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Posts filed under ‘Lexus’

2014 Lexus IS: A Design Analysis

February 4, 2013 by Matt

2014 Lexus IS Sedan

The problem here is context.

The details of the next generation Lexus entry-level sports sedan, the IS, are certainly generating a buzz. Next to the C7 Corvette, it’s been arguably the most aesthetically dissected car to emerge from the recent 2013 Detroit Auto Show.

The reviews haven’t been overwhelmingly positive. The consensus seems to be that although observers appreciate the fact that Lexus is taking chances, design-wise, the new IS’s shape leaves them unsatisfied. Personally, I want to like the new “spindle grille” motif the Japanese luxury automaker has cooked up, but somehow it just doesn’t sit right; I respect aesthetic risk-taking, but between the grille and the new taillights (the new IS’s two most prominent features), I’m left feeling…uneasy as I contemplate the new car’s lines.

The nose. Evident in the picture at top, the nose is far and away the most prominent feature of the new car. An attempt to create “visual tension” by giving the impression the bodywork is stretched tightly over some muscular internal structure, the feature falls flat simply because none of the rest of the car matches its design drama. Put your hand over the new Lexus’s fascia and the car becomes another run-of-the-mill sports sedan. It’s the aesthetic equivalent of a stage actor turning in a powerhouse performance…while his castmates phone in their lines. There’s just no visual support from the rest of the car.

2014 Lexus IS Sedan

The tail. Slightly more successful is the 2014 IS’s other “showcase” styling element, its downward-sloping taillights. By visually connecting the taillights and the rocker panels, the rear wheels and thus the car’s RWD configuration are emphasized. So far, so good. But there remain two major problems: The styling effect employed makes it look like the bodywork is tearing or breaking so that the taillights can push through, giving them a sort of half-finished look, and their taper around the side of the car leads the observer’s eye forward back onto the car’s flanks, when the tail should be a smooth resolution and neat conclusion of the car’s look. As it is, our eyes are constantly thrown back toward the IS’s profile, kept in a kind of awkward visual limbo.

2014 Lexus IS Sedan

The proportions. The new Lexus’s context problems are on full display here. There’s nothing in the car’s proportions that even comes close to the impact of the car’s extremities. Really the only update over the previous generation is a lower decklid, reintroducing a traditional bit of “three box” styling into the new IS’s profile, but otherwise… Ho hum.

2014 Lexus IS Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The interior. For its part, the interior is serious and tasteful with a strong sense of structure. Taken in isolation, it’s quite well done…but then you remember what the outside, and particularly the nose of the car, looks like, and scratch your head that there could be such a marked difference in feel between the two areas.

I wonder how isolated the design teams working on different parts of the car were from each other? From the looks of it, they must’ve had minimal, if any, contact with each other prior to applying their efforts to the new Lexus’s basic shape. There are lots of good ideas here, just no cohesion. Maybe next time.

Image credits: netcarshow.com

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Which Would You Buy?
BMW 8 Series vs. 1JZ Lexus SC300

February 3, 2012 by Matt

BMW E31 8-series 850i 850Ci Black M-pars M-parallel

The age-old automotive question. This or that? Which one is faster? Cheaper? Better-looking? More efficient? Do this one’s subjective qualities outweigh that one’s objective attributes? Behold, the first post in a new series pitting somewhat superficially mismatched cars against one another in an effort to illuminate the finer points of each.

Today we stack up a pair of high-end luxury coupes with sporting pretensions: The ’90-’99 BMW 8 Series, or E31 (pictured at top), and the ’91-’00 Lexus SC300, or JZZ30 (shown below). In both cases, we’re going to consider the most enthusiast-oriented configuration available for the car in question.

Lexus SC300 SC400 Silver Gray Grey SC

Let’s assume a manual transmission for both vehicles. With the E31, a 6-speed was only available in the US coupled to BMW’s 5-liter V12 engine, the 295 hp M70, and that only for the first few years of its production run. So it’s a rare and desirable bird. The SC300 is a bit easier to find equipped with Toyota’s W58 5-speed, but as with its German counterpart, the stickshift variant is easily the most sought-after.

In addition, to level the playing field a bit, we’re going to stipulate the Lexus has undergone an engine swap, exchanging its US-spec, naturally-aspirated, 221 hp 2JZ-GE engine for a Japanese-market-only, twin turbo, 278 hp 1JZ-GTE. The 1JZ was fitted from the factory to the Japanese version of the SC300, known as the Soarer, and mated with an uprated R154 5-speed manual. The swap is as easy as lengthening the wiring harness and bolting everything in—all the mounting points are present to accept the Japanese engine without otherwise modifying the big Lexus GT. And all the requisite bits are surprisingly easy to source from a number of automotive importers.

