Both Infiniti and Lexus know how to ruin a car. The Lexus GS 450h and the Infiniti M Hybrid are what results from taking a fundamentally good car and adding a bustle full of batteries. It’s more galling now because of what’s happened to these two. For years, both the M and the GS were mildly interesting also-rans that couldn’t compete with the established segment leaders on any measure but price/value. But now, you’ve got an Eastern Jaguar and a crisp Arleigh-Burke class sedan that are mounting a more credible challenge against the benchmark Germans. The M and GS have learned how to control dynamics to deliver the Patris, fillii et Spiritius Sancti of performance, handling and luxury. Hybrid versions of these cars seriously blunt the excellence, and it’s a damn shame.
From the same division that birthed the Lexus IS-F and LFA comes the RC-F Coupe, which will turn up next week during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show to punch both BMW and Mercedes-AMG in the face.
It’s happened, all in a neat confluence of threes. By my decree, the third generation of the Lexus IS has surpassed the BMW 3 Series. While BMW has been busying itself creating niches for increasingly grotesque vehicle-type-things, Lexus has turned out a pair of legitimately great sports sedans, first in the GS and now in the new 2014 IS. This from a company who’s top sellers are Camry cousins.
After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of their lineup has been overhauled. Initially, I was a little concerned that the Lexus IS sedan would receive nothing more than a new nose and some LED lights for 2014 but the Japanese 3-Series fighter came out swinging when we were invited to the launch event earlier in the year. I came away impressed with the IS 350’s road manners, but most buyers will be shopping for the less powerful IS 250 and it’s taken us this long to get our hands on one.
This is the Lexus LS460, the luxury boomer that built the brand. It was the Lexus LS that launched the Automotive Battle of Hastings back in 1990, attacking the European establishment with devastating competence. The 2013 Lexus LS460 is still that great, and yes, the ride is still more Chris Craft than hardtail.
The LS 600hL is the pinnacle of Toyota and Lexus engineering. It is the largest Lexus sedan, the brand’s most expensive model, the most expensive hybrid in the world and, with the death of BMW’s V8 ActiveHybrid system, it is once again the most powerful hybrid on sale. Yet the LS 600hL hasn’t had an easy time of things. The large luxury sedan has been lambasted for being the antithesis of green thanks to its EPA combined 20 MPG score. Critics also question whether the 600hL’s enormous premium over the LS 460L can ever be “justified.” I too questioned the logic behind the 600hL at first, but then I spoke with someone who changed my mind. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The 600hL starts at $119,910. With all the options checked, you land at $134,875. Without destination. Put your eye balls back in their sockets and click past the jump as we dive into an alternate universe.
I remember when the RX rolled onto the scene in 1998. It was truly the first successful crossover as we would know it today. While everyone else was trying to produce a truck-based luxury SUV, Lexus took the Camry/ES platform, put a jelly-bean inspired box on top and jacked the ride height up to 7.7 inches. The result was instant sales success. As we all know however, success has a price. The marshmallow-soft FWD RX lacked road feel, steering feel and sex appeal. Although it’s a bit late in the game, Lexus has decided to fix that last problem with the introduction of the 2013 RX F-Sport.
While BMW has been turning the 7-Series into a luxuriously silent highway cruiser, Lexus has been busy injecting sport into their isolated lineup. In 2006 we got the 417HP IS-F, in 2011 came the insane LF-A super car, and in 2012 we were introduced to Lexus’ styling and suspension tweak brand F-Sport with the GS350 F-Sport. It was only a matter of time until the spindle grille and the looks-fast F package appeared on Lexus’s flagship LS. Can a “looks-fast” and “handles-better” package help the LS regain the sales crown? Or does Lexus need to go back to the drawing board for some go-fast love?
