By on August 27, 2019

The past decade hasn’t been kind to entry-level Lexus cars. From the lackluster HS 250h hybrid sedan (Harmonious Sedan, actually) to the more appealing yet similarly ill-fated CT 200h, hybrid power seems to act as a boat anchor when combined with a lower-priced Lexus.

Yet the brand has no intention of splitting its range between gas-only and electric-only vehicles. Lexus and Toyota still love hybrids, so expect more of ’em. What’s still up in the air, however, is whether we’ll see a new entry-level Lexus positioned below the UX crossover — a vehicle that starts at $33,175 after destination.

What form should such a model take?

Rumors, mostly out of Europe, have floated the possibility of a new base model for much of the year. Lexus still sells the CT 200h over there, but that model’s due for discontinuation in the coming year or two.

Just last week, Lexus veep Koji Sato told Autocar that the brand still needs something on the low end to lure first-time premium buyers into showrooms. It’s possible Europeans, and perhaps even Americans, might see another bottom-rung hybrid, though word of an urban EV runabout under development hints that the newest base Lexus might be a no-gas proposition. Might, as battery-electric propulsion is still nowhere near as cheap as it needs to be for widespread consumer adoption.

Could a new Lexus EV really undercut the UX in price? Highly debatable, unless this vehicle was mighty small and limited in range. But a new hybrid model riding on Toyota’s stiff new TNGA platform would be an easy thing to pull off. Such a model could take many forms.

If you had a hand on the tiller over at Lexus, what would be your decision? Keep the brand’s U.S. lineup the way it is, or slot something below the UX, slapping it with a price just a hair below $30k?

And how do you stop the public from seeing such a model as anything other than a luxed-up Corolla?

[Image: Lexus]

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29 Comments on “QOTD: Worthwhile Building a Better Base?...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    It’s going to be a tiny unibody lifted hatchback minivan with gunslit windows, and a droning 2.0T engine. I’m expecting a call any day now from Lexus on who leaked the information on this vehicle to me.0

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Haven’t you heard, a 2.0T engine is premium now. This is the cheap one. It’ll be a 2.0-no-T with 15 more horses of electric assist. Maybe even a 1.8-no-T.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I get the hate over 2.0Ts in the wrong applications (i.e., in large sedans, or paired with a CVT), but in a compact sport sedan like the one we’re talking about here, it’s actually a VERY good solution when it’s done right (ala Audi A3/VW GTI).

      Toyota already has a 2.0T available (it’s currently in the NX and base IS). Put that engine in an AWD compact sedan, and it’ll be PLENTY fast.

      • 0 avatar

        Literally this…a 2.0T is great in a GTi, but a ripoff in a 3 series or C class for 50k. Don’t get me started with a large sedan or Pickup. For 50k, toss me two more cylinders, at least….

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          I agree somewhat, speedlaw. even when both were 6 cylinders, the 328 was the more “tossable” one compared to the 335. a 330i with four cylinders can work as the fast-ish but fuel efficient tossable little sibling to the bigger 340. whether that should cost 50 large, or the same engine power a five series.. now you’re losing me.

          Hummer’s insistence that the American public would be better served by a 6 liter than a 2.0T is what I’d call a fringe opinion.

  • avatar
    Jon

    “how do you stop the public from seeing such a model as anything other than a luxed-up Corolla?”

    You don’t. Lexus knows that these boxes wont sell well. The only reason Lexus offers entry level gas-sippers is for mpg regulatory compliance. Its just cheap to design and build them on a current platform. Deregulate and let the market offer what people want.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    @ Dan— The 2.xl DOHC engine with plain port injection can be massaged up to about 180hp, and are super clean burning little things. Nothing needed to be done to them, except they needed to be replaced to drive the state-of-the-art forward.

    ANY 2.x I4 from around ‘90-2005 (or so) is more reliable than today’s cars.