So, which would you spend your hard-earned money on, given the choice?

Here are some more factors to take into consideration:

  • Weight. This is a problem for the BMW. The range-topping, V12-powered 850i/850Ci breaks the scales at around 4,300 lbs, courtesy of its size, huge engine, dual batteries and all the luxury crammed under the sheetmetal. The Lexus, by contrast, comes in at around 3,500 lbs—no lightweight, but nothing to write home about.
  • Handling. The E31 pioneered BMW’s new multilink rear suspension and was one of the first cars equipped with electronic stability control. The SC300’s underpinnings were shared with the vaunted Mark 4 Supra and featured double wishbones at all 4 corners, in addition to an available Torsen limited-slip differential. They remain capable, sure-footed cars, but while the E31 may its automaker’s classic steering excellence, its weight and bulk dampen the fun.
  • Looks. The Lexus is attractive, and I would even go so far as to call it one of the most stylish cars to emerge from Japan, but c’mon. Nothing says “sex on wheels” quite as effectively as a massive, sleek 8 Series, with its Ferrari-like tapered nose, flared wheel arches and pillar-less side windows.
  • Cachet. Chalk another one up for the BMW. When introduced, the E31 was the ultimate “money no object” BMW, with prices in the $80K-100K range. Again, the Lexus exudes quality, but the BMW is on another plane entirely.
  • Power. Here’s where the Lexus’s 1JZ engine comes into its own. Utterly bulletproof and much more modern internally than the BMW’s big SOHC V12, the little Lexus 2.5l is capable of delivering literally as much power as you’re willing to spend for. The stock figure of 278 hp is universally considered to be underrated, and a wide array of aftermarket single turbo conversion kits are available to optimize both output and drivability.
  • Price. Values are surprisingly similar. Big German luxury liners tend to depreciate like crazy (no one wants to deal with their complexity or the price of parts and service), while Japanese cars in general hold their value a bit better. That said, in the case of the E31 and JZZ30, the price for a 6-speed 850i or 1JZ-swapped SC300 falls in $7K-$10K range. So the cost of entry is very roughly the same.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I stack up the pros and cons of two broadly similar cars from an ownership perspective. Read the other installments here:

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New Lexus LF-LC Concept: A Design Analysis

January 4, 2012 by Matt

Lexus LF-LC LFLC Concept Red

Well, it’s not pretty.

At least, the fascia isn’t, not in the classical sense. Straining so hard for a new theme, like a rock band trying to play the same four chords in a new way after countless bands have done the same, the Lexus LF-LC concept’s nose ends up looking merely different for the sake of being different.

Now, I can’t fault the incredibly rakish proportions, but the traditional distribution of visual masses in the LF-LC’s profile just reinforces the contrived nature of the front end styling. Being a product of Toyota’s California-based design studio, the same crew who penned the original’s Lexus SC coupe’s flawless lines, I had high hopes for the new concept. Let’s just say my expectations weren’t entirely satisfied.

Lexus LF-LC LFLC Concept Red Profile Side View

As mentioned above, the car’s proportions are classically correct and right on the money. They also pay considerable homage to those of the first generation SC coupe, eschewing the second generation’s truncated boulevardier stance entirely in favor of the first-gen’s traditional GT shape. There’s more than a hint of the big-brother LFA as well in the impossibly low greenhouse, rocker panel intakes and straight line across the rear haunches. And I even detect a touch of Ferrari 599 GTB in the way the C-pillars become notable styling elements as they tango with the fenders and rear glass.

That said, I can’t help feeling that it’s a uneven mismash of ideas, holding a kind of uncomfortable tension between the classic and avant-garde. In a way, the LF-LC presents interesting similarities and differences to the recent Jaguar C-X16 concept. As I pointed out in my analysis of that car, its automaker produced a crumpet-collector to nearly rival the original E-Type, but given Jaguar’s recent production-level design decisions, the concept hewed far too closely to the classic Jag shape, trapping the company in the past, visually. Lexus, on the other hand, attempted to push the envelope with the Remington-shaver-meets-funhouse-mirror proboscis of the LF-LC; however, the Japanese automaker has no long and tired association with the classic GT shape or styling cues. Unlike Jaguar, they’re unencumbered by the past and could have created something arresting, showstopping, timeless, free from a concern that critics (like myself) would dismiss it as a retread of old themes—and they almost did, as evidenced by the car’s proportions, but… Then they grafted on the corporate front end, dashing hopes of a completely pleasing shape. So close, Lexus, so close.