Every car company hates the BMW 3-Series. It’s always the benchmark, always the sales champion, always the golden boy. BMW shifted nearly 100,000 3-Series models in America last year and they did so not by being “the best” luxury sedan, but by pandering to the shopping public’s desires. Buyers have shown they want a comfy ride with a luxury logo on the front, they want good fuel economy and they want to hear journalists say how well the car handles on a track. The average buyer will never be on a track, but it’s critical to know your car belongs there. The old IS was a good car on the track, but its demure looks sold more on Lexus’ reliability and dealer reputation than the car’s track diaries. As we know from Volvo and Lexus’ sales numbers in this segment, two things don’t move metal: reliability and safety. For 2014 Lexus went back to the drawing board completely redesigning the IS sedan to be their most dynamic sedan ever. Does it have what it takes to take on the Germans and Infiniti’s new Q50?
The ES has been Lexus’ best-selling sedan for 15 years yet the front-driver started life as something of a side-show. In 1989 the ES was a thinly veiled Camry, supposedly rushed to market because Lexus dealers couldn’t envision launching a brand with one vehicle (the LS 400) and were unwilling to wait for the SC and GS. This explanation makes sense to me and explains why the ES was the only FWD car in a brand created to compete with the Germans. Of course, this odd fit within a full-range RWD luxury brand is exactly why the ES sells. Wonder why Acura’s wares never had the sales success of the ES? It’s all about the brand baby.
Even when stacked up against other Lexus models, the front-drive ES has long been considered boring. Yet the Camry-based sedan has been a best-seller for Lexus and in its segment. For this reason, it has become a benchmark; just as every compact sport sedan targets the BMW 3-Series, every upper-midsize near-luxury sedan targets the ES. Well aware of the beads drawn on its back,
Toyota Lexus has redesigned the car for the 2013 model year. But has it raised the bar enough to keep Koreans with upward aspirations in their place?
The LS and I have had a long relationship. Back in 1993 I was an impressionable teenager nearing that holy-grail of ages: 16. This meant I dreamt of driving constantly. My parents were Oldsmobile and Chrysler folks, so my choices were a 1980 Custom Cruiser, a 1985 Cutlass Ciera, or a 1988 Grand Voyager. The Oldsmobiles were diesel. Need I say more? One day my best friend’s dad pulled up in a brand-new 1993 Lexus LS 400 for the school run. I had no idea cars could be assembled with that kind of precision and my world was changed forever. Needless to say, when the Lexus invited me to the unveiling of the fifth-generation LS, my expectations were set high.
The Lexus ES has been the best-selling Lexus sedan for decades, outselling every Lexus model except for the RX. While the ES was originally designed as the Japanese luxury brand’s entry-level vehicle in America, it is slowly becoming one of Lexus’ flagship products. To prove to us that Lexus has what it takes to reign supreme in the FWD luxury class they created in 1989, they flew us up to Oregon to sample the all-new, sixth generation ES 350 and 300h hybrid.
With each revision since 1990, BMWs have become more like Lexus. Meanwhile, Lexus (some of them, anyway) have become more like BMWs. With the latest iterations, have the 5-Series and GS met somewhere in a muddled middle, or does each retain a distinct identity?
2013 will bring a new version of the Lexus ES, and we’ve already seen its new mug from photographers in China. Yet even with the new ES in the wings, Lexus is on track to sell 40,000 “lame duck” models, making it the most popular Lexus car and the second most popular Lexus vehicle after the RX350. As a goodbye to the “Lexus Camry,” we took one for a road trip from Northern California to Southern California – a sort of farewell to an important but sometimes misunderstood luxury car.
Someone (I can’t find it, our search function sucks) once said that “when Bertel Schmitt reviews a car, he does it from the back seat, with a driver.” Which is true.
Heads of state will agree, being driven is the most dignified mode of transportation. Add to that the fact that the Lexus GS 350 has been driven and reviewed multiple times by Jack Baruth AND Alex Dykes, and you will understand why I chose to review the Lexus GS 350 from a position of power: From the back seat. Which, after all, is the most appropriate perspective to view a luxury vehicle from.
