Newest Lexus sure to extend brand's streak

by Kelly Taylor  . Apr 15 2016
KELLY TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSThe new Lexus LC 500 is a sleek, luxury coupe powered by a 5.0-litre V-8 engine.

KELLY TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The new Lexus LC 500 is a sleek, luxury coupe powered by a 5.0-litre V-8 engine.

EDMONTON — For most of its existence, Lexus has had a relatively good run.

It’s been successful by most measures, more than enough to keep the lights on, but hardly Earth-shattering.

The brand, launched in North America in 1989, has done a decent job of either tweaking existing Toyota products (Camry/Avalon to ES) or rebranding Toyotas not sold here (Arista to GS) and expanding the reach of Toyota’s manufacturing.

But in the last 18 months, it’s been lights out for the brand. Director of Lexus, Jennifer Barron, said that stretch has seen 18 consecutive monthly sales records, the longest such streak.

What’s changed? First off, Lexus products might share platforms, such as the Avalon-based ES, but today, you have to be in the know to see the similarities. In previous versions of the ES, it was almost as though certain parts (tail lights, etc.) were interchangeable with Camry.

Barron takes a slightly different read. “What’s really helped sales is just the breadth of the product,” she said in an interview at the Edmonton Motor Show. “We introduced the NX, a compact premium crossover, in a segment we’ve never been in. It’s really raised our numbers over the last year. We have better and better product, and that’s allowing us to be successful, and we have exclusive new technology allowing us to be even more successful. The styling is bringing people in and it drives that excitement and creates an emotional investment.”

There might be none that do that as well as the car we’re here to see, the new Lexus LC 500. It’s a sleek, luxury coupe powered by a 5.0-litre V-8 delivering 0 to 100 km/h times of 4.6 seconds. It’s mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission Lexus says will rival a dual-clutch transmission for shifting speed.

Extensive work was also done engineering the suspension, which features aluminum control bars to save weight and, in the rear, the multi-link suspension features dual ball joints on both upper and lower control arms for improved suspension geometry and wheel control, which also improves steering response. The body is a combination of aluminum, carbon-fibre and steel to save weight but to leave strength where it is needed.

The interior was designed not only to offer a cockpit-like environment for the driver, it also puts the driver’s hip as close as possible to the car’s centre of gravity, which should improve the driver’s perception of the vehicle’s movements, or the so-called seat-of-the-pants feel of the car.

The challenge in moving a car from concept (LF-LC) to production (LC), is retaining the sometimes impossible design cues built into the concept.

To minimize the effects of this transition, Lexus said it merged design and engineering teams for a collaborative effort.

“Design and engineering sides worked together on issues and obstacles that were overcome one by one. I feel we achieved something greater than simply preserving the spirit of the concept’s design” said chief engineer Koji Sato, in a press release.

What model year it will be, Lexus said it hasn’t decided. It will be launched in 2017, which suggests it could be a 2018 model. Pricing, packaging and positioning is months away from being decided, but Barron said the car’s key competitors will be the BMW 6-Series Coupe and Mercedes-Benz SL.

To put that into perspective, the 6-Series currently starts at $100,500 and the SL at $124,600.

Barron was quick to discourage drawing any direct lines from those prices to whatever is decided for LC 500.

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca