By on April 30, 2017

2018 Lexus LS F-SPORT

With crossovers on the rise, and more car-like than ever, Toyota’a global branding chief Tokuo Fukuichi knows that Lexus sedans need to offer more to customers or prepare to join the Tyrannosaurus rex in extinction. Lexus has shifted to become SUV-inclusive, but sedans still comprise a large portion of its lineup.

Lexus’ strategy is to improve the driving dynamics on its sedans to a level that crossovers cannot match, using the lower center of gravity to their advantage. It also wants to make its more traditional cars more appealing to a broader and less-stodgy consumer base. Assuming the plan works, Toyota’s premium brand won’t need to engage in any automotive genocide, eliminating sedans altogether. However, like any automaker, Lexus is still likely to transform its lineup to appease on-trend demands — which could include a station wagon. 

“Unless we can really offer a sedan experience you cannot have with an SUV or crossover, I think the sedan may not be able to survive if it does not evolve,” Fukuichi told Automotive News at the Shanghai auto show in April. “At a certain point of time, the traditional, square, three-box sedan will go away.”

The new LC is the first model from the brand to take the philosophy and run with it. The LC is extremely low, uses a powerful V8 (or a futuristic six-cylinder hybrid), and possesses the highest torsional stiffness of any Lexus model in history. It’s also a highly stylized $92,975 sports car that’s about as practical as a glass-bottom shoe. Having been inside one, I can attest to the 2+2 interior’s supreme glory but it’s unserviceable for anything beyond a weekend romp for two moderately sized adults.

Thankfully, the 2018 LS sedan appears to have followed a very similar recipe without sacrificing familial viability. It’s lower and leaner than the outgoing LS and Lexus has intentionally bestowed it with a more unconventional fastback design. Imagine those ideas implemented in the brand’s smaller models with the possible addition of a station wagon and you begin to see the big picture.

“That [fastback design] reflects a change in the lifestyle and fashion of the typical driver of high-end sedans,” Fukuichi said. “They are becoming more casual and so are sedans.”

According to Auto News, that is a direct response to the popularity of Porsche’s Panamera. Although, Lexus might wait to see how the Sport Turismo sells before it drives into the market with a wagon variant of its flagship vehicle.

“Personally, I would like to have a Lexus wagon if we had enough resources,” he said. “Maybe not as tall as an SUV but not as short as a wagon. There could be some optimized packaging … If we’re going to do it, it can’t be just an ordinary station wagon.”

They already have those; they are called crossovers.

With sedans accounting for only 29 percent of Lexus’ sales within the United States, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where it didn’t murder off at least a few models for CUV replacements. The brand’s car sales dropped a full 35 percent during the start of 2017. Meanwhile, Lexus spent most of January scrambling to produce more SUVs after last December turned out to be their best sales month in history.

 

[Image: Lexus]

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52 Comments on “Lexus Knows it Needs to Improve its Sedans or Prepare Them for a Merciful Death...”


  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    I always liked the LS460 Mark Levinson I rode in, and if I had that much spare change laying around, I think I would love to own a brand new LS460 Mark Levinson or similar.

    The people who can afford to own one, chose them over the equivalent from Mercedes, BMW and Audi.

    Just how much more improvement and finesse is there yet to be done?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      But more people choose Mercedes, Audi or BMW. The LS460 as you know it is being replaced by a far bolder model with no V-8.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Which will fail and either be discontinued entirely or perhaps still be available since it shares a common architecture with multiple configurations (TNGA)).

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_New_Global_Architecture

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Yeah, I know but I just hate to see such an excellent car get dropped or discontinued. The LS 460 is really a refined marvel to drive.

        Ultimately, Toyota has to keep making money for their shareholders. Which means that they will discontinue the lines that do not make money for them.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      The 2012 era LS was getting matched or beat in db sound testing by Hyundai Equus and Buick Verano. I believe the S-class has already eclipsed them in quieting area.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The only Lexus sedan that really seems to sell is the ES. It’s one of the last large, comfortable, luxury sedans out there after all at a decent price point.

