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First Drive: 2015 Lexus RC F

When "F" is more than a passing grade.

by on Sep.11, 2014

The 2015 Lexus RC F takes some laps on the 3.6-mile loop at Monticello Motor Club.

Brand names are something like a word association game. Manufacturers go to great lengths to get potential buyers to immediately think good thoughts whenever they’re mentioned. Mercedes-Benz? Plush and luxurious. BMW? The ultimate driving machine. And Lexus?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with being reliable and offering a good value, but the Japanese maker would also like to associate the word, “passionate,” with the brand, something that’s not easy to pull off with products like the ES sedan line or the CT200h hybrid.

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But you might just have to think again if you get a chance to slip behind the wheel of the new Lexus RC coupe – especially if its bears the single modifier, “F.” While that may be a failing grade for some, our first experience with the new 2015 Lexus RC F found it passing with flying colors and ready to give challenge to some of its better-known European luxury performance competitors.

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First Drive: 2014 Lexus IS

This time it’s more than just plain vanilla.

by on May.23, 2013

The new sedan - the IS 250 shown here - adopts the Lexus spindle grille design.

It wasn’t all that long ago when Lexus dominated the U.S. luxury market, but despite its continuing strength in quality and customer service surveys, the Toyota luxury brand has been losing momentum to European makers BMW and Mercedes-Benz, never mind upstarts such as Audi.

It doesn’t help that the buzz around its vehicles has shrunk to something like a very faint hum, its sales more and more dependent on its primary crossover vehicle, the RX.  While that may be propping up the numbers, it also might trigger a sense of déjà vu for the sepia-tinged era when station wagons ruled the road.

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Company officials, notably including Toyota President Akio Toyoda are clearly worried and looking for ways to kick-start the brand. Among other things, they’ve been talking a lot about passion, these days, something that Lexus translates as the more sporty design language that one finds on the newly restyled Lexus IS.  The good news is that with this entry-level sedan beauty is more than skin deep, the 2014 IS reminding us why Lexus soared to the top of the U.S. luxury market in the first place.

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First Drive: 2013 Lexus LS

Raising the bar – and the flag – a little higher.

by on Aug.13, 2012

The 2013 Lexus LS 460 adopts the maker's new spindle grille.

Few cars have had a more dramatic impact on the automotive market than the Lexus LS.  The original sedan – launched in 1989 as a 1990 model – definitively redefined the luxury segment, proving that the Japanese could go head-to-head, toe-to-toe with the best the Germans had to offer.

The original LS put a premium on quality, reliability and customer services, tackling nagging weaknesses German stalwarts like Mercedes-Benz and BMW had long tried to ignore. It paid off for the new Toyota luxury brand, Lexus surging on both the customer satisfaction and sales charts.  But as Lexus General Manager Mark Templin readily admits, the quality gap has largely closed and the Germans are pushing hard to improve customer service. So, for many luxury buyers, the real differentiators are again what they were before Lexus arrived on the scene: performance and styling.

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That’s been a problem for Lexus, the last decade seeing it settle for bland and general boring designs wrapped around platforms that were more conveyances than driving machines. Last year, however, Lexus gave a first hint of something different, none other than Toyota President Akio Toyoda personally lifting the covers on the new Lexus GS and promising to pump more passion into the brand.  But the real test arrives this autumn with the launch of the marque’s newly redesigned flagship, the 2013 Lexus LS.

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First Look: 2013 Lexus LS 460

Putting some passion into the flagship.

by on Jul.31, 2012

Lexus delivers a more passionate take on its LS flagship, the new LS 460 F Sport shown here.

Few cars did more to revolutionize the market than the original 1990 Lexus LS 400, a flagship for Toyota’s new luxury marque and proof positive the Japanese really could go toe-to-toe with the best of the German competition.

In the nearly quarter-century since the LS line first appeared, however, Lexus has played it increasingly safe, especially when it has come to design, no wonder the big 4-door has lately lost ground to the more aggressive Europeans.  But during the preview of the smaller Lexus GS last year, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda promised to punch some more passion into the brand — and the 2013 Lexus LS 460 that debuted in San Francisco last night is a clear indication of what he meant.

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At a gathering of 500 invited guests from the San Francisco arts and design community, Lexus actually showed up four different versions of the flagship sedan: the “base” LS 460, the long-wheelbase LS 460L, the LS 600h and the new LS 460 F- Sport, a more aggressive addition to the line-up.

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Bye-Bye Lexus HS250h, We Hardly Knew Ye – nor Cared

Lexus hybrid quietly slips into oblivion.

by on May.17, 2012

Oh, they're not building it anymore?

You might not have noticed.  Indeed, it seems pretty much everyone but the folks on the assembly line missed the fact that the Lexus HS250h went out of production back in January.

And no surprise.  Even at its launch in mid-2009 normally upbeat U.S. officials for the Toyota luxury brand were already making apologies for what was billed as the first dedicated Lexus hybrid.  It was cramped and slow, with a strangely laid-out interior that hardly supported the marketing claim that it was a high-mileage luxury car.

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Consumers all but ignored the Lexus HS250h, sales plunging to a marginal 2,864 last year, down a whopping 73% from 2010’s already anemic numbers.

Lexus allowed the HS to go gently into the automotive equivalent of that good, dark night and its departure might not have been noticed had it not been for a question posed by Inside Line.

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Lexus GS F Sport Debuts at SEMA

Adding some passion to a traditionally staid brand.

by on Nov.02, 2011

Lexus hopes to deliver a more passioned driving experience with the new GS F Sport.

