First things first, the 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance isn’t exciting news because of any styling updates. Lexus made most of those with the current turbo-four- and V6-powered 2021 IS models, resulting…
First things first, the 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance isn’t exciting news because of any styling updates. Lexus made most of those with the current turbo-four- and V6-powered 2021 IS models, resulting in an attractive refresh that sharpened the already angular sedan to a finer point, with newly formed edges, an even more dramatic spindle grille, and an LED taillight treatment seemingly inspired by Lexus’ UX subcompact crossover. What makes the IS 500 awesome is the 472 horsepower V8 stuffed below a new aggressively domed hood.
Design does play its part. The new hood bulges up two inches for a more pumped-up level of IS masculinity, plus Lexus slightly widened the front fenders, modified the both bumpers, and beneath the bodywork, moved the radiator forward to accommodate the engine. Most of the model’s metal brightwork has been eliminated too, excepting the stylized “L” badge at both ends, the thin highlights on each two-tone gloss-black and body-colour mirror cap, the dazzling split-10-spoke 19-inch Enkei lightweight alloy wheels, the massive quad of “throaty” circular “dual stacked” tailpipes, and all the model and trim designations, the IS 500’s deck lid badge notably changed.
This said, being that the IS 300 and IS 350 are the sportiest sedans Lexus offers, they’ve been mostly de-chromed already, with some 2021 trims blackened out even more so thanks to dark-painted wheels. The IS 500’s only notable differentiator is the addition of dark chrome side window trim, a tiny IS F Sport rear deck lid spoiler, and a new diffuser-style rear bumper required to house the enhanced exhaust system.
Likewise, changes are subtle inside as well, with black “F SPORT” designations on the door sill plates and steering wheel, the latter heatable and leather-wrapped, of course, while the throttle, brake and dead pedals have also been upgraded from the IS F Sport catalogue. Completely unique to the IS F 500, however, is the startup animation in the mostly-digital primary gauge cluster’s multi-information display. As for the rest of the interior, it’s much like the IS 350 F Sport.
In other words, the IS 500 F Sport Performance is a sleeper. We’re ok with that, especially when it’s got what it takes to go head-to-head with its more aggressively penned rivals. Before listing off its competition, however, a rundown on some specs is necessary. Lexus’ well-proven 5.0-litre V8 not only puts out 472 horsepower in this iteration, but it nearly matches that thrust with 395 lb-ft of twist. This nearly matches the same engine’s output in the mighty LC 500 sports coupe and convertible, the IS version adding a single horsepower and losing three lb-ft of torque, but either way it’s a significant upgrade over the next-best IS 350 that only puts out 311 horsepower and 280-lb-ft of torque, or even the old 2014 IS F’s 5.0-litre V8 that made 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft.
Back to the competitors alluded to a moment ago, top of the list is Alfa Romeo’s Giulia Quadrifoglio, good for a phenomenal 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, while BMW’s M3, the segment’s longest running entrant, would still be daunting to go up against in either 473-horsepower regular trim or 503-hp Competition form. Unlike the IS 500 that looks similar to its less potent brethren, it’s easy to spot a new M3 from a mile away thanks to its unorthodox bucktooth grille and more daring styling departure from regular 3 Series trims (for now), whereas Mercedes-AMG is more discreet, albeit unique enough when compared to regular C-Class models. It hits this market with three four-door variations, the 385-hp AMG C 43, 469-hp AMG C 63, and 503-hp AMG C 63 S.
Honourable mentions include Volvo’s new S60 Polestar Engineered, which is good for 415 hp from a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in-hybridized four-cylinder; the Swedish brand certainly earning points for maximizing efficiency, while Infiniti’s 400-hp Q50 Red Sport 400 is wonderful, but not quite in the same league. We’d also be remiss for not mentioning Tesla’s top-line Model 3 that makes 480 instant electrified horsepower along with 471 lb-ft of torque. We should also expect Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury division to soon arrive with some super sedans and SUVs of its own, this compact luxury four-door segment currently filled with the impressive, albeit nowhere near as powerful G70. This in mind, and factoring in the IS 500’s choice of Lexus’ mid-performance “F Sport” naming protocol, could Lexus be saving the vaunted “F” badge for an even more capable super sedan? Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed.
Unlike some of the just-mentioned rivals that utilize all-wheel drive, the IS 500 sends all of its abundant power through the rear wheels via the same quick-shifting eight-speed Sport Direct automatic transmission already used by V6-powered rear-drive IS models, complete with Custom, Sport S and Sport S+ engine and transmission mode settings, the latter also adjusting EPS steering assist and shock damping force, resulting in a 4.6-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, accompanied by a “ferocious” sounding exhaust note to “perfectly amplify the new V8 engine,” or so says Lexus in their press release.
Keeping all that power in check is the very effective Dynamic Handling Package that’s also found under the US-spec IS 350 RWD F Sport (AWD is standard in Canada), which features an Adaptive Variable suspension with Yamaha rear performance dampers along with a Torsen limited-slip differential, but unlike the less capable IS, the 500’s brakes have been upsized with 14-inch two-piece aluminum rotors in front and 12.7-inch rotors at back, plus special cooling ducts to optimize their binding power. Making handling and braking even more manageable is minuscule weight gain over the IS 350 AWD F Sport, the new IS 500 only adding 5 kilograms for a total of 1,765 kg.
Also, check out our complete photo gallery above, and enjoy the video that follows…
Introducing the Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance (2:15):
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Lexus
Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles…
Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles at the turn of this century, I’ve tested, photographed and reviewed at least 15 individual RX models in every generation, state of trim, powertrain, and body style available, plus I’ve also been fortunate enough to attend a number of RX launch programs.
I once even piloted the then-new 2006 RX 400h from a waterfront hotel in Waikoloa Village (just outside of Kona), Hawaii, around the northern tip of The Big Island toward Hilo, and then inland a ways before summiting the 4,250-metre-plus (14,000-foot-plus) peak of Mauna Kea, all before heading back down the east coast, circling Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s 17.7-kilometer Kilauea Crater Rim Drive, and more (thoughts and prayers for all the families from Leilani Estates this time of year). That experience stamped an indelible memory on my heart, and no doubt helped forge a personal fondness for Lexus’ most popular model.
