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How Lexus defeated ‘the best car in the world’

Lexus LS 400 1990

When Chris Goffey tested the Lexus LS 400 for Top Gear in 1990, he claimed that it was “petrifyingly good”. A rather appropriate turn of phrase, because the bosses at Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar must have felt a little petrified when Japan’s first global luxury car wafted into view at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show.

Twenty years on, it would be easy to be a tad dismissive of the LS 400, maybe rolling out the tiresome reference to the ‘Japanese S-Class’ as if this would be a suitable replacement for a fit and proper analysis of the car’s impact on the luxury car market.

Lexus didn’t just get within a hair’s breadth of the luxury establishment, it made itself comfortable at the top table, enjoyed a hearty lobster thermidor lunch with a half a bottle of Chablis, before heading outside to win a three-ball against a German and a Brit.

Building the perfect beast

Building the best car in the world is easier said than done. Armed with a billion dollars and with a team of the best designers and engineers in the business, creating automotive excellence sounds straightforward enough. But expectations are higher at the top of the market, and there’s a long way to fall if you get it wrong.

This reality wasn’t lost on Eiji Toyoda when he launched the Circle F project in 1983. The F stands for ‘Flagship’ – as if to emphasise the task in hand.

Toyota wasn’t entirely a luxury car virgin. But while the Crown and Century could cut it in the domestic market, they were unlikely to make an impact on the global market. Wool fabric seats and lace curtains don’t tend to feature on the list of demands for the majority of luxury car buyers.

Yukiyasu Togo, the president and CEO of Toyota’s US division, was convinced that Toyota could build a luxury car. More importantly, he knew that there was a gap in the North American market for such a vehicle. A generation of increasingly affluent ‘baby boomers’ were growing out of their Toyota compacts and sedans and upgrading to something German.

Baby come back

Toyota Camry 1986

Toyota was losing loyal customers left, right and centre – a Camry had neither the brand or the prestige to join the ‘baby boomers’ on their climb up the social ladder. Reintroducing the Crown was given serious consideration, but it was too small, underpowered and out of touch with American tastes.

Which is why a team of researchers were dispatched to the US to get inside the hearts and minds of the American luxury car buyer. Hundreds of potential buyers were interviewed, with videos sent over to the designers and engineers in Japan. Such insight proved to be invaluable during the development of the LS 400 – no guesswork was involved, and nothing was left to chance.

For the next six years, the team led by chief engineer Ichiro Suzuki sweated over the tiniest details in the pursuit of greatness. Meanwhile, the marketing team had to settle the small matter of what to call the car.

It turned out to be a launch, not just of a car, but an entirely new brand. The original plan was to badge it as a luxury Toyota, but research showed that this wouldn’t cut it, so a new brand was required. But what to call it?

Say my name

More than 200 names were considered, including Alexis, Calibre, Chaparel, Vectre and Verone, but Lexus was chosen after project manager John French had a play with some letters. The ‘A’ was dropped from Alexis to create Lexis, with the ‘i’ substituted for a ‘u’ because it sounded smoother and more upmarket.

Meanwhile, the engineers were breaking new ground and charting fresh waters with the development of the luxury car. From the outset, Ichiro Suzuki insisted that the LS 400 should feel the same at 50,000 miles as it did when it rolled out of the factory, which created an unbelievable amount of work for this team.

No fewer than 450 prototypes were built – the first one was finished in 1985 – with the exterior design approved in 1987 after the production of 14 full-scale models. The car visited a wind tunnel on 50 different occasions, with the engineers placing microphones all over the vehicle in a quest to eliminate wind noise.

Supra trooper

It underwent three million miles of testing, including high-speed runs on the German Autobahn. At the time, Toyota had just the one car that could travel at speeds in excess of 110mph, but the Supra was aimed at a different clientele.

The obsessive nature of the development extended to the creation of the stiffest body shell, featuring welds 1.5 times stronger than a regular car. The development also included the world’s first laser welding techniques, while the computer-measured panel gaps were designed to be as narrow as possible.

Interestingly, the distance between the bonnet and front wings, and boot lid and rear quarter panels were designed not to be parallel. This was so that when the car was viewed head-on, the perspective of a slightly tapered gap actually appears more parallel.

Other details included windscreen wipers angled to change position as the car’s speed increased, an automatic transmission with its own ECU for smoothness, a prop shaft engineered to be vibration free, and double wishbones at each corner for dynamic handling. Such was the blend of ride comfort and sharp cornering, the optional air suspension was almost surplus to requirement.