    The others are just non-starters. The LS is very very nice, but seems to get panned in favor of the Germans. Same goes for the GS which is exceptionally rare. IS sure, they are a bit more plentiful because of the low price point, but for every 1 there has to be 20 3-Series.

    Lexus needs to really shape up its SUV lineup. The GX is a great vehicle with the exception of the asinine left-hinged side swinging tailgate. The LX has third row seats that can neither be folded flat nor removed without some serious hardware. I test drove both in their current iterations a couple years back and was totally unimpressed. Great vehicles on paper, but ergonomically bad.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Lexus does have not sophisticated enough engines like everyone else to use in their trucks. Their power output is low and fuel economy the worse.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      The LX is one of those vehicles where if you have to ask about things like horsepower, fuel economy, or price it isn’t for you. It is a truck for old money. The GX is a Land Cruiser Prado the Toyota figured they could slap an L on the grill of and print money in the developed world. They don’t sell a ton of either, but I’d be willing to bet they make a ton on each copy sold and the customer base is very loyal. Heck I want a GX and my Land Cruiser experience was, how shall way say this, not as solid as the reputation would have you think,

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I would take a GX. I’m going to go look up the current Prado, maybe its front clip bolts on…

        Ha

        Edit, I have seen it, and yes I like it more. A lot more.

        • 0 avatar
          Mandalorian

          GX are very common and very reliable, but a Yukon Denali is a lot easier to live with.

          LX really isn’t terribly expensive considering what you get, but a Yukon Denali XL/Escalade ESV or even Navigator is a lot easier to live with and will last 90% as long these days.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Looking further at the Land Cruiser Prado, I long for a base model with the black grille, diesel engine and manual transmission. It would be crazy to convert a GX to that, but that is the one I would have.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            John if I am not mistaken, the 4 runner is Prado based as well so that might be an easier option though I think the GX is closer to the family tree.

            There are people that wheel the GX. It is a serious rig. A buddy of mine had one he raised the front on and did some trick to the rear air ride to make it taller. He followed all the 60 and 80 series rigs pretty well. The IFS doesn’t have as much travel but over all but the most rocky stuff he was good and the size made it better in some places than anything that wasn’t a 40 series.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m not sure if the prognosis is correct. On the luxury end of the spectrum, I still see plenty of sedans on the road. Once the nest is empty, it seems like lots of better-off folks want to get away from the crossovers, SUVs, and minivans in which they brought up their families.

    You can surely commence with the family sedan deathwatch, but I’m not quite sure that luxury sedans need to be put on life support quite yet.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “’Personally, I would like to have a Lexus wagon if we had enough resources,’ he said. ‘Maybe not as tall as an SUV but not as short as a wagon. There could be some optimized packaging … If we’re going to do it, it can’t be just an ordinary station wagon.’

      “They already have those; they are called crossovers.”

      I’m inferring Fukuichi meant SUVs and CUVs, in which case no, they don’t already have those. Probably the closest thing on the market to what he’s describing–at least height-wise–is the Ford Flex.

      Function-wise, probably the best vehicle for the average person would be something ’55 Chevy-ish. Give it enough ground clearance so that it doesn’t scrape on parking stops but not really anything beyond that; a seat cushion height that’s good for creaky, aging, and out-of-shape Americans; and generous headroom. The market seems to consider that an unhappy medium between a car and a CUV, however. (Something like a Subaru Crosstrek would seem to have the right roofline height, but Crosstreks in effect are squeezed from the bottom by virtue of having about 2″ more ground clearance than what 99% of people need 99% of the time.)

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Remember the Venza? It was redundant in the Joe Sixpack Toyota line-up.

        But I bet if Toyota rebadged it as a Lexus Venza with the ES350 V6 and standard AWD, it would give VW, Audi and Mercedes a run for their money in that class.

        Sometimes a buyer just wants a tall luxury wagon, but not an SUV/CUV, with just the right height for little kiddies to crawl in to.