When taking in the paradisiacal coastal vistas, mountaintop views, thick tropical foliage and harshly rugged lava rock terrain of Hawaii’s amazing spectrum of climate zones, comprising 10 of the world’s 12 types, it’s good to be in a vehicle that isolates all occupants from the elements so effectively. From the dry heat of Kona to the humidity of Hilo, through the more temperate regions inland to the polar/tundra heights above, the RX never wavered from climate controlled comfort, something I’ve grown to appreciate even more with each weeklong test enjoyed over the years since. Truly, each and every time I get behind the wheel of this impressive luxury crossover SUV, I’m reminded why it’s been number one in its mid-size segment since day one.
It helps that Lexus defined this category together with Mercedes’ M-Class (now GLE) way back in 1997 when the original RX 300 arrived, a luxury crossover that’s held up so well I still see them on the roads in my community (not so with the first-gen ML). The RX has been around for 22 years and four generations, with the upcoming 2020 model about to bring a number of subtle styling updates and other improvements as part of its mid-cycle makeover, but despite its updates you may still want to consider getting a deal on a 2019.
Before delving into the 2019, updates for 2020 include refreshed front and rear fascias, slimmer triple-beam LED headlamps and revised taillights with new “L” shaped LEDs, redesigned 18- and 20-inch wheels, and claimed driving dynamics improvements via thicker yet lighter-weight stabilizer bars plus a firmer retuned suspension to enhance handling with new dampers that smooth ride quality. Handling in mind, new active corner braking reduces understeer and paddle shifters, now standard across the entire lineup, should enhance the driving experience, while new standard safety features include daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), and lastly a revised infotainment system with new touchpad control and integrated Android Auto (a first for Lexus).
Even though its brand new, CarCostCanada members can save up to $2,000 in additional incentives on the 2020 RX, while those willing to forgo some of the improvements for a discount can access up to $4,500 in incentives for a 2019 model. According to the popular website, members are saving an average of $2,777 on both models, by first learning about available manufacturer rebates that your local retailer probably won’t tell you about, and then finding out the dealer invoice price before negotiating.
Lexus will offer the same four RX models for 2020 as it did in 2019, including the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, plus the new long-wheelbase, seven-passenger RX L with both powertrains. Pricing starts at $55,350 for the 2019 RX 350, and then moves up to $64,500 for the 2019 RX 450h, $66,250 for the RX 350 L, and finally $77,600 for the RX 450 L, while the refreshed 2020 base model’s pricing expectedly rises by $700 (not bad considering all the aforementioned standard upgrades), but get this, pricing for all other trims have surprisingly been lowered by $5,700, $7,200, and $1,500 respectively due to new more affordable decontented packaging, or in other words, fewer standard features. This intelligent move makes the base long-wheelbase and base hybrid models accessible to many more luxury buyers, and still shouldn’t cause too much difficulty for Lexus retailers to sell off the remaining 2019s.
For this review I rounded up three 2019 Lexus RX models, including an RX 350, RX 450h and an RX 350 L, the two regular-wheelbase models in the Japanese luxury brand’s sportiest F Sport trim, and the latter long-wheelbase version in six-passenger Executive trim, its seat-count reduction caused by the replacement of its second-row bench with two individual buckets, while $6,050 Executive trim also adds LED illuminated aluminum front scuff plates, premium leather, a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a head-up display, 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio, wireless device charging, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power-recline rear seats, rear door sunshades, power folding rear seats, and a gesture-actuated power liftgate.
F Sport trim takes a more sporting approach to styling and features as the name implies, with the former including a more aggressive front grille and fascia design, premium LED headlamps with cornering capability, a sportier set of 20-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive variable air suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), special “F SPORT” branded scuff plates, a mostly digital LFA-inspired primary gauge cluster, a special steering wheel with paddle shifters and a unique shift knob, aluminum sport pedals with rubber inserts, unique performance seats covered in premium leather upholstery, plus more.
Combining three distinct RX trims into one review provides an opportunity to not only show their unique characteristics in the massive photo gallery above, but also to help would-be buyers choose between this luxury crossover SUV’s dual personalities, one visually and dynamically more sport-oriented, and the other biased towards luxury. To be clear, the sportiest RX 350 F Sport will never challenge a BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe (or even the GLE 43 version), Audi RS Q8 (or even an SQ8 or SQ7), Porsche Cayenne, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, Range Rover Sport (or Velar SV Dynamic), etcetera, but as far as this comfort-oriented mid-size crossover SUV goes, it’s the sportiest, and more fun to drive than any Infiniti QX60, while more or less on par with the Acura MDX, Lincoln Nautilus, and probably the new Cadillacs XT6, although I have yet to drive the latter. This said the new 2020 RX should perform better than the three I’ve tested here, but we shouldn’t expect a radical improvement through the corners as it wouldn’t make sense for Lexus to stray too far from such an obvious winning formula.
Unlike most of the competitors noted, Lexus only provides its RX with one conventional powertrain choice, and despite once being wholly original in offering mid-size luxury SUV buyers the sole hybrid-electric available, it can now only take credit for being first. Still, no one can argue against the success Lexus has had with this comparatively simple powertrain lineup, consisting of its ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6, and the nearly as well-proven electrified version of this dependable Toyota-sourced six-cylinder engine.
Despite what appear to be identical powertrains on paper, the conventional V6 used in Lexus’ RX 350 and RX 350 L produce different performance numbers, the regular wheelbase model outputting 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque and the long-wheelbase version making just 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, while the RX 450h manages a slightly more potent internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motor mix that nets 308 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque in both regular and extended body styles.
The biggest difference between these three powertrains can be seen in fuel economy, with the standard RX 350 good for a rating of 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.8 combined, and the slightly modified engine in the RX 350 L managing 13.1 city, 9.4 highway and 11.1 combined. The lighter weight regular wheelbase model is thriftier when comparing the RX 450h and RX 450h L too, with the former achieving the best model’s rating at just 7.5 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 7.9 combined, and the latter doing extremely well amongst three-row luxury SUVs with a claimed 8.1, 8.4 and 8.1 respectively.
The extra power provided by the motive battery, which like other all-wheel drive hybrids uses its ICE to power the front wheels and electric motor to twist the rims in back, doesn’t give the hybrid any more oomph off the line yet certainly helps it keep up despite its 160-kilo increase in curb weight. The efficiency of the hybrid’s continuously variable transmission may assist with its straight-line performance, but the eight-speed automatic in the conventionally powered RX is probably not all that more taxing and its more positive shift response makes for a sportier driving experience overall.
