threat is the Lexus IS 300. What was once just a Japanese interpretation of the sports sedan has suddenly turned into a serious competitor. And facing off against it is the most famous and most experienced German brand: Mercedes-Benz and its best-selling C-Class sports sedan.


By all accounts, both the Lexus IS 300 and the Mercedes C 350 look stunning. They’re also highly representative of the design direction each marque is taking. On one side is the sleek, arrow-shaped profile of the Lexus and on the other, the angular, cubic-shaped Mercedes. And despite their differences in both execution and country of origin, they have similar foundations: all the wheels are pushed as close as possible to the corners, increasing the wheelbase. Both are equipped with mixed ratio 17-inch alloys, thicker at the back to improve off-the-line grip. Both also have relatively long hoods, to accommodate a variety of engines; in the Lexus anywhere from a V6 to a V8 and in the Mercedes from a supercharged inline-4 to a V8.

Though it’s easy to conclude that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and both are great looking, only one car here makes its owner feel extra special. Only one truly feels like a million bucks (well, four million in this case), and that’s the Mercedes. The Lexus, for all its sleekness, still looks pretty much like your average Corporate Japan design. In fact, on the road, some people have often mistaken the IS 300 as a Toyota Corolla Altis—not exactly the best of compliments. Meanwhile, the Mercedes C 350 still manages to standout out the crowd, despite the number of C 180 and C 200 sedans running around the Metro. And even if you remove the standard AMG body kit, the C 350 still looks mighty impressive and worth the price. If there’s one reason to commend the Lexus is how it has managed to approach Mercedes levels of fit and finish. The paintjob on the IS 300 is truly immaculate and so is the assembly quality. Although the Mercedes’s doors still manage to feel much more solid.

Exterior Winner: Mercedes-Benz C 350
Score: Mercedes-Benz C 350 (1) / Lexus IS 300 (0)


Though it’s true that cars with prices north of two million pesos need a swanky exterior (you need to show off your pride and joy after all), more importantly, it needs a nicely designed and executed interior since this is the place you’ll see and interact the most. Like its body shells, both the Lexus and the Mercedes share the same core philosophy inside: a driver-centric interior that’s high on sportiness. Both offer interiors which are catered towards the sporty crowd with an all-black scheme and the use of metallic trim instead of wood (though the Mercedes can be ordered with Bird’s Eye Maple). More importantly (at least for this test), both can easily be compared side-by-side with biases against beige trimmings thrown out the window.

Unlike the exterior aspect, where the C 350 routed the IS 300, things have settled to a draw where both of these cars offer their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. But before going to that topic, let’s see where both these cars are similar. First, both are fine examples of automotive fit and finish. The quality on both of these cars is truly first-rate and there’s little, if nothing, to complain about. And now, to the differences. The technophile will gravitate towards the Mercedes primarily because of its COMAND system, a nervous center of sorts that integrate most of the car’s vital functions. The fact that it pops up each time you listen to the radio or pop in a CD gives that extra feel of technology that’s not present in the Lexus. Meanwhile, the IS 300’s cockpit is much more traditional with tons of buttons and switches located everywhere. It certainly leaves the impression that the Lexus has much more stuff loaded inside, where in reality, they have the same amount of stuff loaded as standard. If there’s any reason to complain about the IS 300’s interior, it has to be the poor selection of switchgear. Though they’re tactilely precise and all, the extensive use of generic Toyota switchgear reduces the feeling of being expensive and special. Even their choice of aluminum accents feels like plastic with a metallic sheen, unlike in the Mercedes, which uses real aluminum bits. Plus the cabin lighting isn’t all too consistent (for example, the clock is florescent green while the controls are all in white).