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Upcoming Supra and NSX?
The New Sports Car Landscape

December 13, 2011 by Matt

Toyota FT-HS Supra White

Of all Japanese automakers, Nissan and Lexus, with their GT-R and LFA, respectively, get it.

No electric motors, please. No fuel cells, giant capacitors or kinetic energy recovery systems. Just plain old gasoline-generated horsepower, and lots of it, for our sports cars.

And yet, Honda and Lexus’ parent company Toyota, seem to want to mimic their eco-crazy European counterparts in developing hybrid sports cars. As if that weren’t bad enough, it seems likely both companies will revive storied model names to give their new creations a measure of “legitimacy” out of the starting blocks.

In Toyota’s case, the rumors aren’t anything new—the automaker has been coy about the development of a “Mark 5” Supra for ages now—but the recent introduction of the clean-sheet, RWD GT 86/Scion FR-S has freshly stoked the fires of speculation. And with the FT-HS concept car, shown at top, all that’s left to wonder is what Toyota’s waiting for to pull the trigger. It’s understandable the collapse of the Japanese sports car market during the late ’90 would leave that country’s automakers wary of introducing any new top-of-the-line road eaters, and Toyota is a cautious company in general. That said, the automaker is the poster child for hybrid success with the runaway popularity (relatively speaking) of their Prius, so it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch for them to adapt some well-proven hybrid technology to a range-topping sports car. And Toyota’s never made a dynamically bad car, so its driving characteristics will undoubtedly be above reproach. The only question left, then, is what enthusiasts would make of a new Hybrid Supra. Would they enthusiastically embrace it? Or recoil in horror that the legacy of the canonized Mark 4 Supra would be tarnished by association with technology primarily geared toward economy?

Acura Honda NSX Purple Iron Man Tony Stark

For its part, Honda has more or less committed to introduce an NSX successor, if you can call it that. The Jalopnik report states:

Sources inside a Las Vegas dealer meeting earlier this month exclusively told us the new Acura NSX Concept would look like the vehicle from the upcoming Avengers movie (albeit in hardtop form) and feature an AWD hybrid drivetrain. If true, this would mean a radical departure from the car’s previous life as a pure, light-weight, RWD sports car.

I share the site’s sense of disappointment at Honda’s divergence from the formula that made the original so distinctive. In a way, if the automaker does decide to attach the NSX nameplate to the trunklid, they stand to lose more than Toyota would in naming an upcoming hybrid sports car Supra. Although comparable performance-wise, the NSX was an altogether more pure sports car than the Supra, offered at a higher price point, and basically unchanged (or unsullied, depending on your point of view) from its introduction through the end of its model run. The game-changing nature of the original NSX‘s arrival means a new AWD, hybrid version of the car would more radically redefine the car’s image and purpose compared to a similar situation with the Supra. For the record, I hope both Honda and Toyota come around and offer genuine GT500/Corvette/M3/911 competitors, but given industry trends toward more complex, “eco-friendly” vehicles, I’m doubtful a refreshingly conventional successor to the NSX or Supra will see the light of day.

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Sophomore Slumps: The Lexus SC430

October 7, 2011 by Matt

2003 Lexus SC 430

Movie sequels rarely turn out as well as the original films. Musicians call it the “second album curse.” Automakers fall victim to the same tendency as well—a groundbreaking car can make such a splash that disappointment is inevitable when the second generation rolls around. Finding the balance of maintaining the qualities that enabled the success of the first generation car and updating it for the times can be a very tricky proposition indeed. Today we briefly consider a model which failed to capitalize on the promise of its predecessor: The ’01-’10 Lexus SC430.

There are two main ways a car sequel can fail: First, by mimicking too much of the original car, leaving customers wanting more, wondering why they bothered to update the car at all. And secondly, an automaker can take the original concept in a significantly different direction, discarding key qualities of the first generation in pursuit of a new paradigm. With the SC430, Lexus failed in the second manner, abandoning the classically-beautiful coupe proportions and detailing of the ’91-’00 SC coupe in favor of something more high-fashion. Rather than take inspiration from the car haven of California like the designers of the earlier car had done, the SC430’s stylists drew on the “lifestyle of the French Riviera,” top-down trundling along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, villas perched on the hillside and nights at the Monaco casino. And that was all fine and good, but they forgot to make the car attractive in the process. With its upright, bathtub-ish profile and disconnected, multi-lens headlights, the SC430 had an off-putting, slightly insectoid fascia and misshapen overall look. It was the kind of car a designer would have to tell you is attractive, rather than being able to arrive at that conclusion on your own. It would have been one thing if the original SC coupe had had the kind of “straight off the runway” concept behind its lines like the SC430, but first-generation car’s beauty was much more accessible, classical, comprehensible. There’s a true consensus that the ’91-’00 car (shown below) was one of the loveliest cars to emerge from Japan.