Sometimes I have troubles viewing Lexus with an objective eye. The first car that ever excited me was the 1993 Lexus LS400 my best friend’s dad bought. It wasn’t the driving experience that delivered the “wow” factor; it was the fact that everything inside seemed deliberately perfect from the leather seams, to the wood that wasn’t bubbling and peeling like a 2 year old Jag. In truth, the LS400, like most Lexus models, was a bit boring, but as this LS example has survived almost 20 years and 300,000 miles with an owner that doesn’t believe in regular maintenance, excitement is not the biggest selling point, but perhaps it should factor in there somewhere. We’ve heard it from Lexus before: wait! We have an exciting car this time! This year’s example: the 2013 GS. You’ve heard my comrade Jack’s take in part one, lets dive into part two.
When it rains, it pours. Both Alex Dykes and I were lucky enough to get a slot in the West Coast media introduction for the 2013 Lexus GS350, GS350 F-Sport, and GS450h. Rather than do a “Take One” and “Take Two”, we decided to handle it the way OutKast would. Alex, like OutKast’s BigBoi, will be delivering a robust, well-rounded album, er, review, chock-full of on-road impressions and wide-angle interior photography. I will play the Andre3000 role (of course) and share with you The Love Below: performance-related impressions from driving four different GS variants, along with the Mercedes E350 and BMW 535i, through Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s short road course.
Put the needle on the record and the pedal to the metal: it’s time to meet the new Lexus.
Most folks aren’t into cars.
They do want advice though; which is tricky for the B&B. While auto enthusiasts like us seek the Coltranes and Metallicas of vehicular enjoyment. They prefer… well… Jimmy Buffett. A well executed car that makes them feel comfortable, has a touch of ‘fun’ at times (the non-enthusiast types of fun), and can go about the transport business for a good decade and change with the same tune and minimal fuss.
They want Maragaritaville without the DUI.
All the convertibles in the $40,000 to $60,000 range seek to attract this mainstream audience. Can the Lexus IS250c do it better? And if so, at what price?
If there’s one thing you get here at TTAC, it’s diversity. Well, it’s actually sarcasm, but you also get diversity. Here’s an example: This week, we tested two different cars. Out on the West Coast, Alex and his partner were rolling around in a completely electric Nissan Leaf. Imagine them, gliding silently down the road, perhaps having a polite conversation about the proper color of glass for one’s table service. No, that isn’t a stereotype, I happen to know that he’s actually worrying about that. Think of the peace! The quiet! The sustainability!
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, your humble author was thumping a Lexus IS-F down the back straight at Summit Point’s Shenandoah Raceway. I had a stunning-looking young woman from metro DC trapped in the passenger seat and digging her nails into the door handle. We were swinging the needle past 110mph, deep into the braking zone, gulping fuel at a rate of just four miles per gallon.
It’s hard to believe that one site can bring you both kinds of coverage, the same way it’s hard to believe that the Leaf and the IS-F can both be produced by the same enormous Japanese conglomerate.
When I was car shopping back in 2006 the Lexus IS350 found its way to the top of my spreadsheet, and I do mean spreadsheet. With anal resolve I had evaluated 8 vehicles, scored them, photographed them, ranked them and the IS350 came in second. What was first? A Volvo V70R (apples and oranges, I know). At the time I thanked the helpful Lexus sales guy and told him “if there was an AWD IS350, I’d buy it tomorrow.” Well, 5 years later there finally is an IS350 AWD, but am I buying it tomorrow? Let’s find out.
Time was Toyota thoroughly redesigned its cars every four years. Then every five. And lately not even that often. Consequently, for its sixth model year the second-generation Lexus IS received just a few tweaks. The most notable: at long last all-wheel-drive is available with an engine torquey enough to take advantage of its additional traction, namely the IS 350’s 306-horsepower, 277-foot-pounds direct-injected 3.5-liter V6.
Luxury means many things to many people, but nobody doubts luxury cars should be crammed full of the latest technology… and what says “technology” in today’s car market quite like “Hybrid”? In a strange inversion of history, Lexus created the world’s first hybrid luxury flagship from a vehicle that was clearly inspired by the Mercedes S-Class, and now Mercedes is fighting back with its first hybrid sedan, the S400 Hybrid. So, is Lexus’s hybrid head-start enough to fend off a challenge from the vehicle that inspired its birth over a twenty years ago? The only way to find out is in TTAC’s most expensive comparison test ever.