        • 0 avatar
          blackEldo

          See also: Mercedes R-Class. I’m weirdly into those, not even the AMG version.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          They already have such a vehicle, the RX, and its one of their best sellers. It preceded the Venza, but is essentially the same thing in a Lexus wrapper.

          The Venza seemed to try to be a Murano or Edge to some, and a 5 passenger Camry wagon to others. It failed at both.

          The only crossover Lexus needs (for sales, not to please me ha) would be a 3 row full-size like a Lincoln MKT, but Lexus will be able to pull off the undoubtedly hideous styling it’ll have because Lexus.

    • 0 avatar
      SD 328I

      BMW may want to have a word with you, they got stuck with too many sedans and are losing market share to the point they have had crisis talks about future products with Unions and management.

      BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Acura and especially Cadillac and Jaguar rely heavily on their crossovers to make market share right now.

  • avatar
    Edsel Maserati

    Not a word about the new grills? I wonder how many potential customers view this colossal eggcrate front end and shudder? Did the design department say, “We need something uglier than Audi’s grill”?

    I’ve always liked the 460 (and 430 and 400) and the best of all was the recent 460-F which maybe an Audi in terms of handling but it was close enough and absolutely fine in every other respect.
    But then the 2018 model is shown. Ack. Not only is the front end kind of trashy, it seems like something that would get easily bent, warped and misshapen by any kind of urban use.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      After spending a couple days with the new RX350; the grill no longer stands out. The rest of the thing had caught up with “dat maw” and it’s ugly from all angles. New Prius level, rather buy last years used than new for the same price levels of … the neighbors actually complained, UGLY. My wife loved it from the inside, I boycotted it and stayed out.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      The marketing department said “we need something even more distinctive and recognizable than Audi (BMW, M-B etc) for our front end appearance for brand recognition against the 837,038 other all-new-to-them cars in $$BIG$$ China.”

      The RC looks great to me. That car in the top pic looks overstyled with its Z headlights that obviously belong on a 370Z, and its huge obnoxious grille. Its just overdone for a sedan.

      To me, anyway.

      I suppose it works on the RC because its a swoopy sleek little coupe, not a more “mature” vehicle like their SUVs and sedans.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    MPG goals are giving us coupe styled roofs to cheat the wind. Designers are creating tank slit openings for the trunk, making them functionally useless. The rear seat is cramped, or perceived to be because of the low roof.

    They either have to:

    A) Figure out how to make a true 3 box design where the roof doesn’t slope down to a pinched rear end without compromise of MPG

    B) Figure out a way to design a 5-door that has the rigidity and NVH of a traditional sedan, and has the 5-door part completely hidden

    C) Figure out a way with European pedestrian standards, MPG standards, and collision standards to make a sedan that doesn’t look like every other sedan on the planet

    Or a combination of the above.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    This is a parody article that sounds like it was written about the Lexus brand in the year 2001. Wagon? Check! Sedans go from conservative to Predator-face? Check! 6-cylinder hybrids are the future? Yes, they were in 2001…Check!
    Check, please! Outtahere…

  • avatar
    carguy

    Lexus has always made good sedans but the competition has improved.

    Some suggested fixes:
    – Improved infotainment system. The track-pad based system is worse than Cadillac CUE.

    – Put their sedans on a diet. According to C&D, the IS200t curb-weight is nearly 3800lbs and that kills economy, acceleration and handling.

    – Offer more engine options. The 3.5 V6 is a great engine in an Avalon but simply no match for the forced induction engines found under the hood of Lexus’s luxury competition.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    The big problem across the Lexus lineup is that they build appealing vehicles…for women aged 45-55.

    They literally make no vehicles that I would spend my money on. Then again, the closest that Toyota comes in this regard is the Tacoma, and even then, I would only purchase one if I needed a pickup and did not have room for a full size.

    Japanese luxury sedans were an interesting concept back in the late 80s. The original Acura Legend was a fantastic car. When Lexus came on the scene, I was amazed at how quiet it was while driving.