Power and glory

Lexus LS400 interior

On the inside, Toyota spent two years deciding on the right tanning methods, textures and feel for the upholstery, with the designers calling upon the help of Yamaha’s experience with pianos and violins when creating the wood finish.

In truth, the interior felt somewhere between American and German styles, and while the quality was first-rate, it lacked a genuine wow factor. That was until you fired up the 4.0-litre V8, at which point the black fascia would reveal a set of Optitron gauges that glowed with a 3D effect. A subtle and sophisticated take on the more traditional dials.

In creating the 1UZ-FE engine, Toyota tested a total of 973 prototypes as it endeavoured to build the smoothest and most efficient V8 in the world. Lightweight aluminium cam followers in the valve train were designed to maintain smoothness at high revs, with the engineers reducing the machining tolerances of all moving parts by up to 50 percent.

The result was a super-smooth and virtually vibration-free engine, as ably demonstrated by the ‘glass of water test’. Try perching a glass on the motor of the LS 400’s contemporary rivals, and you’d be left with a soggy engine bay.

Appetite for destruction

Toyota left nothing to chance in the pursuit of perfection – all parts were tested to destruction and subjected to an accelerated ageing process. Little wonder, then, that the final production version caused such a stir in 1989. There were no concepts or teaser models before Detroit – Toyota went straight for the jugular, catching the Germans off-guard.

Although the LS 400 was built alongside the Soarer and Supra at Toyota’s Tahara plant, it had its own exclusive assembly line and was subjected to 1,600 different quality checks. No LS 400 would leave the factory until it was fit to woo Mr Merc, Mr BMW and Mr Jag.

In a rather ingenious and mischievous move, the great and the good of the automotive press were invited to Germany for the international press launch. Sure, it meant that the journos could experience the smooth operator on the de-restricted Autobahns of Germany, but it was no coincidence that Lexus was playing in its rivals’ backyard.

Shiny happy customers

1990 Lexus LS 400

Lexus and the LS 400 were scoring points all over the yard. Toyota had thought of everything – design, engineering, PR, marketing and customer relations. Even when a brake light recall threatened to take the shine off the LS 400’s polished image in the US, Lexus scored points by sending technicians to the houses of each owner to rectify the problem before Christmas.

And, in a masterclass of turning a negative into a positive, each car was even treated to a valet and a full tank of fuel. Brilliant.

All that American research paid off. The initial batch of 1,000 cars was snapped up, and by the end of 1989, Lexus had hit its forecast of 16,000 sales. It was sold alongside the Camry-based ES 250 with a remarkably low price tag of $35,000, which led to BMW circulating rumours that Lexus was making a loss on every car it sold.

One could argue that its rivals remained just ahead of the LS 400 in key departments – the S-Class in terms of quality and refinement, the 7 Series for driver appeal, and the XJ6 for the cabin and brand heritage. But the LS 400 offered consistent qualities across the board, delivering exceptional value for money.

Absolutely flawless

‘In all our years of evaluating cars, we’ve rarely had to work this hard to discover faults with a particular automobile,’ proclaimed Motorweek in a gushing review.

Car magazine was similarly positive, saying it beat the S-Class ‘hands down’, judging it to be better than the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. Was it perfect? Of course not, but the fact that it came mightily close to perfection is remarkable for a company with no experience of building a luxury car for a global audience.

Opinions varied – some road testers loved the quality of the leather, while others said it felt cheap alongside its rivals. It was a similar story with the wood, switchgear and plastics. With the benefit of hindsight, the LS 400 probably lacked one crucial element – prestige.

At the time, the Lexus logo on the centre of the steering wheel had no heritage and zero provenance. It might have featured a banging stereo, a trick fascia and a level of finish to rival the very best, but without the brand equity, it would be playing catch up for years to come.

Anti-establishment

Lexus LS 400 UK 1990

The LS 400 arrived in the UK in 1990 and soon became the choice of the enlightened and the educated. Armed with a price tag around £35,000, Lexus had the ammunition to rip down the establishment in a display of stealth-like precision.

Only a lack of brand awareness and the fact that the LS 400 was being sold alongside the likes of the Starlet and Corolla in 44 of Toyota’s 200 or so dealers could hold it back. Arriving in the midst of a recession didn’t help, but the LS 400 was good enough to enable Lexus to establish a foothold on the luxury car mountain, and it has been climbing ever since.

Today, the Lexus LS 400 remains a canny choice for the used car buyer in search of luxury on a budget. While spending sub-£3,000 on an equivalent German car would like putting your life savings in the hands of a Las Vegas gambler, the LS 400 is a less risky affair.