Interior Winner: TIE
Score: Mercedes-Benz C 350 (2) / Lexus IS 300 (1)


Putting most of the car’s vital functions under one central control irked most traditionalists when it first debuted. And they have every reason to be if it causes confusion and sleepless nights scouring the owner’s manual on how to operate the radio. But if done right, it actually is beneficial especially during a long drive. For instance, there’s less distraction, especially at night. The center console won’t light up like a Christmas tree when all you need to see is what radio station you’re on. In that respect, the Mercedes C 350 is the runaway winner here. The COMAND system and plainer looking dash results in lesser distractions and lets you concentrate instead on the most important thing: driving. It’s often taken for granted, but in the C 350 there’s less eyeball movement. There’s no need to scan left and right, up and down just to look for a particular button or function. It’s been centralized on a colored LCD screen. And you can even close it up if you don’t need to know (or don’t want to know) which radio station you’re currently on. In addition, the Mercedes has firmer, more supportive seats and offer much more variety in seat movement allowing for a more comfortable drive.

Though the Lexus is no less comfortable in terms of driving position, even a week spent with the IS 300 is not even enough to memorize all the important controls. The button-filled cabin is distracting enough, but add to that the haphazardly scattered arrangement, and it makes easy chores like switching audio sources more difficult (notice how the audio controls like the presets and adjustment settings are above the clock while volume and seek/tune are below it). And that’s not all, while the C 350 has its driver-adjustable settings such as traction control, parking sensor control and such located on the steering wheel (redundant buttons are located on the center console as well), on the IS 300’s it is on the center console, the left and right of the steering wheel and on the steering wheel itself. And there’s no central ‘menu’ button available.

Also working against the IS 300 are blind spots located throughout the car. The A-pillars, for example, are too raked causing motorcycles and pedestrians to fall out of view too close to the car. The same is true for the back where the thick pillars and low seating position (even in the highest setting) can making parking even a chore (it’s a good thing the IS 300 comes with front and rear proximity sensors as standard). On the other hand, the high seating position and angular design of the Mercedes makes it easier to drive without the need to memorize the position of nearby traffic and pedestrians.

Ergonomics Winner: Mercedes-Benz C 350
Score: Mercedes-Benz C 350 (3) / Lexus IS 300 (1)

Space and Luggage

Classified as ‘compact sport sedans’ neither the Mercedes nor, surprisingly, the Lexus has a cabin that you’ll define as spacious. That said, it’s still surprising what a few millimeters and good design can do to differentiate a comfortable cabin to a cramped one. With a higher and more formal roofline, higher seat mounts and a raised dash design, the C 350 feels much more spacious and comfortable upfront especially for those with bulging guts. Those with big behinds though may want to know that the C 350’s sport seats may be a bit too snug for comfort. The formal roofline also pays dividends as well as for the rear occupants with a less claustrophobic experience compared to the IS 300. At the same time, there seems to be much more usable knee room at the back too, though squeezing in three adults can still be quite challenging.

Meanwhile, the Lexus seems to have taken the ‘sport’ in ‘sport sedan’ all too seriously. With the author standing at just 170 centimeters (the average for a Filipino male), it’s odd that the IS 300’s seat has to be adjusted to its lowest setting just to avoid brushing the roof each time you enter and exit the car. In addition, the thick center console and overly tall transmission tunnel truly makes even the front seating feel tighter. Like the Mercedes, the Lexus’s motorized steering column also goes up during the driver’s exit, but unlike the Mercedes, there’s no way to override the system. And that’s just as well, since if the steering won’t go up automatically, anyone will have a hard time exiting the IS 300. The same is true for the rear occupants. The rear quarters feel tighter on the Lexus as well. Though it’s important to make cars such as the Lexus feel sporty, the IS 300 feels a bit too sporty. It compromises passenger comfort in the process.

If hauling luggage is a regular occurrence for you, then better stick to the Mercedes as well since the trunk space is much larger, deeper and longer than that of the Lexus. Though the Lexus does offer a pass-thru for long objects (opening it requires a two-step process though), the Mercedes offers a 60/40 split-fold with a convenient flip lever located in the trunk. The Lexus though offers the security of a full-sized spare tire, while the Mercedes makes do with a temporary spare tire though a tire-pressure monitor is standard.