    These days, if I wanted to buy a luxury car that’s not European, what do any of the Japanese brands do better than the Koreans? They don’t look better, they aren’t more reliable, and they aren’t as much of a value. If it isn’t German, Swedish or Italian, why not get a Hyundai or Kia?

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    I think offering a wagon is par for the course for a luxury marque. Other than VW, are there any non-luxury wagons available? Subaru, I suppose, although some will argue the Outback is so lifted and bloated compared to its ancestors that its a crossover.

    If Lexus enters the luxury wagon market (a very small one here in the States, but a larger market in Europe), they have to go back to what the original LS did: meet or exceed the (perceived?) quality and options of M-B, BMW, and Audi while undercutting them on price by enough of a margin for buyers and lessees in the segment to pay attention.

    This idea about sedans though….. meh. Mainstream buyers the world over give exactly zero concern to ‘dynamics’. I’d rather you give me a durable, reliable, dead silent cruising machine with useful interior ergonomics that surpasses the entire luxury market priced like a Buick. That’s probably financially not feasible. But that really ALSO sounds like what the LS was when it debuted.

    The biggest thing killing modern sedans, in my strictly anecdotal opinion based on every single one I’ve driven in recent years, is the remarkable lack of rear seat leg and head room compared to the large size of the exterior. They are the opposite of a TARDIS. And its not like they have given that room to trunk space either. Wagons MIGHT be the solution to this. It must be executed properly.

  • avatar
    zip89123

    No brainer cheap fix > redesign the GRILL. Toyota’s & Lexus’s are ugly, and everyone but upper management knows this.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig Hater

      I always thought BMW’s grills were ugly but once you got that signature grill ditching it is like trying to ditch your face. At least Lexus has its own identity now. Back in the beginning their identity was faux Mercedes.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    The revenge of the station wagon.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I think this is less “sedans aren’t selling” and more “we make more money off SUVs.”

    For the most part, if sedans weren’t on the lot, most shoppers would simply look at the SUVs. That means more profit margin and a more streamlined build process.

    So they make the sedans for the people who refuse to buy SUVs, sell a handful of those at ridiculous markup, and let them hang on the vine until they can justifiably kill them off. The reviews will all say they have harsh rides and are difficult to get in and out of for older folks.

    I dunno, I suppose it’s possible that they really want to build a driver’s car. But when even BMW has given up on it, I wonder what the point is.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Think Fukuichi has it backwards.

    Mercedes sedans are still “box-shaped” and aren’t as sporty as others, but are still selling well due to MB upping up the luxury quotient.

    Cadillac and Jaguar (and now Alfa) currently offer the best handling sedans, but they suffer in sales due to cramped rear passenger space and not interiors which don’t pass muster (due to more of the $$ having been spent on lightweight platforms).

    Lexus RWD sedan sales have fallen for a variety of reasons – including the Germans having gotten better in reliability (also, an increasing % lease nowadays), greater competition (from new brands like Genesis or older brands which have started to produce credible luxury sedans again – Cadillac, Jaguar, etc. or the Germans which now offer a price-point competitive with Lexus, even if it means opting for a turbo 4 over a V6 or a turbo 6 over a V8), but the biggest reason is that Lexus has fallen way behind the competition when it comes to powertrains.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yes, as carguy says, the 3.5L has got to go. Lincoln now offers multiple powertrain options on its cars, giving a better variety. They’ve also dialed back the crazy (MKT? Ha) on their styling and reembraced their history of being large and in charge while not screaming for attention the way Lexus now does, and the CLA.

      They’re not out of the tunnel yet, but they’ve clearly made some changes and their recently improved sales results (and transaction prices) are showing its working.

      I do hope they can spread their wings and develop truly bespoke vehicles at some point. I believe that will mark another move in the right direction.