    On topic: can we get a little less structural integrity so a car can be more comfortable, again?!? Omg please. Today cars feel like they have no shock-absorbers, only springs.

    My Jeep Compass is so structurally-rigid the door seals actually squeak when the first wheel hits a grade change— like entering my driveway. I asked Jeep to fix it!

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      You don’t have to have a “quivering” body to have a soft ride. You just need engineers and a company that isn’t committed to SPORT everything. SPORT is the new Brougham.

      The K900 has been identified as a modern car with a “Town Car” like ride. But they’re talking about the Panther Town Car not the mid 70s Town Car.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        I’m not asking for 1982 Camaro convertible/wet noodle-level stuff. My PT was pretty ideal in that respect. Neon hardtop coupe was a little more bendy, but it was the best driver of the lot I’ve pwmed!

        I’d also like steering column vibrations to feel more like a wooden baseball bat than an aluminum one, as well— if I’m allowed!

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I had an Escape for a while that creaked like a tallship due to body flex when I pulled into the driveway.

      Just put some spray-on silicone grease on the door seals with a paper towel. Refresh every few months. Problem solved!

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      You’ve got it thoroughly backwards my friend. A structurally rigid car is LESS likely to “creak.” As others have suggested, sounds like you just need to put some silicone grease on your door seals.

      What we deal with these days is definitely overly stiff suspensions on most cars.

      I just returned a Tahoe rental and boy that was refreshing from most of the caricature modern crossover type cars we love to lampoon as car guys. Absolutely loved the thing, and I got an indicated 24.5 mpg driving 75mph most of the way to Chicago and back.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Every review of the Corolla hatchback I’ve read has been favorable, and there is already a hybrid version sold elsewhere. Needs a little more wheelbase though in the rear. Luxe it up and it would be better than a CT200h, could probably price in under $30k, and would offer features Corolla doesn’t (cough cough moonroof, leather, vented seats)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think $33K and change for the UX is about as low as Lexus needs to go, honestly. That’s a pretty low barrier for entry to luxury cars, and it’s right in line with competing cars (GLA-Class, Q3, X1, XC40).

    Side note: I’ve been mulling over a RAV4 Hybrid since before they came out. I finally test-drove one yesterday, and was impressed. I had already narrowed it down to an XSE or Limited, but the XSE I drove had seats that were a bit too aggressively bolstered, so I hope the Limited has better seats. Sadly, you cannot get a Limited with the nifty two-tone color scheme.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I actually do think they could use an A-class alternative, but the problem is that the only thing they have in their portfolio that would be a suitable candidate would indeed be a Corolla derivative. A proper entry-lux sedan would need AWD and the right bones, and the Corolla doesn’t fit that bill.

    Therefore, I propose a uniquely Toyota solution: partner with someone. In this case, make a call to Mazda. Develop a variant of the 3, which has AWD and the right suspension, give it a Toyota engine (a variant of the 2.0T in the NX would be perfect in this application), install an independent rear suspension, give it a Lexus interior, and sell it for about $35,000. I’d argue this is the car the HS/CT should have been.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Well the Toyota Yaris iA is already a Mazda 2…

      I’d love to see Toyota sell a fully loaded Mazda 3 but only because it would cement the picture I have of Toyota as “GM circa the late 1970s”

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Exactly, they already have a partnership with Mazda they could expand. Lord knows Mazda needs the business.

        I suppose they could knock on BMW’s door again and do a 1-series variant, but I can’t see BMW sharing that platform to a direct competitor like Lexus.

        Call me crazy, but I actually like what Toyota does with partnerships and platform sharing – the bottom line is that it’s bringing good, interesting cars to market that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Yes BUT it is also a tacit admission (in an area like compact/subcompact cars) that Toyota can no longer compete without help.

          It’s like how The Big 3 kept shooting themselves in the foot in the small car arena so they needed Isuzu, Suzuki, Mitsubishi etc to give them cars to rebadge in a desperate attempt to be competitive.

