Lexus just released an '02-model-year variant of its popular IS 300 compact sport sedan: the SportCross wagon. The designers would prefer you didn't call it a wagon, however, as they see it as a cross between sport sedan and wagon, hence its name. Because the SportCross isn't intended to be a beast of burden, it cannot carry the proverbial 4x8 sheet of plywood. Yet, with split-folding rear seats and a folding front-passenger seat, it can accommodate a fair payload, including oddly shaped items such as a ladder, television, or mountain bike. The best attribute of the SportCross is that it still shares virtually all the critically acclaimed IS 300 sedan's performance abilities, while its capacity for cargo more than doubles.

The SportCross matches the sedan's measurements in nearly every critical way: head-, leg-, shoulder-, and hiproom are the same. Wheelbase, engine, five-speed automatic? The same. One minor change to the rear track (0.4 in. narrower) and tire width (0.4 in. wider) better distributes the potential load a wagon should accommodate. Overall, the SportCross is 125 lb heavier and less than half an inch longer than the sedan.

At our test facility, we expected a wagon based on an already great compact sedan to be good, but not this good-nor this close to the sedan. A 0-60-mph blast takes just 0.2 sec longer (at 7.6 sec), and the quarter-mile run of 15.6 sec at 89.7 mph is closer still. As if that weren't enough, its slalom speed of 66.5 mph is a breath away from the sedan's 67.6-mph best. Brakes? Just 5 ft farther from 60 mph at 118 ft.

Now the big question becomes, "Why would anybody want the sub-compact sedan when you can retain its performance and gain a bunch of utility?" Lexus is hoping at least 5000 people will wonder the same thing, and with an MSRP of $32,305, it'll only cost them $1500 (over a comparable IS 300 sedan) to learn the answer.