      Start with some basic RWD architecture from the Mustang, and…add Lincoln-ness with a MKZ and MKX replacement. Fiddle with the latest Ford V-8 technology to offer something unique, and reuse the I-4 Turbo, Hybrid and the 3.0L T/T, but all options for *both* this time.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “even if it means opting for a turbo 4 over a V6 or a turbo 6 over a V8)”

      Who asks for this? I am in the income bracket where I could lease a GS and I would lease it over everyone else because I can still get a real motor in it. I don’t want toys that break, it would be a serious inconvenience for me to have to f*** with my leased car multiple times a year because of inherent stupid.

      Back in the 90s when the top trim of something may have been available with a turbo it was cool because it was the same motor with a little extra oomph, it was extra icing on the cake. The 3000GT comes to mind, the VR4 was available as a twin turbo vs the N/A DOHC SL but it was the same damn motor. Now they are using this turbo garbage to *replace* larger and better motors, which is just stupid. Not to mention the fact for the most part curb weights are up significantly, so now they are using the turbo as a crutch to move that heavy model around instead of just offering a proper sized motor from the get go.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        I mention the lack of Lexus drive train choices above as bd2 did. The Lexus GS V6 just betters a Silverado at 23 mpg highway…that is terrible. That is of the reasons my current Toureg owning bil crossed Lexus off his list as they have the worst fuel economy

        • 0 avatar
          quaquaqua

          No they don’t, Norm. First, EPA numbers are never that accurate and Toyota has always understated their numbers, just like Ford has always overstated theirs. Second, luxury car buyers don’t buy ANYTHING based on fuel economy. This is why luxury hybrids sell in lower percentages than, say, a Camry or Highlander hybrid.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Serious question – for the sake of a three year lease cycle, is there anything to suggest turbos represent any real headache (especially compared with all the other gadgets new luxury cars have)? I get that they’re a thing that will break in 8-10 years, but if you’re that much of a Luddite, shouldn’t you be driving the most basic Yaris you can get? No automatic either, Toyota had problems with those 15 years ago. Sure, it was just with the V6, but you can’t be too safe.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          @ Maymar – I’m of the opinion that turbos now are essentially reliable unless you’re neglecting basic maintenance. A friend has 15-ish years and 150,000-ish miles on a Volvo I5 turbo. He had to have an engine mount replaced at 120,000 miles, but the engine itself has been right as rain.

          And I say that as a curmudgeon who’s staying away from CVTs and DI-only drivetrains for as long as possible. (That’s a Lexus advantage over the Germans. With the retirement of the 2.5 V6, all their engines, I believe, are either port-injected or dual-injected.)

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          My opposition to most modern turbos isn’t that they are short term unreliable, it’s that they are joyless, lazy, and thrashy. Especially when compared to the naturally-aspirated engines they are replacing.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            Even my rental 2017 Escape SE was smooth and barely noticed the shifting between gears.

            You, Corey, and 28CL all need to do a turbo-4 road trip together.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Buyers in this segment want at least the option of getting more power (whether they need it or not).

        The fact that the GS doesn’t offer a turbo-6 really hurts Lexus.

        And there’s a reason why the GS-F has been languishing on dealer lots despite hefty discounts unlike the CTS-V.

        The LS460 gets outclassed in the power-train dept. by the Genesis G80 (which is a size segment down), nevermind the Germans.

  • avatar
    stuki

    It’s kind of hard to sell based on “driving dynamics” when speed limits and enforcement is calibrated around UPS delivery vans. Driving on black ice with summer tires…

    Back in the era of body on frame Land Rovers, sedans were dynamically superior on paved roads to SUVs (And to mining trucks….) They actually had some practical benefit between LA and Vegas, San Francisco……….. And even earlier, long low GTs had practical dynamic benefits over Sedans. So you had the age of the GT. Then the Age of the “sport sedan.” And now, the age of the SUV/CUV/Pickup truck/hybrid-on-zero-grip-low-rolling-resistance-tires.