Enhancing engagement with both drivetrains in F Sport trim are standard paddle shifters as already noted, while this performance-oriented upgrade also gets an edgier Sport+ setting added to the base RX’ Normal, Sport, and Eco Drive Mode Select choices, plus hybrids benefit from an EV mode. The EV mode only works at very slow parking lot speeds, but it can reduce consumption while circling the mall parking lot or when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, while at the other end of the performance spectrum I didn’t feel much difference when switching from Sport to Sport+, other a firmer setting from the adaptive variable air suspension.
Speaking of the chassis, the RX’ fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup feels a bit tauter in the F Sport than with more comfort-focused trims, while the long-wheelbase RX L felt comfortable without giving much up in the handling department, or for that matter straight-line performance (it only weighs an additional 105 kg). As mentioned earlier, all RX models provide comfort first and foremost, which is exactly what most buyers in this class want, while noise, vibration and harshness levels are kept to a minimum thanks to a wonderfully tight, rigid body structure, plenty of sound insulation, and nicely refined powertrains.
All the soft-touch composite surfaces and leather help to keep things quiet, although to be clear the RX doesn’t quite deliver the same level of over-the-top luxury as its German peers, let alone the lonely Swede in this segment. Most everything above the waist is made from the types of high quality pliable plastics expected in this class, including the glove box lid, with some surface treatments higher on the dash stitched and leather-like with padding below, but the harder composites start just above the driver’s knees and surprisingly to the left side of the steering column, not to mention on the lower door panels and lower sides of the lower centre console (the console’s top edges finished in stitched leatherette).
The two F Sport trims received attractive metallic accents across the dash, lower console and upper door panels, although I must admit I was even more impressed by the long-wheelbase model’s gorgeous hardwood inlays. While high-gloss dark hardwood in Japanese tradition, every half inch or so Lexus had laminated in wafer thin pieces of lighter hardwood resulting in an ultimately rich double pinstripe look that was best seen on the console. There’s plenty of brushed metal trim throughout the cabin, with some bits looking and feeling like the real deal and other pieces less so, but quality is generally good including each button, knob, toggle and rocker switch.
At first glance all three RX models seemed to have similarly sporty seats, this probably due to their contrast stitched black perforated leather, but the F Sport models had a bit more side bolstering, particularly up by the shoulders, and while they all looked good and were generally comfortable, only the 350 L with its Executive package included four-way lumbar support. Its 10-way powered front seats were excellent, causing zero complaints, but if the two-way powered lumbar in the other two hadn’t luckily met up with the small of my back I would’ve been grumbling. Don’t get me wrong, as I would’ve liked extendable cushions and adjustable side bolsters too, while some sort of massage function would also be nice, but such pampering is obviously not the RX’ mission.
Roominess has always been an RX strongpoint, with front and second-row seating for any size or shape with space to spare, but the new long-wheelbase model doesn’t quite measure up to most rivals when it comes to the third row. This is surprising, as a three-row crossover has been long in the making for Lexus, but even my teenage-sized five-foot-eight frame had difficulty getting comfortable. Climbing in and out is easy enough thanks to a second row that slides far enough forward for a nice, wide opening, but even after sliding that second row as far forward as I’d be comfortable with if seated there, there still wasn’t enough room for my knees when seated in the very back, while my head was rubbing up against the ceiling.
The extended-wheelbase RX L does add 77 litres of maximum cargo space, however, moving the total from 1,657 litres up to 1,580 litres, but the final row must add some height to the RX L’s cargo floor because available room behind its second row shrinks by 43 litres from 694 to 651 litres. With all seats upright the three-row RX leaves a 212-litre sliver of usable space, but it’s good for a couple of small suitcases or a golf bag if you want to work on your “A” game after dropping the kids at school.
While most of this is positive, operating the RX’ current joystick-style infotainment controller will set you back to the early days of playing Nintendo “Golf” (that was 1984 if you care to remember), hence why it’s being replaced by Lexus’ newer touchpad control for 2020. The system is functional and thanks to side entry buttons added a number of years ago is easier to use, but it feels old and clunky in a world of touch sensitivity. It includes haptic feedback to lock in prompts, which helped somewhat, but few should lament its loss. The high-definition widescreen atop the dash that displays everything is superb, mind you, and it’s hard to fault the overall functionality of the system and features, other than its lack of Android Auto for 2019 (remember, the RX gets it for 2020).
Now that I’m talking digital interfaces, both 2019 and 2020 LX models use the same ho-hum gauge cluster in non-F Sport trims. It’s a basic analogue set consisting of two primary dials and two sub-dials, centered by a tall colour multi-information display that’s little more than a glorified trip computer. In a vehicle that’s edgy and modern in most other ways the gauges look a bit tired and dated, especially considering some RX rivals are shipping with standard digital instrument clusters or at least offer them optionally in upper trims. Of course Lexus does the same, but take note my long-wheel base Executive package enhanced RX 350 L was priced higher than the RX 350 F Sport, but didn’t get the fancier LFA-inspired digital gauge cluster, and even the upgraded version doesn’t offer the level of features provided by its competition, such as the ability to transform most of the cluster into one big map.
Thanks to the incredibly fast pace of the auto industry these days, especially when it comes to digital interfaces, it’s always easy to find fault with a vehicle that’s been on the market for a few years. Such is the case for these three RX models, and therefore the updates Lexus will provide for 2020 should appease most of those looking for progress. In summary, I don’t believe the RX is the best mid-size crossover on the market, but it covers so many bases so well, and does so with such impressive dependability, that it fully deserves its number one status.
Lexus’ ES has come a long way in 30 years. Yes, 2019 marks three decades of the quintessential Japanese luxury brand’s best-selling car, which started life as the comparatively humble ES 250 in 1989. …
Lexus’ ES has come a long way in 30 years. Yes, 2019 marks three decades of the quintessential Japanese luxury brand’s best-selling car, which started life as the comparatively humble ES 250 in 1989.
It was obviously based on the Camry family sedan, yet despite being rushed to market in order to make sure the full-size LS 400 wasn’t alone in the new premium brand’s lineup, it was a handsome, well-built and reasonably strong performing V6-powered mid-size luxury sedan. Lexus has made six ES generations since, releasing this most recent seventh-generation redesign late last year as a 2019 model, and while each new version made improvements on its predecessor, this latest iteration is by far the most dramatic looking, most refined inside, and best to drive yet.