Space and Luggage Winner: Mercedes-Benz C 350
Score: Mercedes-Benz C 350 (4) / Lexus IS 300 (1)

Performance and Fuel Economy

This is the most important part and the reason for this head-to-head battle. Both of these cars represent excellent levels of engineering for their respective makes. Both of these cars promise the same thing as well: a sporty driving experience. About 80 percent of the time, both the Mercedes and Lexus remain inseparable, a true fact given that when dealing with everyday traffic you never exceed 60 km/h. But once you give both of these cars a big enough, long enough stretch of road, the remaining 20 percent is suddenly put into play.

In engine power alone, the Lexus’s 3.0-liter V6 already pleads no contest to the Mercedes’s 3.5-liter V6. With “just” 228 horsepower, the IS 300 is easily outgunned by the 272 horsepower C 350 in just about every situation from a standing start to an overtaking maneuver. What’s more, the C 350’s engine sounds sportier with a nice deep soundtrack accompanying the sudden gush of speed and adrenaline. The IS 300 is more adept at cruising and puttering around the city, because its weaknesses aren’t that apparent if you’re not burying the throttle. There’s still some satisfaction gained from the IS 300’s rapid progress, but the whisper-quiet nature of the engine (even at full throttle) somewhat reduces the fun.

Aside from raw horsepower and pace, sports sedans must handle with impeccable balance. Again, both of these make use the same basic ingredients: a stiff body shell for rigidity, all-around independent suspension for handling prowess and powerful brakes for excellent control at the worse possible circumstances. In fact, both actually use mixed ratio 17-inch tires (225/45, 245/45 for the Lexus and 225/45, 245/40 for the Mercedes). And this isn’t just for appearance’s sake. With their engines transmitting the power fully to the rear set of wheels, more rubber contact at the back is necessary to maintain grip. And again, on most occasions, the IS 300 and the C 350 are inseparable. At city speeds, both offer responsive handling, though the Lexus may seem quicker because of its feather-light steering. However, as speeds climb above the century mark, the handling aspect suddenly swings to the Mercedes’s favor. The C 350’s heavier steering becomes an important ally during long drives, become less strenuous to operate compared to the IS 300. As for the ride, both cars are equally comfortable, but the C 350’s stiffer shell and AMG-tuned suspension makes it less prone to ‘hop’ and jar over road imperfections. The AMG magic continues to the Mercedes’s brakes which are cross-drilled and internally vented. This set-up enables the C 350 to more confidently and produce a better pedal feel than the IS 300.

As an interesting note, it’s weird how the Lexus’s tire fitment doesn’t match the car’s high-speed capability. With a top speed pegged at over 220 km/h, the IS 300’s tire placard requires a tire pressure of 41 psi at the front and 46 psi at the back. But, a closer look at the OEM fitted Bridgestone Potenza RE050 reveals that it cannot be inflated to figures above 40 psi. What gives? Perhaps Lexus should have fitted the Mercedes’s Continental ContiSportContacts which can take up to 50 psi.

The Lexus’s smaller displacement engine gives it a slighter edge in fuel economy, registering 7.81 km/L compared to the Mercedes’s 6.41 km/L and this is despite the latter’s famed 7-speed automatic gearbox. However, in terms of overall range, it evens out because of the IS 300’s smaller fuel tank.

Performance and Fuel Economy Winner: Mercedes-Benz C 350
Score: Mercedes-Benz C 350 (5) / Lexus IS 300 (1)

Value for Money

The question of money shouldn’t concern the potential Lexus or Mercedes buyer that much. After all, superb craftsmanship and impeccable engineering really do cost an arm and a leg. However, that didn’t stop either car maker to cram as much toys they could to improve the value for money equation. Both of these cars are fitted with high-quality leather seating, seats that adjust electronically in every conceivable direction, automatic climate control, a keyless engine start/stop feature, actively swiveling HID headlamps, traction control and more airbags that you can count.