          It’s also the kind of move that the automotive press used to SAVAGELY attack GM for.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I disagree there – Toyota makes (what I believe to be) the best-selling compact car in the country, and I’d say most consumers are very aware of that. And I’m sure they could adapt that platform into a entry-lux vehicle. But how much money would they make off it without doing something stupid like making it at a Nissan plant in Mexico and selling it for upwards of fifty grand with a straight face next to a G-wagen (cough…cough…A-series…)?

            I’d say it’s less of an admission of failure and more of an admission of the realities of the market, personally. I don’t think consumers will be all that concerned as long as the product’s good. And I’d say that’s the real reason why GM got savaged for what they did – their stuff sucked. Toyota isn’t GM.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            Agreed on the engineering aspects, FreedMike. To replace the current IS, one would think Lexus could pretty readily go with a TNGA-derived chassis and the FWD/AWD drivetrain out of the NX. Whether or not there’s profit in that is another question.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    Poor seller ≠ lackluster

    The HS wasn’t badly executed–some of my neighbors have one–it just aimed at a market segment that turned out to be tiny and suffered cannibalized sales from other Toyota and Lexus hybrids both above and below in the lineup.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I really have no idea what they were trying to do with the HS or CT.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        I don’t disagree. If I recall, the HS was a stab at a performance hybrid market that turned out not to be there (essentially the Camry hybrid drivetrain in a platform with the same wheelbase as the Prius). I think the HS is faster 0-60 than the contemporary Prius by almost 2 seconds.

        At odds with the quasi-sporting intent is that it has a more upright look than the ES. That’s actually a good thing if you’re a packaging nerd who appreciates the profile of old Fiat and BMW sedans, but there aren’t a lot of us out there.

        I think it’s an interesting car with some strengths, but there were just very few buyers for it.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          I’d forgotten all about the HS — had to look it up on Wikipedia.

          Ironically, that thing’s almost a dead-ringer for the new Corolla Sedan. If only Toyota was (over)building cars like the 1992-1997 Camry again, a Lexus with cloth seats, they could pull that off with a standard ICE drivetrain, say, the Camry 2.4l.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Yes I appreciated the HS for being an upright comfy smaller sedan with the larger Camry HSD bolted up. I’d love to see that attempted again, with the current Toyota 2.5 Hybrid powertrain, prioritize a well isolated ride. Looks dopey, works very well in the real world.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t see a need for anything other than a UX hybrid and the rumored all-electric hatch. The “low-end premium car” at this point is a subcompact crossover, and the UX is the correct entry point for the brand.

    Too bad the UX is so much worse inside than the NX (which has a legitimately best-in-class interior), but I guess it’s inevitable at the respective price points.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I agree, anything underneath will either be a loss leader or have to be something cost effective (read: cheap) and at the least not lose money. If they wanted to do something neat and unique go for it but its only going to cost money and for what? Lure a few new buyers, maaaaybe? People know who you are Lexus and they know what they get with you, you’re not Cadillac trying to rebuild for the fifth time in three decades. I don’t see a move here on the low end of the price spectrum.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    This car has been noncompetitive in my market from the first day. It was not the lack of AWD which prevented its success. It was the lack of conventional non-hybrid engines that hurt sales and diminished its appeal, which was not a lot to begin with since the Lexus badge does not mean much here. There was also no halo version to combat the S/RS, AMG and M variants of its German rivals. Lastly, there was hardly any marketing for it (Lexus in my country does not seem to produce advertisements at all).

    Currently it stands no chance against the new Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse (I drove an A200 recently and was very impressed) and even against the aging Audi A3 Sportback, and/or even the new BMW 1er.

    A new CT with a proper lineup of gasoline, diesel and hybrid propulsion, a fresh design and technology and a more dedicated marketing effort could as a start eventually make a small impact.

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