In fact, Lexus has done such a good job of pulling the ES upmarket that it’s getting more difficult to justify having two mid-size sedans in its lineup. The two look similar and are near identical in size, the ES’ wheelbase just 20 mm (0.8 in) longer at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and 4,960 mm (195.3 in) of overall length a bit more of a stretch thanks to an additional 110 mm (4.3 in). The ES is 25 mm (1.0 in) wider than the GS too, measuring 1,865 mm (73.4 in) from side to side, but at 1,445 mm (56.9 in) high it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower, the ES’ long, wide and low design giving it proportions arguably more appealing than the sportier, more upscale sedan.
To be fair to the GS, it not only delivers stronger performance, particularly through the corners and off the line, especially in 467 horsepower GS F form, but it generally feels more substantive thanks to a 66-kilo (145-lb) heftier curb weight in base trim and 185-kg (408-lb) difference in hybrid trims, a rear-drive architecture shared with the smaller IS series sedan and coupe, a stiffer, more robust suspension setup, and other improvements that justify its significantly higher price point; the GS ranging from $63,800 to more than $100,000, compared to just $45,000 to $61,500 with the ES (find pricing for all new and past models at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and individual options, plus money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could keep thousands in your wallet).
Under the base ES hood is a 302 horsepower version of Lexus/Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6, just 9 horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque shy of the base GS engine yet 34 horsepower and 19 lb-ft of torque more than the previous ES 350, and the Japanese luxury brand now marries it to an eight-speed automatic instead of the comparably antiquated six-speed unit found in last year’s ES and the pricier GS currently on sale.
My as-tested ES 300h, which incidentally starts at $47,000, combines an upgraded 176 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder featuring 163 lb-ft of torque with a 67 horsepower (50 kW) electric motor and 29.1-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery for a net output rating of 215 horsepower and an undisclosed torque rating (the previous ES 300h’ net torque rating was 206 lb-ft). Toyota’s fourth-generation hybrid system once again incorporates a silky smooth electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that suits this car’s luxury role well.
Fuel economy is incredibly good at a claimed 5.5 L/100km in the city, 5.2 on the highway and 5.3 combined, which despite its performance gains beats last year’s ES 300h hands-down, that model only capable of 5.8, 6.1 and 5.9 respectively. The new ES 300h handily outmaneuvers its Lincoln MKZ Hybrid archrival past the pumps too, the domestic luxury sedan only managing 5.7 city, 6.2 highway and 5.9 combined, while other notable efficiency comparisons include the conventionally powered ES 350 that gets a rating of 10.6 city, 7.2 highway and 9.1 combined, the same car with its F Sport styling upgrade that manages 10.9, 7.5 and 9.4 respectively, and the regular GS 350 AWD with its 12.3, 9.1 and 10.9 rating, while last year’s GS 450h hybrid eked out an impressive 8.0 city, 6.9 highway and 7.5 combined, but it’s no longer available so the point is moot unless you can find a new one lurking around your local Lexus dealer or are willing to live with a pre-owned example.
You might find the latter difficult being the GS is as rare as the proverbial bird’s teeth, with year-to-date sales a scant 82 units as of August 31, compared to 1,445 down the road for the ES. That latter total makes for the mid-size luxury segment’s second-best results behind the Mercedes-Benz E/CLS-Class, plus the category’s best growth at 55.54 percent over the same eight months of last year. Only two rivals saw any upside at all, Mercedes’ E/CLS-Class (which also includes a coupe and convertible) up by 1.24 percent, plus Audi’s A6 and A7 with 18.87 and 24.28 percent YTD growth respectively, the latter two cars only capable of garnering 441 and 430 unit sales apiece during those eight months, however.
In case you were wondering, the GS, its sales down 43.84 percent, wasn’t last, with Jaguar’s XF having lost 52.89 percent for 57 deliveries, Acura’s RLX down by 24.53 percent for 40 unit sales, and Infiniti’s Q70 dropping 2.56 percent for a 38 unit total. The segment’s biggest loser by percentage is the Lincoln Continental, dropping 56.88 percent so far this year, while closest to positive without going over is the G80 from Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand that narrowly missed out with a loss of just 0.44 percent (thanks to GoodCarBadCar.net for the detailed sales results).
After witnessing the sales carnage in this mid-size luxury sedan class it’s easy to appreciate why Lexus might eventually choose to keep the ES over the GS, and while anyone that’s driven a GS F might lament such a decision. Personally, I’d back a CEO that makes good, sound business decisions over someone merely wanting a hyper-fast executive shuttle in their fleet. Certainly there’s a reasonable case for image cars, but Lexus is already losing money on its gorgeous LC coupe, which will go a lot further to bolster the brand’s image than an aging four-door sedan could ever do, let alone a car that sells in such small numbers there isn’t much image building being done anyway, so let’s see what happens to the Lexus lineup as we move into the next decade.
One thing is for sure, the ES will continue to fill its unique position within the marketplace, and it will have fewer rivals moving forward. The aforementioned Continental will soon be gone, as will Lincoln’s more directly competitive MKZ, which also comes in electrified hybrid form. Cadillac will also drop its front-drive XTS and CTS, while sales of its newer CT6 are so slow it hardly rates. The only challengers not yet mentioned include BMW’s 5 Series, Volvo’s newish S90, and Tesla’s aging Model S, while some might also shop the ES against Buick’s LaCrosse (also slated for cancellation), the Chrysler 300 (there’s no definitive word about this aging car’s future), and possibly Kia’s impressive Stinger, not to mention large luxury sedans like Toyota’s own Avalon, which is basically the same car as the ES under the sheetmetal, and lastly Nissan’s Maxima, which also gets very close to premium sans highfalutin badge.
Still, the ES has long outsold most of these would-be rivals, and this newest iteration should keep that ball rolling for the next few years. As noted earlier, the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are completely redesigned for its seventh generation. No matter whether trimmed out as a base ES 350, upgraded to its more athletic looking ES 350 F Sport trim, or delivered in classy as-tested ES 300h form, Lexus’ front-drive four-door now adds an entirely new level of visual drama to its outward design.
The car’s trademark spindle grille is larger and considerably more expressive, its origami-inspired LED headlight clusters more complex with sharper edges, its side profile longer and sleeker with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller trunk lid, while its rear end styling is more aggressively penned due to a much bigger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above expansive triangular wrap-around LED taillights.
The overall design toys with the mind, initially flowing smoothly from the grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, but then it culminates into a clamour of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. Still, it comes together quite well overall, and certainly won’t conjure any of the model’s previous criticisms about yawn-inducing styling.