Why settle for a ‘German LS’ when you can drive the best car in the world?

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Hardcore Lexus RC F Track Edition wows Detroit Show

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

The updated Lexus RC F has debuted at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, complete with a hopped-up, be-winged Track Edition. What has Lexus done to kick its BMW M4 rival into shape?

Beauty in the eye of the key-holder

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

Well, it’s certainly not softened up the styling. The RC F still features the marque’s aggressive ‘Predator’-style schnoz, with a bit of added chin and snarl to denote sporting intent.

The lights are updated, with single-piece units at the front and a cleaner design at the back. The RC F, for the most part, looks the same. It remains a visual tonic to some and just a bit fussy to others.

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

Under the skin of the standard car, bushes and mounts have been tightened to sharpen up the chassis. New, specially-designed Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres are said to reduce understeer, improve lateral grip and be more durable. Launch control now comes as standard, too – you’ll get to 62mph in 4.5 seconds with it engaged.

The lovely old V8 remains and is up on power slightly. An increase of 5hp gives the 2019 RC F 472hp, while torque is up by 6lb ft to 395lb ft. We’d wager the fundamental rev-happy character goes unchanged and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What’s new for the Track Edition?

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

There’s no mistaking the Track Edition for anything else. That massive carbon rear wing, heat-treated exhaust tips, carbon bonnet, black wheels and satin paint are a dead giveaway for the more track-honed model.

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

The fixed wing takes the place of the active item on the standard car and is said to reduce drag while increasing downforce by 26kg. As you’d expect of a track-focused model, weight is down – in this case by between 70kg and 80kg.

A major focus has been put on unsprung weight, with a view to improving driving feel. As a result, carbon ceramic brakes are standard for the Track Edition, as are new GT3-inspired 19-inch forged BBS alloy wheels. All in, that helps lop 25kg off the unsprung weight at the front alone.

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

Elsewhere, carbon fibre helps fight the paunch, including that enormous bonnet and the roof panel.

An exotic-looking exhaust is made of titanium and helps save even more weight. It should make for a spectacular musical accompaniment, too, given the 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 remains.

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

What’s the RC F like on the inside?

Inside, the pleasing ‘1990s hi-fi’ aesthetic remains. Lurid leather and ‘F’ badges make sure you never forget you’re in the quick one.

The Track Edition doesn’t appear to rob the standard car of any of its luxo-barge credentials.

Lexus RC F 2019 Track Edition

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Lexus LY 650

The new Lexus flagship is a luxury yacht

Lexus LY 650

It should come as no surprise to discover that Lexus has built a luxury yacht. After all, car manufacturers have filled just about every last niche in the automotive segment. Exploring new territories is an obvious next step.

So, when Lexus took to social media to tease the launch of a new flagship, it meant it quite literally. Forget boulevard cruisers and golf clubs, the Lexus LY 650 is about sipping Veuve Clicquot at the marina and sharing Instagram posts offshore at Palma de Mallorca.

This isn’t the first time Toyota’s posh department has taken to the high seas, and the LY 650 follows ventures into the worlds of culinary, design and film as examples of exposing the Lexus brand to those who may not love cars as much as you do.

Lexus handled the design of the LY 650 and left Marquis-Larson of Wisconsin to handle all the boaty stuff, including the build, sales and servicing.

Whether or not you can see the ‘L-finesse’ design language in the yacht is largely irrelevant – this is Lexus telling the world it can do more than build super-reliable cars for folk with a penchant for Pringle jumpers and white ankle socks.

‘Dream-like vision’

Lexus Yacht

The 65.5ft yacht is powered by a choice of Volvo engines, features three staterooms and sleeps six. There’s no word on price, but as the first LY 650 won’t be finished until the second half of 2019, you have plenty of time to save your dollars.

According to Lexus, the development of the yacht was fuelled by executive vice president Shigeki Tomoyama’s desire to “present a dream-like vision of the luxury lifestyle [that] expands the potential of Lexus mobility to the ocean.”

Which is all well and good, but deep down you know you’ll use this news as an excuse to check out bargain first-generation LS400s on Auto Trader. Yours for a dozen bottles of Veuve Clicquot.

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Lexus LS for sale

Are you brave enough to buy this ‘million-mile’ Lexus?

Lexus LS400

What car brand has a reputation for high miles? Old Mercedes-Benz famously do, but so too do Japanese brands such as Toyota, Honda… and Lexus, which launched with a bang with the mightly LS400 pictured above.