    In parts of Europe, lower slung sedans still have tangible benefits. Tempo 250 on the Autobahn in a BOF Land Cruiser is probably not the most comfortable way to get down those highways. So some Europeans still buy sedans.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    The GS is nearly as old as the A6, and you can tell. The interior in the IS is pathetic for a supposed luxury car, it’s barely hanging on with the Volvo S60 (which is ancient) and the Acura TLX in the bottom of the barrel. You just can’t get away with slightly nicer leather and plastics than Toyota uses anymore, and that mouse. I won’t even consider a Lexus on that alone.

    Seriously, does ANYONE like the mouse system? Not begrudgingly tolerate it, but actually like it? Why does Lexus continue to make absolutely no improvements or changes to it? iDrive was a complete and utter disaster when it launched with the 2002 7 Series, and a model cycle later it was highly polished and one of the best systems on the market. Well, Lexus has had a full model cycle to work on the mouse, and they’ve done NOTHING. Good job team!

    • 0 avatar
      SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

      YEah, seriously. Only owners of the cars like the mouse systems, and that is only because they have had the 15 minutes of time to get used to it. Lexus should scrap it.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I’m a little bummed about Lexus’ sedans being on death’s door. Touchpad aside the GS350 is probably the best luxury sedan on the market IMO. Good looks in and out, good performance/fuel economy ratio, legitimately great driving dynamics, hassle free ownership experience. Unfortunately it might be time for Lexus to embrace turbocharging.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Seen on the internets: US Gov to start Cash for DeadCars program to get people out of cars and into SUVs (since cars are dying anyways). Participation will be optional at first then be made mandatory to reduce the number of dead and dying sedans on US roads.

    Ok, snide aside.. sedans are selling less nowadays but 29 percent still is not a bad number all things considered. That’s about 1 in 3. And if gasoline spikes, then what?

    So here is a question for the B&B, let’s say we get another big fuel price spike like we did 10-ish years ago, what will the automotive landscape look like then? Still be truck/suv heavy? Unless the auto manufacturers know something we don’t (gas will remain stable and/or technology will progress where smaller is not necessarily better fuel efficiency wise), I would have to say that history is about to repeat.

  • avatar

    Americans were always sold that small is cheap and big is nice and luxury. Until the Japanese and Europeans showed that small could equal luxury, or at least “not junk”, this worked. Still, despite incursion in the more well off areas, most folks still followed this. Like horsepower, size was something they could charge for. Want 10 inches more in the floorpan so your six foot kids can fit in the back seat ? $10k, even though the engine and pretty much every single part is the same as the smaller car.

    The minivan was the first to break that mold, and the SUV/CUV finally got you a “big” car for regular money. Now that size does not equal price nearly to the way it used to, why is anyone surprised that people buy the bigger vehicle for the same money ? Add to it the aging of the population, traffic and congestion (I like to sit up higher where I can see what is going on) and the choice isn’t a LS v. CT6 or E class, it becomes Range Rover vs Q5 vs Escalade.

    As long as gas remains under $3 per gallon…….

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    Lexus just needs to get their act together – their product line is just not amazing overall – even as their driving dynamics improve.

    Cars

    -The IS has always been an almost ran. It would have done amazing if it had come over as an Altezza and cheaper.

    -The GS (and I own one) is great, but in a power hungry current times… well it is just not there.

    -The ES sells a lot of volume, but does nothing for the nameplate

    -The LS? Always great, perennially overlooked and derided. They need to step up their game here a lot I think to make it better than the competition in the ways that sell.

    -RC – an embarassment. Oddly bulbous, overweight and not nearly enough to make anyone buy it over a 4-series.

    -LC – looks hot as hell. It won’t have enough power to make a dent in SL sales.

    SUVs

    -Where oh where is the three row RX? And the fact that it took this long to even get near to one should have every single product planner canned.

    – GX – hooray a big truck with absolutely no redeeming features for the CUV crowd. I assume it sells fine.

    – LX – real off-road capability being sold to a market that has no need for it. OMG, just build an CUV off the LS platform already that has an eq

    Where is the three row RX?

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