Similar can be said of the interior, but instead of sharp edges the cabin combines myriad horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing ES, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, particularly the black knurled metal pods hanging off each side of the primary instrument hood, the left one for turning off the traction control, and the knob to the right for scrolling between Normal, Eco and Sport modes.
Between those unorthodox pods is a standard digital gauge cluster that once again was inspired by the LFA supercar and plenty of lesser Lexus road cars since, this one providing real-time energy monitoring via a nice flowing graphic just to the left of the speedometer, while the infotainment display at dash central measures a minimum of 8.0 inches up to the sizeable 12.3-inch unit tested, yet both look even larger due to all the extra black glass bordering each side, the left portion hiding a classic LED-backlit analogue clock underneath. The high-definition display gets attractive graphics plus deep, rich colours and contrast, plus responds quickly to inputs.
When opting for the as-tested ES 300h hybrid the infotainment interface now comes standard with Apple CarPlay for those who’d rather not integrate their smartphone via Lexus’ proprietary Enform system. This said Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than Android Auto, which is not included anyway, while standard Enform 2.0 apps include info on fuel prices, traffic incidents, weather, sports, and stocks, plus it’s also bundled with Scout GPS Link, Slacker, Yelp, and more.
The 2019 ES 300h also gets an updated Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, and works much better than previous versions, with more accurate responses, especially to tap inputs, while other standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlamps, LED taillights, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a nicely shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, 10-speaker audio with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, truly comfortable 10-way powered front seats with both three-way heat and ventilation, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus much more.
Safety in mind, the new ES 300h comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that features an autonomous emergency braking pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, plus lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, automatic high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control, all of which worked well, without being overly sensitive.
The just-noted 12.3-inch infotainment display comes as part of an optional $3,800 Premium package that also adds blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a toasty heatable steering wheel that along with the heated front seats comes on automatically upon startup (I love this last feature), front seat and side mirror memory, accurate navigation with incredibly detailed mapping, and Enform Destination Assist that provides 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest.
Alternatively you can choose the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that combines everything from the Premium package with unique 18-inch alloy wheels, ultra-bright Tri-LED headlamps, much appreciated Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, full leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade.
Lastly, the as-tested $14,500 Ultra Luxury package builds on the Luxury package with an attractive set of 18-inch noise reduction alloy wheels, calming ambient interior lighting, a really useful 10-inch head-up display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor that made getting into awkward parking spaces easier, a sensational sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, softer and more comfortable semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid.
Needless to say this $61,500 model is the most lavishly equipped Lexus ES 300h to date, but it also provides the best ES driving experience by a long shot. Of course, those who love a comforting ride will appreciate the ES for its suspension compliance, the fully independent setup combining front struts and a multi-link rear setup, albeit revised for 2019 with newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks that include an auxiliary valve to complement the main damper valve in order to respond better to subtler movement. The front suspension was reworked for both comfort and stability, while additional adjustments made to the rear trailing arm and stabilizer bar mounting points helped minimize body lean, all resulting in an ES that’s quite adept through fast-paced curves.
The ES 300h is actually quite fun to drive now, something I would not have admitted to previously, Lexus even including steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to swap a set of simulated gears that mimic the real thing quite well when in Sport mode, plus this enthusiast setting also adds torque at low speeds and provides a tachometer within the digital gauge cluster to monitor all the action. Those purchasing their ES 300h for economical or environmental reasons might prefer Eco mode that improves fuel economy, while EV mode lets you cruise silently at low speed for short durations.
Enhancing efficiency yet more is new Auto Glide Control that allows the ES to coast more freely when lifting off the throttle, instead of slowing down automatically from automatic regenerative braking.
No matter the speed this wind-cheating ES is now the quietest yet, thanks to twice as much structural adhesive, improving noise, vibration and harshness levels, front fender liners and underbody covers, and sound deadening material coating 93 percent of the ES 300h’s floor pan, a major increase over the previous car’s 68 percent area coverage.
The aforementioned battery is smaller but more potent, by the way, and is now located under the rear seat and not in the trunk, which makes the cargo area identical in size to the non-hybrid ES 350 at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft). It also allows for a centre pass-through capable of swallowing up skis or other long items, and therefore allows rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable window seats. And yes, the ES is roomy and comfortable no matter where you’re seated.
Interior finishings are a lot nicer than previous generation ES models, with higher quality soft-touch composite surfacing being used, and more of it. This said, the lower door panels are still hard plastic, as are the sides of the centre console. Lexus smartly includes the wireless device charger under the armrest in the centre console bin, so you can keep your phone away from otherwise distracted eyes.
All of the switchgear is improved over previous generations too, with some noteworthy details being those aforementioned pods that stick out each side of the instrument cluster, the little round metal buttons on the centre stack for controlling the radio, media, and seek/track functions, the temperature control switches, and, while not exactly switchgear, the speaker grilles and surrounds for the Mark Levinson audio system. The hardwood trim feels genuine because it’s actually real, and comes in Striated Black, Linear Dark Mocha or Linear Espresso, while the metallic accents are nicely finished and tastefully applied.
Over the past 20 or so years of covering all things automotive I’ve spent many weeks with Lexus’ ES in both conventionally powered and hybrid forms, so therefore now that I’ve spent yet another seven days with this all-new 2019 ES 300h I can confidently promise that ES enthusiasts will like it best of all. It incorporates all previous ES attributes yet makes them better, resulting in one of the most impressive entry-level luxury sedans ever created.
Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model…
Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model lineup and, in theory, causes people to buy into the make. On rare occasion a model achieves both, but such is not the case with the beautiful new Lexus LC.
Putting things into perspective, the LC could actually be considered a runaway success when compared to Lexus’ previous image car. The LFA was purposely limited to just 500 units worldwide over two model years built between 2010 and 2012, 10 of which came to Canada. By comparison the LC, which was introduced in 2017 as a 2018 model, is selling like gangbusters with seven examples finding well-heeled Canadian customers last month alone, and nine the month before. In total, Lexus delivered 55 LCs over the first seven months of 2019, which makes it the second slowest selling model in the Japanese luxury brand’s lineup, just ahead of the LS (with 51 units) but not the slowest selling sport-luxury car in Canada.