Almost three decades on from the premium Toyota division’s launch, there are now some pretty leggy Lexus out there. Such a this one, in America, pictured below. It is for sale on Craigslist, with a heady 985,000 miles, for $2,600. That’s just over £2,000, for a car with just under a million miles on the odo.

Indeed, the owner proudly opens with, “this is my ‘million mile Lexus”. It’s still got its original V8 which allegedly has never had the heads off. Regular maintenance including spark plugs every 20,000 miles, oil every 3,000 and water pumps every 50,000.

The brakes are clean, with the machining of discs and the refurbishment of callipers being carried out very recently. The cabin is referred to as ‘mint’, as is the bodywork, with all the necessary precautions and beyond taken to keep it as such: parking far away, not smoking – standard procedure.

Lexus LS for sale

The transmission ‘shifts like new’ without being opened up and the air-con ‘blows cold’ without so much as a re-gas. All told, this Lexus LS could be the ideal one-owner buy for someone interested in a well-heeled luxury classic. Whether “this car can last another million miles” remains to be seen, though…

This is one of many LSs floating around that have done mega miles. Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire has a 950,000+ mile example that he’s put near 80,000 on since purchase. These cars are well-known to be able to pile on the miles. 

The LS was Lexus’s hammer-blow first entry to the market, to show the world what it was made of. Ironic that the fullest effects of its over-engineering are only most evident nearly 30 years later.

Most other cars with this kind of mileage will have an element of ‘Trigger’s broom’. Do enough miles and little beyond the body in white and the block isn’t a consumable.

Not so with the original Lexus LS: is this the most prolific ‘million-mile’ hero car, or do you know of one that’s done more?

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2018 Lexus LS teased: luxury saloon will rival Mercedes S-Class

2018 Lexus LS teased: luxury saloon will rival Mercedes S-Class

2018 Lexus LS teased: luxury saloon will rival Mercedes S-Class

Lexus has released this teaser picture of its new range-topping LS saloon ahead of its debut at January’s Detroit Auto Show.

While the picture doesn’t reveal a great deal about the new LS, it does suggest its styling will be similar to the Lexus LC500 coupe.

The current Lexus LS has received only minor changes since 2006 and is looking dated alongside rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series.

With prices of the outgoing model starting at £99,995 (in 600h L guise), buyers are right to expect something a bit special – and Lexus will be looking to offer that in the new model, which will be packed with technology.

Based on the same GA-L platform as the LC500, the 2018 LS will feature autonomous driving functions, front and rear touchscreens – and it’s likely to use hydrogen power.

The hydrogen-powered LF-LC concept car, which previewed the new LS at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, used two in-wheel electric motors at the front, while a larger electric drive motor powered the rear wheels.

More conventional powertrains are expected when the LS first goes on sale in 2018. Expect the line-up to mirror that of the LC500 – so there’ll be a hybrid 3.5-litre V6 on offer, alongside a range-topping V8.

We’ll find out more about the 2018 Lexus LS at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show in January.

Jude Law Lexus

Jude Law drives a Lexus RX SUV around London

Jude Law LexusJude Law has spent the night driving himself around London hotspots in a Lexus RX SUV as part of a fully improvised, fully livestreamed performance.

After driving to The Box cabaret club in the white hybrid Lexus, Law was told that, for the next 45 minutes, his was in the hands of the livestream viewers. They then got to have a say in what happened next.

Jude Law Lexus

Law’s rather confusing task was to bring together a cast for an on-stage performance. A director gave him stage and script directions, but not much else.

So Law hit the road, in the Lexus RX kindly provided by the Japanese firm.

Jude Law Lexus

He drove to speakeasy-style restaurant Zima, Ronnie Scott’s jazz club to find a composer, and to hunt out Jorge Rodriquez-Garcia, a famous Spanish street artist, to help him with set design.

Jude Law Lexus

The fully-loaded Lexus then returned to The Box to complete the final scene on stage. Oh, with Laura Mvula providing musical accompaniment.

Jude Law Lexus

The film shot by Lexus better explains what happens, but Law was pleased with his night’s work, despite having to do all the driving. “You don’t often get the opportunity to be part of something that allows you to be totally spontaneous and create a story from scratch.”

It’s not the first time Law, who was born in Lewisham in south-east London, has worked with Lexus, but this challenge was very different to the usual initiatives, not least because it was livestreamed across Europe. Allowing fans, said Law, to decide how the story unfolds in real time.

So if you happened upon a white Lexus RX surrounded by paparazzi around Piccadilly Circus last night, now you know why.