Car enthusiasts have been apt to criticize SUVs as irrational because few owners ever take them off-road. But, by the same token, how many owners of high-performance sports cars drive them at anything approaching their full potential? Venturing beyond cars, how many owners of diver’s watches actually scuba dive? And how many dSLR cameras are being used just like a $99 point-and-shoot? Clearly people are psychologically attracted to high-performance objects, even if they won’t actually utilize the potential of these objects. This doesn’t mean that the objects themselves don’t make sense. And yet, during my week with a Lexus LX 570, I struggled to make this 5,995-pound, technology-packed, luxurious SUV make sense.
A Lexus without wood is like Dolly Parton without tits. The music of the experience takes your breath away and yet… you just feel something is missing. Is it the smile? The wig? When I looked at the press release clippings of the Lexus CT200h, I had trouble with the entire car. You want a sporty hybrid with the acceleration of a 15-year-old Camry to compete with the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series? I know Toyota wants to build more hybrids. But as the owner of two hybrids, I thought this car would represent a Cimmaron moment for hybrids and the Lexus brand. Then I saw it in person. Perception and reality battled it out, and this is what I found.
Any way you slice Toyota’s sales figures for the past 5 years, its obvious that despite a ballooning product portfolio Lexus is in a world of hurt. Sales are down, the other import brands have improved their quality and buyers seem to be embracing a more performance-oriented (or is that German-oriented?) luxury style. But rather than re-orienting the Lexus brand to directly take on surging BMW, Audi and Mercedes sales, Toyota has doubled down on its major competitive advantage: hybrids.The recently-launched HS250h was Lexus’s first stab at an entry-premium hybrid, but after just a few months on sale it’s already going nowhere fast. With CAFÉ changes looming, Lexus may eventually benefit from an all-hybrid luxury line-up, but in the meantime the very idea of a luxury hybrid needs a shot in the arm. Is the CT200h hatchback hybrid the answer?
Robert Farago didn’t have many kind words for the cars he reviewed. But, while noting the car’s shortcomings, he lavished quite a few on the Lexus IS-F, even implying that he’d like to own one. How did Lexus’s first attempt at an ultra-high-performance car manage to melt RF’s normally stone cold heart?
There are certain phrases that, when heard in the proper context, signal that one has truly arrived in life. Phrases like “your table is waiting,” and “would you like a drink before we take off?” clearly belong in this comforting category. Strangely, however, the phrase “welcome to Beverly Hills, here are the keys to your Lexus IS250C,” does not.
Every luxury car make seems compelled to explore how low it can venture in the American market without hopelessly devaluing the brand. Mercedes no longer offers the C-Class hatchback Coupe and has shied away from offering the A- and B-Classes in the United States. BMW hasn’t offered a semi-affordable four-cylinder here since the 318ti was sent packing a decade ago. The Jaguar X-Type didn’t cut the mustard on this side of the pond. And Cadillac is still waiting for the world to forget the 1980s Cimmaron. Unfazed by this clear pattern of failure, Toyota for 2010 offers up the Lexus HS 250h. So, shall the ridicule begin?
Lexus should include a PlayStation 3 with every GS350 they sell the public, so the new owners can take their new vehicle for a spin around the Nurburgring in “Gran Turismo.” That way they’d be able to safely enjoy their new Lexus and not waste a single penny in gas. Either way, the driving experience wouldn’t change much.
I am, of course, urging Roman Mica of tflcar.com to take a little more time for his reviews, deploy a few metaphors and tell us how he really feels. Remember: this internet deal is a two-way thing. If you’ve got some pointers for our budding videographer/reviewer, share them here. As with written work, TTAC welcomes new video contributors without regard to their editorial slant. All I ask is that the overall production quality meets the standard set by Mr. Mica and that you do NOT sound like a fanboy or a total asshole (that’s my job). Send an embed code (from YouTube) to email@example.com.
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