But despite their spec similarities, the C 350 actually costs a cool 1.5 million pesos more than the IS 300. Though Mercedes can argue that their car offers front sport seats, a three-zone climate control (the Lexus makes do with a dual one), a moon roof, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and a full-featured 6-disc DVD entertainment system with a 12-speaker Harman Kardon system; one and a half million pesos is still a lot of money, enough to get a top-end Japanese compact SUV for the wife or van for the family.

Value for Money Winner: Lexus IS 300
Score: Mercedes-Benz C 350 (6) / Lexus IS 300 (2)


Despite having the Lexus rout the Mercedes in terms of purchase price, that’s not reason enough to strongly consider the IS 300 as the winner here. Still, you have to commend the Lexus for closing the performance gap with the long-running C-Class range, but the IS 300 still exhibits a lot of weaknesses especially after a back-to-back drive with the C 350. Though these weaknesses are mostly evident during high-speed driving (something you won’t get to do in the Philippines regularly), it’s still no excuse and no reason to say the Lexus is the better sports sedan. A sports sedan should remain poised and capable at any given speed, and the C 350 does that much better than the IS 300. In addition, by the nature of the Mercedes’s design, its high-speed ability will translate to better response during emergency situations. For instance, its AMG tuned suspension and brakes do react better to sudden maneuvers and emergency stops. And aside from its excellent performance, the C 350 feels more special and more individual than the IS 300. The Lexus still feels too “Toyota”.

Lastly, the Mercedes C-Class has an advantage over the Lexus, and that’s the power of choice. If you find the P 4,480,000 asking price for a C 350 too rich for your taste, there are four other models. You can even spec one to your individual liking! On the other hand, the Lexus is limited to one model. This take it or leave it scenario also limits the appeal for the IS 300.