That honour goes to the Maserati GranTurismo that only found 14 new buyers so far this year, while the LC is also doing better than Acura’s NSX that only has 17 units sold, not to mention the Nissan GT-R’s tally of 36, and the Audi R8’s 54. Still, Mercedes-Benz sold 99 SL-Class models year-to-date, BMW’s 8 Series earned 160 new owners thus far, Jaguar’s F-Type found 181 buyers, Merc’s AMG GT pulled in a surprising 258 (considering it starts at $170k), and Porsche’s 911 won over 587. Making matters more interesting, that Porsche sales total represents a 31.74-percent drop in popularity compared to the same seven months last year, due to a lull in availability ahead of the all-new 2020 model arriving now.
The 911 wasn’t the only sports car to lose ground on this list either, the R8 falling a catastrophic 70.97 percentage points from grace, the GranTurismo losing 48.15 percent, this LC have been knocked down by 48.11 percent, F-Type sales dropping by 29.30 percent, the GT-R down some 21.74 percent, and the SL having dipped by 16.10 percent. Only the AMG GT grew its year-to-date sales, by 55.42 percent, with the 8 Series too new to compare. You might also get a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand Toyota sold 66 new $65k-plus Supra models during its first month of availability in July, which you’ll now know is more than every LC sold so far this year.
There are other cars competing in this class, but some, like the BMW i8 and Mercedes S-Class Coupe, combine their numbers with other models in their respective lineups (the i3 and S-Class Sedan in these cases), whereas the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT and Rolls-Royce Wraith are in a slightly different league when it comes to pricing. Ford sold three Markham, Ontario-built GTs and Dodge even notched one up for the Viper, incidentally, but the former is a purposely low-volume supercar and the latter went out of production two years ago, so the unsteady trickle of deliveries shouldn’t count. A bit further down the pricing hierarchy is Chevy’s Corvette that totaled 840 units year-to-date, and it’s a foregone conclusion the slightly pricier mid-engine C8 will soon fly out of GM showrooms, which will make it even more difficult for very good cars like this LC to find sales traction.
When sales don’t stack up, it’s always important to point out that a given car’s popularity isn’t necessarily a reflection of its overall goodness. As one might expect, the very fact the LC is a Lexus is reason enough to give it respect, and other than the most recently introduced fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, the second model to use the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), specifically TNGA-L (GA-L) underpinnings, the LC is easily the best Lexus ever made.
The initial draw has to be styling. The LC takes the brand’s spindle grille to new widths and depths, but the design gets even more radical to each side, with headlamps that look like some sort of mechanical set of alien-implanted growths, yet the lit areas are actually quite small and filled with tightly grouped trios of LEDs (which Lexus had to reinvent in order to fit within such a small cluster). All of the abstract irregularities are just glossed over black trim, other than the Nike swoosh-style “arrowhead” daytime running lights just below.
The LC design continues rearward with additional modern-day Lexus trademark elements, such as the blackened C-pillar “floating roof” effect with nice polished nickel detailing, far-reaching pronged taillights that more or less mirror the supposed “L-shaped” headlamps while infused with 80 individual LEDs per side and sharing design elements with the aforementioned LS (not to mention the Toyota Prius and Camry XSE). Each element might appear a bit bizarre on its own, but the entire package comes together in one surprisingly elegant and undeniably beautiful cohesive whole.
Come to think of it I almost never comment on styling, unless the designer got something especially right or incredibly wrong. In the LC’s case, the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team, led by studio chief Ian Cartabiano, with Edward Lee responsible for the jaw-dropping exterior and William Chergosky plus Ben Chang in charge of the interior, the LF-LC Concept that inspired it couldn’t have been more right. It was miraculously transformed from awe-inspiring prototype to equally stunning LC 500 and LC 500h reality with only minor outer modifications made, the end result quite possibly the closest a production model has ever been to resembling its concept car roots.
The road-going LC’s interior was completely redesigned, albeit kept the general theme including an LFA-inspired pod-like digital gauge cluster, a horizontally shaped instrument panel with a recessed widescreen centre display, a cockpit-style driver’s compartment that’s semi-enclosed by a buttress-type centre stack extension doubling as a front passenger grab-handle in the production model, a flowing set of downward-swept suede-like alcantara door panel inserts, deeply sculpted, heavily bolstered front sport seats, similarly styled rear sport bucket seats, and more. All the effort spent was immediately rewarded by placement on Wards Auto 10 Best Interiors list when the car came on the scene in the spring of 2017, and I have to agree that it’s a wonderfully artful design that provides all the luxuries and digital modernity expected in a personal sports-luxury coupe starting at $102,750 in 2019 LC 500 form and $103,050 in just-arriving 2020 trim, or alternatively at $118,850 with the as-tested 2019 LC 500h electrified powertrain, or $118,950 as a 2020 500h model (see all Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing at CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
Nothing significant changes from 2019 to 2020, only the elimination of a special $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery (etcetera) for the LC 500 model, and the addition of a new Bespoke White interior theme for the conventionally powered car as well. No matter which powertrain you choose all six exterior colours remain identical, with Infrared the only optional paint at just $650, while the three remaining interiors are also carried over.
A key reason my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h tester is pricier than its 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 sibling, despite the latter upping horsepower by 113 ponies and without doubt providing a more tantalizing exhaust note, plus fitted with a quicker-shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s E-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission), is equipment, the 500h coming standard with everything from the Performance package that would otherwise cost an LC 500 buyer $13,500 more.
The list of upgrades includes four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering, a Torsen limited slip differential, 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires instead of the standard 20-inch set, a carbon fibre roof in place of the standard glass panel, an active rear spoiler, carbon fibre reinforced polymer scuff plates, an alcantara headliner, upgraded sport seats, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat instead of the usual 10-way unit, plus lane change assist added to a long list of standard advanced driver assistive systems on both models that include a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and dynamic cruise control.
I should point out a shortlist of standard luxury and convenience highlights while I’m at it, these including LED cornering lights to go along with the triple-LED headlamps noted earlier, a cool credit card-sized smart key to let you inside via proximity sensing, a head-up display to go along with the fully digital gauge cluster mentioned before, power-folding side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel rim that actually lets you adjust the temperature, a powered steering column that works with the front seat memory, cooled front seats (plus heat of course), semi-automated self-parking, and much, much more.
Also standard is a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display featuring a regular backup camera with dynamic guidelines, accurate navigation, Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity (but no Android Auto), superb 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround audio, satellite radio, dual USB ports, traffic and weather info, Lexus’ Enform App Suite 2.0 with Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, and Fuel apps, Enform Destination Assist with a one-year subscription, and the Enform Safety Connect suite containing Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription.