Lexus LC 500

Detroit 2016: Lexus LC 500 luxury coupe revealed at NAIAS

Lexus LC 500Lexus has revealed its new LC 500 2+2 luxury coupe at the 2016 Detroit Motor Show, the car with which it’s hoping to sway well-heeled Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe buyers.

And on looks alone, Lexus could be onto a winner. The new LC is a very striking and shapely coupe that successfully brings to production the bold lines of Lexus’ well-received LF-LC Concept of 2012.

Lexus is betting big on it. No less than Akio Toyoda himself is banking on it: “The new LC 500 coupe’s proportions, stunning design and performance make a strong statement about our brand’s emotional direction and will increase Lexus’s global luxury appeal.”

New architecture

Lexus LC 500

The LC 500 is based on Lexus’ new global architecture for luxury cars, dubbed GA-L. All future front-engine, rear-wheel drive Lexus will be based upon this.

It has a low centre of gravity, masses have been centralised and occupants’ hips and legs are lower than ever. Even the overhangs have been shortened – and Lexus says it’s used run-flat tyres to improve packaging (and make space for the battery that’s been relocated from the engine bay).

It doesn’t quite achieve perfect weight distribution, but 52/48 front/rear isn’t bad.

The familiar super-high-revving 5.0-litre V8 from the RC F and GS F is used here, in 467hp guise. Lexus is targeting 0-62mph in less than 4.5 seconds, aided by the first use of its all-new 10-speed automatic gearbox.

Yes, 10-speed.

Dynamic interior

Lexus LC 500

Inside, Lexus has poured over details such as the size and angle of the steering wheel, feel of the paddleshifters and detailing of the dashboard structure.

Tadao Mori, chief designer, said: “At an early stage, the designers worked with the engineers to understand their vision for the LC 500’s driving dynamics, and they incorporated this into the design.

“This was one of the first projects where designers were closely involved in the dynamic engineering development, so we could understand the driving goals and support them with the car’s design.”

Lexus RX review: 2015 first drive

Lexus RX review: 2015 first drive

Lexus RX review: 2015 first drive

The Lexus RX is the SUV that’s been offering an eco-friendly alternative to gas-guzzling rivals since its launch in 1998. In true Lexus form, it has always snubbed diesel engines in favour of petrol hybrid models, and offered exceptional fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions figures.

It’s an important vehicle for Lexus – accounting for roughly a third of cars the brand sells in Europe. Yet it’s always remained cool and understated. Big and brash is what the German manufacturers do so well, ‘quietly competent’ is where Lexus has carved its niche.

Sales have been building steadily in recent years, and Lexus is on-track to sell 13,500 cars in the UK in 2015. It hopes to break the 16,000 barrier in 2016 – with 3,500 of those being RX models. They are tiny figures compared to other premium manufacturers, but for Toyota’s flagship brand, which has only been around in the UK since 1990, it’s respectable.

And, of course, there’s no denying that the recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal is likely to encourage customers to look elsewhere rather than defaulting to a diesel SUV. Lexus wouldn’t gloat on this – that’s not Lexus’s style – but it’s fair to assume they’re going to benefit from the fallout.

The 2016 Lexus RX is the fourth-generation model, heavily revamped over its predecessor. It’s based on the same platform, but has been extended, and the engines have been revised.

On the road

On the road

There are two engines available in the RX: the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol introduced in the NX earlier this year and a 3.5-litre hybrid petrol.

Just 10% of UK buyers are expected to opt for the entry-level petrol. And there’s little reason to as it’s thirsty – returning just 34.9mpg in the combined test when fitted with 20-inch alloys. But it’s not particularly fun to drive, either. If you’re buying a large petrol SUV, you’re probably expecting thrills, and the 2.0-litre turbo doesn’t offer them.

Understandably, the Lexus 350h hybrid is going to be much more popular. This combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with an electric motor to produce 312hp and reach 62mph in 7.7 seconds.

As is increasingly common with premium vehicles such as this, the driver can choose between different drive modes and, on Premier and F Sport models, can tune the adaptive variable suspension depending on whether you’d prefer a firmer, sportier ride or a more relaxed cruise.

We suspect most buyers will leave the RX in ‘normal’ mode. Opting for a sportier set-up means the CVT gearbox makes more noise than usual, and it feels unnatural to attempt making real progress in this car. The electronic steering, although improved over its predecessor, still offers little in the way of feedback, while body-roll is as you’d expect for an SUV of this size.

There’s no need to make the suspension firmer, either – Lexus has increased the body’s rigidity for the new RX, and it already provides a harsher ride than you may expect from Lexus.