Toyota is hoping to pump a little passion into its traditionally staid luxury brand Lexus, and is betting the new GS F Sport will be a major piece in that grand transformation.

The second model to wear the “F” badge is making its formal debut at this year’s SEMA Show, the annual aftermarket extravaganza in Las Vegas.

Most luxury buyers “don’t put ‘Lexus’ and ‘performance’ into the same sentence,” admits Brian Smith, the Toyota subsidiary’s vice president and general manager.  But that, he hopes, has begun to change – first with the launch of the Lexus IS-F muscle car and, now, with the addition of the GS F Sport.

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The latest offering shares most of its fundamentals with the Lexus GS350, which was unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance back in August.  (Click Here for a closer look at that  sedan.)

The new model is “the first to wear the new face of Lexus,” proclaimed Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, during the California preview, a new “spindle grille” framed by hockey stick-shaped LCD running lamps.  The overall shape of the car is more angular and distinctive, as well.

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First Look: Lexus CT200h F-Sport

Adding a bolder look - but no more muscle - to the hybrid line.

by on Sep.16, 2011

With the Lexus CT200h F-Sport the difference is in the eyes of the beholder. Nothing changes under the skin.

Say the word, “hybrid,” and you’re likely to respond with, “Toyota.”  And for good reason, considering the maker accounts for 75% of the gas-electric vehicles currently on the road, primarily in the form of the Toyota Prius.  But the Japanese maker’s luxury marque has arguably made an even bigger commitment to hybrid technology, with a mix of models already accounting for nearly 15% of its total volume.

That includes the CT200h, which plugged into the Lexus line-up last year.  If anything, the CT seems to have been designed primarily with the European market in mind, the hybrid generating 30,000 sales in less than a year on the market there.  But, if anything, critics have found it a bit wanting.  And Lexus hopes to address those concerns with the Frankfurt Motor Show preview of the revised CT200h F-Sport.

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Don’t get your hopes up too high, however.  Early on, Lexus seemed intent on emphasizing performance, as much as fuel-efficiency, with hybrids like the original GS450h.  It has since shifted the focus to mileage.  So, despite being designated an F-Sport — a designation that’s supposed to signal the most peppy models in the Lexus line-up — the CT200h will remain a more luxurious version of the less-than-thrilling Toyota Prius and not a vehicle whose driving behavior will call to mind the word “sporty.”

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Lexus Teases GS 450h Hybrid and GS F-Sport

Targeting the extremes.

by on Aug.29, 2011

Lexus offers a hint of what's to come with the GS F-Sport and GS 450h hybrid models.

Less than two weeks after lifting the covers on its next-generation GS 350 sedan, Lexus is offering up a tease of what’s to come, later this year, when it formally unveils two other spin-offs from the midsize GS line: the performance-oriented F-Sport and gas-electric GS 450h.

The hybrid will make its debut at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show, an increasingly common backdrop for environmentally-friendly products.  The F-Sport, meanwhile, will be revealed at the annual SEMA show, an aftermarket extravaganza in Las Vegas.

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The GS has traditionally been the sportiest line in the Lexus model mix, other than the track-ready IS-F, (which was the first F-Sport model).  Curiously, the original GS 450h was intended to demonstrate the performance potential of gas-electric technology, though critics said it was neither fish nor fowl, neither sporty enough nor fuel-efficient enough.

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First Look: 2013 Lexus GS

A “new face” for Toyota’s luxury brand.

by on Aug.19, 2011

The 2013 Lexus GS ushers in some big changes for Toyota's luxury brand.

It’s been a tough year for Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand slipping behind BMW in the U.S. sales sweepstakes.  Part of the problem has been the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Japanese auto industry, but industry observers also warn that potential buyers may be shifting to other luxury brands in search of more passionate products.

With that in mind, Lexus is out to reinvent itself, declared Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota Motor Co., during a speech in Pebble Beach, California Thursday night.  The executive’s relatively rare American appearance underscored the importance of the 2013 Lexus GS sedan which was given a splashy preview during the lead-up to the weekend’s annual Concours d’Elegance.

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“This is the first car to wear the new face of Lexus,” the executive, the grandson of Toyota’s founder, proclaimed.  But the new sedan is more than just a new styling exercise, Toyoda added.  It is the result of an intensive effort designed to get more in touch with the brand’s customers and, as such, “Lexus is leading the way in how the entire Toyota Motor Company should operate.”

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First Look: Lexus LF-Gh

Japanese luxury maker lifts the kimono prior to NYAS preview.

by on Apr.12, 2011

Lexus provides an advance look at its new grand touring concept, the LF-Gh.

It’s going to be a busy week for the motoring scribes heading to New York for the upcoming New York Auto Show, which may be why Lexus has decided to stage an early, online reveal of the all-new LF-Gh hybrid.

Set to replace the aging Lexus GS450h hybrid, the new rear-drive model is expected to see the maker try to balance both performance and fuel economy with the latest version of its hybrid synergy drive system.

Officially described as a “concept” vehicle, the Lexus LF-Gh is nonetheless expected to reappear in a form very similar to that of the prototype formally debuting at the Big Apple’s Jacob Javits convention center.

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The name, the Toyota division reveals, is short for Lexus Future Grand Touring Hybrid.  Its styling, says the marque’s design chief, Kengo Matsumoto, is an evolution of the Lexus L-Finesse design theme that has been used for such current models as the LS600h and CT200h hybrids.

“For this concept,” he notes, “Lexus designers studied characteristics that are often considered contradictory and difficult to execute together. The captivating design of the LF-Gh concept examines the possibility of balancing what are normally opposing qualities, such as style and functionality.”

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