1992 Lexus SC400

The mechanicals are almost incidental, as cars in this market niche are primarily bought for their looks. In any case, the SC430 was powered by a healthy 288 hp V8, sports a capable RWD chassis and was one of the very first (with the Mercedes SLK) to feature a retractable hardtop. I take no issue with those attributes, but as important as it is for a flagship coupe to have actual sporting credentials, they’re not the main sales drivers. In the areas that matter, Lexus missed the mark with the SC coupe sequel.

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Underrated Lookers: The ’95-’97 Lexus LS400

September 8, 2011 by Matt

1995 1996 1997 Lexus LS400 UCF20

I have a thing for understatement. Maybe it’s borne out of a latent muscle car fandom—you know, look harmless but pack a whopping engine—whatever the case, I’ll almost always take the well-tailored q-ship over a flashier equivalent, performance-wise.

Besides, cars with understated styling tend to age better. They’re less tethered to design trends and fads of a particular period, but instead rely more on proportion and overall shape for their appeal. The car under consideration today, the ’95-’97 Lexus LS400, is a case study in how careful design craft and attention to detail can produce an unsung paragon of understatement.

1995 1996 1997 Lexus LS400 UCF20 Rear Back

Faced with the prospect of refreshing the styling of their successful foray into the luxury market, Lexus chose to retain many of the original LS400‘s overall themes, but discarded the flabby, soap-like proportions in favor of a tauter, more energetic stance. That said, the subdued nature of the update means you really do have to ponder the lines for a while to appreciate the harmonious convergence of subtle details. But the car rewards the work with pleasing effects like the beautifully-executed character lines on the hood, the perfect weight of the C-pillar and the fluid curve of the beltline. The more you consider it, the more the fine-tuning of the car’s design just comes together. Where the original LS400 seemed to be sagging under its own weight, the update looks fleet and effortless.

Underscoring the impact of the nip-and-tuck job are a couple of engineering details. First, the more aerodynamic presence of the LS400 isn’t mere posturing—the wind tunnel had a large hand in helping define many of the car’s contours, bringing the drag coefficient down to a very impressive 0.28. And more significantly, with the update Lexus managed to excise over 200 lbs from the car, trimming the full-size luxury sedan down to a gloriously lightweight 3600 lbs. There’s little I admire more than an automaker exhibiting that kind of devotion to stemming the ballooning weight of cars across the automotive spectrum, and the high end in particular, where nowadays the going weight of a car in the LS400’s class is well north of 4000 lbs. Just being aware of those under-the-skin properties—the actual slipperiness of the body as well as its admirably low weight—reinforces my regard for its design.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

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Unsung Heroics: The Lexus LFA

September 3, 2011 by Matt

2012 Lexus LFA LF-A

The only thing not to like is the price. Otherwise, the Lexus LFA is a tour de force, as both Top Gear and Car and Driver have attested to. Yes, there’s the whole image thing, but I have a hunch that’s less of an obstacle on this side of the pond than it is for TG’s Richard Hammond, speaking from a place where Lexus has made fewer inroads on the established luxury marques. Here in the US, Lexus commands if not the same, than very close to the same level of prestige as BMW or Mercedes-Benz, so their output is judged more on the actual merits of the cars and less on brand perception.

In any case, a slightly modified version of the car lapped the Nürburgring in 7:14 recently, placing itself atop the production car leaderboard, except for specialized track-only toys. It’s a remarkable achievement, and I sincerely hope it boosts the car and its manufacturer’s performance image.

Goodness knows the boost is deserved. When compared with other Japanese heavy-hitters like the Nissan GT-R, the clean-sheet LFA, with its bespoke, naturally-aspirated 552 hp V10 and passion-infused road manners, is in a class by itself. And topping it off, in my mind, is the styling, which is the only example of the new “techno-brutal” Japanese design philosophy to be actually beautiful. Well done indeed. If a new Lexus SC coupe shares some of the LFA’s attributes, I’ll be very pleased.

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