Winner: Mercedes-Benz C 350

By Ulysses Ang | By Photos by Ulysses Ang
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Bullseye: Ford Focus (2005)
July 26, 2005
A Diamond in the Rough: Isuzu Alterra (2005)
July 11, 2005
The Theory of Evolution: Honda CR-V (2005)
July 11, 2005
Ever-best or Ever-rest?: Ford Everest (2004)
July 4, 2005
3's a Charm: BMW 330i Executive (2005)
June 5, 2005
The Royal Salute: Chevrolet Trailblazer (2005)
June 5, 2005
Spin City: Mazda RX-8 (2005)
June 5, 2005
Passed Over: Nissan Cefiro (2005)
May 22, 2005
Road Warrior: BMW X3 (2005)
April 26, 2005
Leap Frog: Chevrolet Aveo (2005)
April 8, 2005
Power Play: Porsche 911 Carrera (2005)
March 19, 2005
This Beauty is Only Skin Deep: Jaguar XJ8 (2005)
March 19, 2005
Top of the Mill: Chevrolet Optra (2005)
March 6, 2005
America's Greatest Hit: Ford Explorer (2005)
February 13, 2005
Shaken but Unstirred: Toyota Corolla Altis (2005)
February 2, 2005
Parokya Adventures: Mitsubishi Adventure (2004)
January 23, 2005
Hyundai Coupe (2005) Driven
January 13, 2005
The Inside Job: Volvo S40 (2004)
November 2, 2004
Eye Robot: Mitsubishi Outlander (2004)
November 2, 2004
Silver Streak: Mercedes Benz SLK200 Kompressor (2004)
October 14, 2004
Urban On-Roader: Ford Escape (2004)
September 12, 2004
The Undad Mobile: Volvo XC90 (2004)
September 12, 2004
Mid-Size Matters: Mercedes Benz E240 Avantgarde (2004)
September 12, 2004
The Joy of 6: Mazda6 (2004)
September 12, 2004
Fire and Brimstone: Ford Mustang Cobra vs. Ford SVT Focus (2004)
August 11, 2004
Fairy Tale Over: Mazda3 (2004)
August 11, 2004
Balance of Power: Honda Accord (2004)
August 11, 2004
Ascent of Crosswind: Isuzu Crosswind (2004)
July 18, 2004
All Jazzed Up: Honda Jazz (2004)
July 18, 2004
French Chic: Peugeot 307 (2004)
June 8, 2004
7th Heaven: Ford Freestar (2004)
June 8, 2004
America's Favorite: Ford F-150 (2004)
May 12, 2004
Real Deal Sports Sedan Fun: Mazda6 (2004)
May 12, 2004
Rowdy and Roaring at Forty: Ford Mustang Mach 1 (2004)
April 10, 2004
Little Red Riding Pug: Peugeot 206 (2004)
April 9, 2004
Terminator 5: BMW 530d (2004)
March 10, 2004
Midlife Crisis, Aborted: Nissan Sentra (2004)
March 10, 2004
Type Right: Honda Civic (2004)
February 10, 2004
Practical Aristocrat: Isuzu Trooper (2003)
February 9, 2004
Wake Up Call: Ford Escape (2004)
January 21, 2004
Peak Drive: Honda CR-V (2003)
December 16, 2003
Two Worlds. One Philosophy: Ford Escape and Ford Everest (2003)
December 16, 2003
Feel Good Factor: Honda Accord (2003)
November 4, 2003
Generation RS: Ford Lynx (2004)
November 4, 2003
All You Want, All You Need: Volvo XC70 Cross Country (2003)
October 13, 2003
Optimal Solution: Chevrolet Optra (2003)
October 13, 2003
Go West: Mitsubishi Lancer (2003)
September 7, 2003
X-Joe: Nissan X-Trail (2003)
September 7, 2003
City Sleeker: Ford Explorer Sport Trac NBX (2003)
September 7, 2003
Slippery When Wet: Honda Civic (2003)
August 9, 2003
My Funny Valentine: Honda City (2003)
August 9, 2003
Boxy Logic: Nissan Urvan Estate (2003)
July 7, 2003
Perky Little Number: Toyota Vios (2003)
July 7, 2003
Version 2.0: Ford Ranger XLT (2003)
June 11, 2003
Falcon Quest: Ford Falcon (2003)
June 11, 2003
There She Goes: BMW Z4 3.0i (2003)
May 5, 2003
Substance Over Form: Toyota Revo (2003)
April 20, 2003
The Anti-German Solution: Volvo S40 (2003)
April 20, 2003
Great Expectations: Mitsubishi Lancer (2003)
March 25, 2003
Personal Isolation: Toyota Camry (2003)
March 25, 2003
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Honda Accord (2003)
March 25, 2003
Flair Game: Isuzu Hi-Lander Crosswind SUV (2003)
February 3, 2003
Rule Them All: Ford Expedition XLT (2003)
February 3, 2003
Room with a View: MCC Smart (2003)
February 3, 2003
Mitsubishi Pajero (2002) Driven
January 1, 2003
The Replacement Killers: Ford Escape XLT vs. Honda CR-V vs. Toyota RAV4
December 4, 2002
The Sky's the Limit: Peugeot 206 CC (2002)
November 3, 2002