When you a adopt a more restrained driving style, the RX makes for a much more likeable SUV. Around town, it’ll bimble in electric-only mode, and it’s hardly noticeable when the engine cuts in. On the motorway, unless you’re clumsy with the accelerator pedal and wind up the CVT gearbox, the RX will cruise in near-silence, doing a commendable job of masking wind and road noise.

We say ‘near-silence’. When cruising at A-road speeds, we noticed a few minor high-pitched noises from the hybrid system. In reality, they’re much less intrusive than a rumbling diesel engine, but they could irritate.

On the inside

On the inside

The Lexus RX is more spacious than before, with its platform lengthened by 120mm and seats lowered by 19mm to increase headroom. The hybrid system does eat up boot space slightly – as it always has done – but the boot isn’t small and the rear seats can be folded down to create more space.

Lexus says it has concentrated on improving the centre console but – as a downside of a car having so much kit – it’s still very cluttered. Despite having a huge 12.3-inch navigation screen on all models from the mid-range Luxury up, there are still stacks of buttons to operate everything from the climate control to the lane-keep assist (standard on all models). Competitors optimise a large touchscreen to incorporate all these controls, but Lexus is sticking with the old-fashioned system of using buttons. Everywhere.

The interior does manage to feel very premium, but no more so than rivals. It doesn’t do anything particularly special in this regard, and we’d go as far as questioning the taste of such features as wooden steering wheel found on the top-spec Premier model.

Running costs

Running costs

Running costs are going to be a huge factor in the purchase of most RX 350h models. Officially, this returns a respectable 51.4mpg on those fitted with 20-inch alloys (Luxury and upwards), and 54.3mpg on the entry-level hybrid SE model. That equates to 127g/km and 120g/km respectively.

Being a typical hybrid powertrain, rather than a plug-in model like those offered by German manufacturers, these figures are likely to be achievable in everyday conditions. Plug-in models rely on being charged before the official test, significantly distorting the official figures. We questioned Lexus about why they weren’t launching a plug-in hybrid RX, but they simply said there’s little market demand for it.

On the face of it, it would seem that the German manufacturers disagree. But, market research around the Prius model (which is available as a plug-in hybrid) has found that many people buy them for the tax benefits but never plug them in. When the RX is available as a hybrid with low tax rates, there’s little need for a plug-in version. The technology is there, however, if Lexus changes its mind.

Verdict

Verdict

Against rivals that are increasingly opulent and in-your-face, the RX will continue to have a hard time standing out. Its cabin is fine, but not as special as you’d perhaps expect in this sector, and it’s anything but thrilling to drive. It’s not a particularly practical proposition either,  with a small boot, just the five seats, and limited towing capabilities.

Where it excels, however, is being a relaxing and understated alternative to brash, diesel German SUVs. You’ll be making a quiet statement buying a Lexus RX – and you’ll save money doing so. Starting at £46,995 in hybrid form, with finance packages from £559 a month for private buyers and BIK tax of 20% for business users, the RX offers excellent value for money.

Rivals

BMW X5
Audi Q7
Mercedes-Benz GLE
Range Rover Sport
Volvo XC90

Model line-up

RX 200t S: £39,995
RX 200t Luxury: £45,995
RX 200t F Sport: £48,995
RX 450h SE: £46,995
RX 450h Luxury: £49,995
RX 450h F Sport: £52,995
RX 450h Premier: £57,995

Specifications

Model: RX 450h F Sport

Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol hybrid

Price: £52,995

Power: 312hp

Torque: 247lb-ft

0-62mph: 7.7 seconds

Top speed: 124mph

Fuel economy: 51.4mpg

CO2 emissions: 127g/km

New Lexus Design Concept

New Lexus Design Concept set for Tokyo reveal

New Lexus Design Concept

Another motor show, another set of teaser images in the lead up to the event. What you’re looking at here is, in part, a new Lexus concept car that ‘captures the company’s vision of progressive luxury’, which is set to be unveiled at next week’s Toyota Motor Show.

Lexus hasn’t released any further details, so you’ll have to make do with what is admittedly a rather nice headlight cluster. This doesn’t look like a radical departure from the existing design language, as the teaser shot shows elements of the NX, RC F and IS models.

New Lexus LS in 2016

This has strengthened rumours that this could be a hint of the next generation Lexus LS, which is set to go on sale in 2016. The existing LS has been in production since 2006, so the new model is long overdue. Sales in the important US market have dwindled in recent years, following high points in 2007 and 2008.

The new Lexus LS is likely to feature a 5.0-litre V8 engine, along with a new LS 500h hybrid model.