The display is too far away to reach easily, so Lexus provides its Remote Touch Interface 2.0 touchpad on the lower console, and it works easily enough after some getting used to. A few quick-access buttons and audio controls surround the pad, making it perfectly acceptable yet hardly my favourite infotainment system. Fortunately there are plenty of other reasons to like the LC.
Despite being based on the same platform architecture as Lexus’ big LS sedan, the LC is a fraction of the size in every dimension except width. It reaches across an extra 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you can sense its spaciousness in shoulder room once seated next to a passenger, but its wheelbase is 255 mm (10.0 in) shorter at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and overall length a whopping 475 mm (18.7 in) less grand, while its obvious height difference is reduced by 116 mm (4.5 in).
So what’s the closest rival in size and interior roominess? Before comparing measurements I initially thought of the S-Class Coupe being that it’s top of the personal luxury range at Mercedes, but the mid-size E-Class Coupe is actually a lot larger than the LC in every dimension except (once again) width. The LC is actually closer to cars like BMW’s i8 and Aston Martin’s DB11, with a bit more wheelbase, length and height than the exotic looking German and truly rarified Brit, but less width this time.
The longer wheelbase and length means that four adults can fit inside, although I’d recommend smaller folks in back. I’m just five-foot-eight with taller legs than torso, and I had to bend my neck all the way over to the side in order to fit within, with my head still rubbing up against the rear glass. The seats were comfortable, and there was plenty of room for my legs and feet, not to mention my shoulders and hips, so it was a shame that even medium sized adults can’t fit in back. As for the trunk, it’s a bit smaller in this hybrid model, measuring 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 litres (5.4 cu ft), so you might be forced to stuff one set of golf clubs into that otherwise kids-only back seat.
And yes, to those reading who don’t understand this market, the number of golf bags that can be stowed in the trunk of a personal luxury coupe is much more important than mere performance, which, together with rear seat room, may be reason enough that sales haven’t caught on as much as they could have. Let’s be clear, the LC is not a pure performance car, especially in hybrid trim, but rather a luxurious personal coupe that also goes quickly. In this respect it’s a lot like the just-noted i8, in that it drives beautifully and handles corners brilliantly, but it’s really a luxury car. As for comfort, the suede-like alcantara covered driver’s seat was as feel-good supportive as any in this class, plus wonderfully adjustable and replete with enough side bolstering for all but my most enthusiastic rally-type antics.
I was initially scheduled to spend a week in both models, but someone did something naughty to the regular LC 500 just before I was to receive it, so instead of experiencing its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was shuffled into something else that week, never to see the LC 500 again. This said, not too many weeks later I was able to get into this LC 500h, which comparatively makes a more modest 354 horsepower and an unknown amount of torque from its V6/electric combination, but I have to say it feels a lot more energetic than the numbers claim.
The internal combustion portion of this hybrid power unit only makes 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is actually less than the same engine puts out in Toyota’s Camry, but before we slag this top-tier Lexus for using such a pedestrian mill, take note that a more highly strung version puts out 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so it’s in good company at least. Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their fast-forward purpose as well, the latter good for 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a combined 472 horsepower and, well, let’s not bother because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly work that way, which is why Lexus officially claims 354 horsepower and other sources are estimating about 370 lb-ft of twist at the rear wheels. I think they’re being extremely conservative in this estimate, being that the conventionally powered V8 sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and the hybrid a mere 0.5 seconds slower at 5.6, and that’s despite weighing 77 kilos (170 lbs) more at 2,012 kg (4,436 lbs) for the 500h to 1,935 kg (4,266 lbs) for the 500.
In order to maximize either model’s fun factor, choose the Drive Mode Select system’s most engaging Sport S+ setting, which may not be as extreme as the sportiest mode in a BMW M car, or a Lexus RC F for that matter, but it certainly allows the engine to rev higher and prompts quicker shifts from the large metal steering wheel-mounted paddles. I have to admit Sport S+ became my go-to position for getting through town quickly, particularly because the engine makes such vicious snarling noises, especially when revs ramp up, and “gear changes” are a lot more direct.
And yes, in case you were wondering, this may just be the best continuously variable transmission I’ve ever tested, but despite its impressive 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which actually incorporates a conventional multi-gear transmission within, it still has some latent CVT tendencies, which means that even in its sportiest mode the shifts can come so quickly between intervals, albeit without all the snappy positive engagement from a sport-tuned automatic or dual-clutch automated gearbox, that it seems like nothing’s really happened at all, plus the engine tends to whine up and down with a bit of the old rubber band effect in between. This means serious performance fans will want to get the LC with its V8, leaving those wanting to make some sort of environmental statement opting for the hybrid, because I really can’t see anyone spending $100,000-plus for a personal sports coupe caring one whit about how much they pay at the pump.
The LC 500h’s estimated fuel economy is impressive, however, at 9.0 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.1 combined compared to 15.1 city, 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the LC 500; bragging rights to all but Tesla warriors.
I imagine the lighter weight LC 500 adds more agility through fast-paced corners than the LC 500h, but this long, wide, low and relatively large coupe is nevertheless a great handling car, taking up a couple of tons of real estate yet able to manage curves with deft precision. This is its forte, the LC providing the same kind of relaxed high-speed confidence found in a big Mercedes coupe, yet with its own Japanese premium flair. Its ideally balanced chassis is expectedly easy on the backside too, with a ride that’s a lot more comfortable than its big wheels and low-slung bodywork suggest, while its also wonderfully quiet when its driving mode is switched to one of its less formidable settings, Comfort, Eco and Sport also on the menu.
At the end of the week the LC 500h is a sensational car, but numbers don’t lie. As good as it is, the people have spoken. Even in the US, where Lexus is one of the strongest luxury brands available, the LC has only found 764 buyers since the first of January, which is a bit better than in Canada per capita, but hardly anything to get excited about. Word of a new more performance-oriented LC F arriving later this year could cause some much-needed interest to return to the nameplate, as will an attractive convertible version that’s starting to show up on the interweb, but then again the lovely LC may just end up as another image-building car, helpful for raising Lexus’ well respected name up to higher, pricier levels of the premium market, yet not capable of making a profit on its own.