Class of the Titans: Lynx GSi, Civic VTi, Corolla 1.6 J (2002)
November 3, 2002
Any Given Sunday: BMW 318i (2002)
October 1, 2002
Sexy Sensibility: Volvo S60 (2002)
October 1, 2002
Anti-Lexus: Toyota Echo (2002)
September 30, 2002
Borrowed Time: Mitsubishi Lancer (2002)
September 30, 2002
The Right Stuff: Ford Escape (2002)
September 30, 2002
Torque Wrench: Ford Focus (2002)
August 1, 2002
Siren Song: Nissan Serena (2002)
July 2, 2002
Top Level: Nissan Cefiro Brougham VIP (2002)
July 2, 2002
One More Time: Opel Astra (2002)
July 2, 2002
Staple Food: Toyota Hi-Ace Super Grandia (2002)
May 26, 2002
King of Plain: Toyota Camry (2002)
May 26, 2002
Energizer Bunny: Honda Accord (2002)
May 26, 2002
Conspicuous Consumption: Ford Expedition (2002)
April 28, 2002
Utility Sport: Honda CR-V (2002)
April 28, 2002
Fighting to Stay Ahead: Mitsubishi Adventure (2002)
April 28, 2002
The One: Honda Civic VTi-S vs. Corolla Altis (2002)
March 13, 2002
Welcome Mr. Hyde: Honda Civic Type-R (1997)
March 13, 2002
Better the Second Time Around: Ford Lynx (2002)
March 12, 2002
The Weakest Lynx?: Ford Lynx (2002)
February 19, 2002
Ultimate Toy Story: Porsche Boxster 2.7 (2002)
February 16, 2002
Spiritually Correct: Porsche 911 Cabriolet (1997)
February 16, 2002
Steady as She Goes: Hyundai Starex (2002)
January 21, 2002
King of the Hill: Ford Ranger 4x4 XLT (2001)
January 21, 2002
Lost in Space: Ford E150 (2001)
December 12, 2001
Not Quite Yet: Isuzu Crosswind (2001)
December 12, 2001
As Good As It Gets: Chevrolet Venture vs. Kia Carnival (2001)
December 12, 2001
Superman The Ride: Ford F150 (2001)
October 21, 2001
The X Factor: BMW X5 (2001)
October 21, 2001
RAVishing Performance: Toyota RAV4 (2001)
October 21, 2001
Viva La Carnival: Kia Carnival (2001)
September 10, 2001
Class Leader: Toyota Corolla Altis (2001)
September 10, 2001
Condition Normal: Honda Accord Long-Term Test Update
September 10, 2001
Four-Eyed Monster: Mercedes Benz E320
August 15, 2001
Different Road: Nissan Exalta Grandeur (2001)
August 15, 2001
Happy Endings: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
August 15, 2001
Ultimate Experience: BMW 318i and 325i (2001)
July 19, 2001
Slick Cat: Jaguar S-Type (2001)
July 2, 2001
Toyota RAV4 vs Honda CR-V (2001)
May 18, 2001
Slow Advancement: Toyota Revo (2001)
April 15, 2001
Below Expectations: Toyota Echo (2001)
April 15, 2001
Civic Revolution: Honda Civic (2001)
April 15, 2001
White Collared Brawl: Honda Accord and BMW 523i (2001)
March 12, 2001
Bus Driving 101: Mercedes-Benz MB100 (2001)
March 12, 2001
Everyday Transport: Toyota Corolla (2001)
February 5, 2001
Beautiful Day: Toyota RAV4 (2001)
February 5, 2001
Civilized Monster: Ford Explorer (2000)
December 18, 2000
Empty Space: Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000)
November 18, 2000
First Class Effort: Hyundai Starex (2000)
November 18, 2000
Service Please! Nissan Cefiro Classic Long-Term Test Update (1998)
November 18, 2000
Astra La Vista: Opel Astra (2000)
September 18, 2000
Old World Brute: Nissan Patrol Safari
September 18, 2000
Newly Hatched: Toyota Echo (2000)
September 18, 2000
Goodbye Beetle: Toyota Echo (2000)
August 15, 2000
Steer Flick'n Good: Audi A4 (2000)
July 9, 2000
No Lucky Stars: Ford Taurus GL (1998)
June 11, 2000
Simply Bulletproof: The Honda Accord VTi-L Long-Term Test Update (1998)
June 11, 2000
Still Life: Mitsubishi Lancer (2000)
May 13, 2000
Living with America: Ford F150 (2000)
April 16, 2000
Civic Minded: Honda Civic (2000)
February 20, 2000
Ford Lynx Ghia (2000) Driven
January 18, 2000
White Lightning: Honda Civic (1999)
December 18, 1999
The Lost World: Volkswagen Polo Classic (1998)
December 12, 1999
Against All Odds: Mazda 323 (1999)
September 29, 1999
Warp Speed Transport: Nissan Sentra Super Saloon (1995)
August 30, 1999
Complete Change of Mind: Nissan Cefiro (1997) Long-Term Test Update
August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998