Prices of the current model, which goes wheel-to-wheel with the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, start at £71,995.  The rear-wheel drive luxury saloon will need to be inch perfect to take on the Germans and win. Given the talk of ‘progressive luxury’, the LS is likely to offer a different take on what is a demanding segment.

The Design Concept will be one of 11 Lexus models on display. These include a the revised GS and the GS F super-saloon. The RX will be shown ahead of its international launch, before going on sale in the UK in January 2016. We’ll bring you more news on the concept when it is revealed on the 28 October.

Lexus GS F review: 2015 first drive

Exclusive, expensive and exciting, the GS F could make you think twice about buying that M5.

Lexus GS F

Lexus is best known for fuel-sipping hybrids, not flame-spitting super saloons. And no matter how good the new GS F is, that’s unlikely to change.

You see, this flagship V8-engined GS is destined to remain a rare sight. Lexus expects to shift just 100 each year in the UK half as many as the RC F coupe. But therein lies the rub, because selling in small numbers is a big part of this car’s appeal. Put simply, you won’t spot another in the golf club car park.

Let’s start with the styling, which is angular, aggressive and distinctively Japanese. Lexus’ prominent ‘spindle’ grille is framed by gaping air intakes, while orange brake callipers hide behind 19-inch alloy wheels. At the rear, twin tailpipes hint at the prodigious performance on offer. There’s also a spoiler made from carbonfibre-reinforced plastic just like the LFA supercar.

The heart of the GS F is more conventional: a 5.0-litre petrol V8 that drives the rear wheels via an eight-speed semi-automatic gearbox. However, while its Audi RS6, BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63 rivals all boast in excess of 550hp, the Lexus makes do with ‘just’ 477hp.

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Even so, that’s sufficient to catapult this luxury car to 62mph in 4.6 seconds (on par with a new turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera) and a top speed of 168mph. A torque-vectoring differential, which constantly adjusts drive between the rear wheels, bodes well for cornering agility, too.

Perhaps the GS F’s biggest point of difference, though, is the way it is marketed. It isn’t cheap, at £69,995, but everything well, almost everything is included. That means (deep breath) adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, sat nav, metallic paint, Bluetooth, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, head-up display, automatic headlamps/wipers, a reversing camera, front/rear parking sensors and electric front seats with heating and ventilation.

In fact, the only options are a sunroof and 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. Beyond that, you only need worry about paint colour. Compare with the German brands, which offer a bewildering range of extras nearly all of them at additional cost.

All of the above is somewhat meaningless, however, if the GS F doesn’t deliver the goods from behind the wheel. So we took one to Jarama race circuit in Spain and the fabulous rural roads that surround it to see if Lexus really can beat the Germans at their own game.

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Lexus GS F: On the road

Road cars, even ‘sporty’ ones, often feel out of their depth on a race track. As the Lexus GS F is a large, four-door saloon weighing well in excess of two tonnes, you’d be forgiven for thinking it does, too.

But you’d be wrong. On the tight turns and cobbled kerbs of Jarama – a circuit used for the Spanish Grand Prix until 1981 – the GS F did a passable impression of something small, light and remarkably nimble.

Key to this agility is the standard torque-vectoring differential (TVD), which adjusts torque between the rear wheels to improve traction, turn-in and stability.

The TVD offers three modes. Standard is a stable set-up for regular road driving. Slalom sends more torque to the outside rear wheel when cornering to help the car turn more keenly. And Track diverts torque to the inside rear wheel, for improved stability – and tail-wagging oversteer on demand.

Lexus_GS-F_Blue_04Beefed-up Brembo brakes scrub off speed effectively, but like any car with 477hp coursing through its rear tyres, the GS F needed handling with care on a rain-soaked circuit. One downhill hairpin in particular provided several heart-in-the-mouth moments. However, our abiding impression was of a car that works with its driver, offering lots of feedback and lots of fun

The GS F also impresses on the road, but for different reasons. Yes, it’s a sports saloon, but it’s also a Lexus – and that means impressive refinement and light controls. Indeed, we found the steering a little too light in anything other than Sport+ mode. Only when you approach the limits of grip does the helm really start to bite.

Above all, though, this is a car dominated by its engine. Peak power of 477hp is developed at a heady 7,100rpm, so you need to explore the upper reaches of the rev counter. But that’s no chore – this 5.0-litre V8 loves to stretch its legs.

Floor the throttle and it awakens with a rumble, then a red-blooded roar. The noise is augmented through the stereo speakers, so you’re never completely sure what’s real and what’s synthetic. But no matter, only a Mercedes-AMG V8 beats it for deep-chested, turned-up-to-11 volume. It’s preposterously, wonderfully OTT.