This said the LC makes for a wonderfully exclusive piece of automotive art that managed to attract more attention from passersby than many pricier cars with more prestigious branding, having garnered more longing stares, pointing fingers and open mouths of astonishment than I could count, not to mention a completely overcome German tourist who just had to get his photo taken beside it. Still, unlike the usual exotic hardware that causes such adoration, the LC still provides a high level of reliable performance, a standout feature for sure. If you’re looking for something breathtakingly beautiful that’s completely different from anything else on the road, I highly recommend the Lexus LC.
An off-road Lexus? To some this might sound like an oxymoron, but in reality two of Lexus’ priciest luxury SUVs started life as ultra-capable go-anywhere Toyota Land Cruisers. The Land Cruiser name…
An off-road Lexus? To some this might sound like an oxymoron, but in reality two of Lexus’ priciest luxury SUVs started life as ultra-capable go-anywhere Toyota Land Cruisers.
The Land Cruiser name is legendary, and in many markets considered a premium sub-brand of the world’s second-largest automaker. While most Canadians conjuring mental images of iconic Land Cruisers will look back to the now classic 1960–1984 FJ40 series, the larger and longer 1967–1980 FJ55 followed by the much more popular 1980–1989 BJ60, or the most recent 2008–present J200 that does double-duty as the Lexus LX 570, the model shown here is based on the 2009–present J150, or Land Cruiser Prado.
Known North American luxury consumers as the Lexus GX 460, this somewhat long-in-tooth albeit still very capable mid-size three-row 4×4 also shared underpinnings with the current Toyota 4Runner and FJ Cruiser (the latter no longer available in North America) in its previous third-generation J120 design (2002–2009), which should help anyone familiar with those no-holds-barred SUVs believe in this Lexus’ off-road prowess.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that 4×4 enthusiasts looking to add luxury to their off-road lifestyle have opted for the GX 460, so now Lexus is paying homage to these faithful fans with this special creation, and even giving them partial credit for bringing the new GXOR Concept to life.
“Concept vehicles are typically created to generate excitement for the enthusiasts, but sometimes, it’s the enthusiasts and their vehicles that give life to the concept,” stated Lexus. “The Lexus GXOR Concept (GX Off-Road) is fueled by the passionate Lexus GX owners that have discovered and embraced the SUV’s perfect combination of ultimate luxury and unrivaled off-road capability.”
No wonder the Japanese luxury brand chose to launch the new GXOR Concept at the annual FJ Summit in Ouray, Colorado, the 12th of such events having taken place from July 17–21 this year. Similar in concept to a Jeep Jamboree, the FJ Summit provides an opportunity for Toyota 4×4 owners to test their personal driving skills as well as their Toyota/Lexus 4×4’s prowess on challenging trails, gives classes taught by experienced off-road instructors in order to hone those driving skills, and much more.
Despite the GX 460’s impressive capability off-road, and its passionate group of diehard followers, its popularity with the general SUV-buying public has faded in recent months and years, with Q2 2019 sales down 25.41 percent compared to the same six months last year, resulting in only 138 buyers for last place in the mid-size luxury SUV segment (other than the now discontinued Lincoln MKT), while all 12 months of 2018 only found 376 customers after a high of 662 units in 2015.
To be fair, plenty of competitors have been losing ground this year, with Q2 2019 Tesla Model X sales off by 30.00 percent for 840 units, Audi Q7 deliveries down 36.13 percent to 1,674 units (possibly due to the new Q8’s arrival), the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class dropping 36.66 percent to 762 units, and the same German luxury brand’s GLE-Class plummeting by 42.00 percent to 2,413 units. Even the mighty Lexus RX (and new long-wheelbase RX L) saw a sales drop of 8.50 percent through Q1 and Q2, but its 3,982 deliveries kept it well in front of the entire mid-size luxury SUV pack.
To put the GX’ 2018 calendar year sales of 376 units and 2015 high of 662 units into perspective, Lexus sold 9,329 RX crossovers last year, which was its second-best result after a high of 9,402 units in 2017. The RX also outsold Lexus’ next-most-popular NX compact luxury crossover, which had its best sales of 7,859 units last year. Hence, anything that could potentially spur on GX sales would be helpful.
Enter the GXOR, which while only a concept makes the luxury model’s 4×4 credentials clear to those who might not be in the know, while its ardent fans could potentially build something similar from all of this prototype’s available aftermarket components.
On that note, the GXOR’s plentiful upgrades include a custom CBI Stealth front bumper with an integrated Warn 9.5 XPS winch, a Safari snorkel for feeding air to the engine while wading through deep water, Lexus F Sport 18-inch alloys wrapped in General Tire Grabber X3 275/70 all-terrain rubber, a raised Icon 2.5 CDC suspension with remote reservoirs plus billet control arms with delta joints, full underbody armour skid plate protection, CBI frame sliders, a Redarc Tow-Pro brake controller, and lastly an EEZI-AWN K9 roof rack that comes complete with a Rigid 50 LED front light bar, a 160-watt Overland solar panel power supply, Alu-Box storage cases, and Maxtrax recovery boards.
Inside, the GXOR Concept keeps the GX 460’s already luxurious finishings while adding an Icom 5100A ham radio up front for remote communication, whereas the cargo area is partially filled with a Goose Gear custom drawer system featuring storage compartments and a slide-out National Luna refrigerator.
Finally, the GXOR Concept is shown towing a Patriot Campers X1H trailer featuring a power-operated pop-up tent, a hot water system, and more, while its electrical components are powered via the just-noted solar panel.
On that note, Lexus doesn’t say whether or not the GXOR Concept’s 4.6-litre V8 keeps the production model’s 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque or receives some performance upgrades, but it certainly should be strong enough to haul the hefty looking trailer either way.
“To all of the GX enthusiasts that use their rigs to escape on epic adventures, and proudly share the #GXOR, this concept build is for you,” added Lexus to its GX 460’s fan base. “Thank you for inspiring us to Experience Amazing.”
As with all concepts and prototypes, the question of potential GXOR production needs to be addressed. Considering how successful Mercedes-Benz has been with its rugged G-Class, and similarly how Land Rover Defender enthusiasts have been getting excited about that model’s upcoming arrival, something like this GXOR Concept could find reasonable sales traction if offered in production trim, or at least as a dealer-installed kit. The latter would allow retailers to modify unsold GX 460s, which might bring some much-needed attention to the model.
Until this happens (or doesn’t), enjoy our complete gallery of GXOR Concept photos above, plus a video that Lexus provided below. Also, to find out how affordable the 2019 Lexus GX 460 is, check out CarCostCanada where you can see complete pricing of trims, packages and individual options, plus learn about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.