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Lexus GS F: On the inside

The GS F may deliver Porsche-baiting performance, but this is no stripped-out road racer. ‘Luxury comes as standard’, proclaimed a Lexus manager over dinner and, PR hyperbole aside, he was right.

The interior of the GS F is beautifully finished. Supple leather covers the sports seats, while Alcantara (an artificial suede-like material) swathes the dashboard and door-tops. Even the flashes of carbonfibre-effect plastic look realistic.

Settle into the heated, ventilated and memory-adjustable driver’s seat and your view ahead is dominated by a large TFT rev counter. Switch to Sport or Sport+ modes and the display changes, becoming redder and angrier – another deliberate echo of the LFA supercar.

There’s also a large 12.3-inch colour screen for sat nav and infotainment functions. Its high position on the dashboard means you don’t need to divert your eyes from the road, but we still struggle with Lexus’ overly-sensitive touchpad controller. It’s much trickier to use than the ‘clickwheel’ favoured by Audi and BMW.

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For a large car, the GS F isn’t particularly spacious in the back; both legroom and headroom are limited for taller adults. The wide transmission tunnel also means a fourth passenger sits with legs splayed in a manner that could make even hardened motoring hacks blush.

You can’t fold the rear seats to boost luggage space. However, the boot’s 520-litre volume is identical to a BMW 5 Series and there is a ski hatch for loading longer objects (like, er… skis). If you want a warp-speed family wagon, though, you’ll need to shop elsewhere – start with the Audi RS6 or Mercedes-AMG E63 estate.

We’ve already touched on the GS F’s generous standard equipment, so we won’t list it all here. Suffice to say that, like-for-like, once options are taken into account, you can expect at least a five-figure price gap between this car and its German rivals.

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Lexus GS F: Running costs

Let’s not dwell on this too much, eh? You can’t expect a 5.0-litre petrol V8 to sip fuel like a Toyota Prius, even if they are distant cousins.

Official economy for the GS F is 25.2mpg, but that figure can easily plummet below 20mpg if you drive with a heavy right foot. For comparison, the GS 300h hybrid returns 60.1mpg.

Those quad tailpipes also emit their fair share of CO2 260g/km, to be exact. That puts the GS F in the top band for car tax (VED). You’ll pay a wallet-wilting £1,100 in the first year, then £495 a year thereafter.

It’s a shame that Lexus won’t match the warranty of its parent company, Toyota. It seems odd to offer five years and 100,000 miles of cover on a sub-£9,000 Aygo, but only three years/60,000 miles on a £70,000 GS F.

That said, three-year/60,000-mile cover is pretty much standard among the ‘premium’ brands and Lexus has a proven reputation for near-perfect reliability.

Near-perfect? Yes, genuinely. Regular chart-topping performances in Which? and JD Power surveys have made Lexus – and its highly-regarded dealers – the benchmark against which all other carmakers are judged.

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Lexus GS F: Verdict

The GS F doesn’t quite offer the dynamic delicacy of a BMW M5 or the gut-punching oomph of an Audi RS6. But we’re not sure that really matters.

Today’s sports saloons provide performance so far beyond what you can safely – and legally – use on the road that emotive appeal, i.e. how the car looks, sounds and makes you feel, is arguably more important.

And there’s no question, the GS F pushes our buttons. It looks fabulous, especially in the Azure Blue seen here, or bright Solar Flare orange. And you’ll never forget there’s a V8 under the bonnet; the noise under full-bore acceleration is akin to a low-flying bomber.

The fact that it will remain a rare beast undoubtedly adds cachet, too – and protects future resale values. The RC F coupe will be more popular, but the GS F is undoubtedly cooler.

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Our only real bugbear is that the GS F could have been a lot cleverer. Like most petrolheads, we’re suckers for a big V8, but surely with all its expertise in petrol/electric tech, Lexus could have produced a hybrid super saloon? A budget Porsche 918 Spyder, if you like.

Using batteries would make the GS F a truly unique proposition in this sector, boosting low-down torque while improving fuel economy and drastically lowering the car’s tax liability.

Still, the days of thirsty petrol V8s are numbered, so we should probably enjoy them while we can. Right, we’re off to buy shares in Shell and see if we can find £70k down the back of the sofa…

Lexus GS F: Specification

Price: £69,995

Engine: 5.0-litre V8 petrol

Power: 477hp

Torque: 391 lb ft

0-62mph: 4.6sec

Top speed: 168mph

Fuel economy: 25.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 260g/km