Lexus is founded on the principle of the “relentless pursuit of perfection”. In every aspect of its vehicle design and manufacturing and its customer service, it strives constantly to achieve the highest possible standards, setting benchmarks for all its rivals in the prestige car market.
Lexus made its debut in Britain in 1990, its launch following on from the marque’s international debut in North America the previous year. In terms of scale, its beginnings were modest: just one model was offered for sale, the LS400 limousine. Its impact, however, was exceptional, changing people’s fundamental perception of what a luxury car should be.
Furthermore, the excellence of the LS400 was supported by a customer care and service programme that set new benchmarks for the industry. More than a decade later, Lexus has successfully established itself as a leading prestige brand. The model range has developed steadily to offer vehicles that meet a broad range of modern driving tastes and styles, but this growth has not detracted from the principles of quality, performance and attention to detail which are fundamental to Lexus.
At the same time, Lexus continues to achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction, as demonstrated by its unprecedented four successive Gold Awards in the annual J.D. Power and Associates UK survey and a host of other quality awards in Europe and North America.
Lexus does not just compete with its rivals on established terms, it also takes a lead in setting new standards for the industry. The most important example of this yet will be achieved in 2005 with the launch of the RX400h, the world’s first Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) to use a hybrid power system.
THE LEXUS CHALLENGE
To understand how Lexus has managed to make such an impact in such a relatively short period, you need to go back to 1983 when Toyota Chairman Eiji Toyoda set the challenge for the company to create a luxury car that would rival the world’s best. The challenge was taken up and two years later the first prototype of what would become the production LS400 was running. A dedicated team of engineers worked to ensure every aspect of the car met the highest standards: drivetrain, aerodynamics, chassis engineering, ride and handling, brakes, electronics, bodywork, noise and vibration levels and interior appointments.
Underpinning all this work was the belief that a high quality car should deliver long-term ownership and driving pleasure. To this end, an “anti-aging” programme was initiated. Its purpose was to ensure that a Lexus with 50,000 miles on the clock would not look, feel, sound or drive perceptibly differently from a brand-new one. The engineering team identified and concentrated on 96 key areas of the vehicle that are critical to its durability.
They spent more than five years studying the fading tendencies of paints, plastics, rubbers and fabrics; the wear, noise and vibration characteristics of mechanical components; corrosion; and the prevention of squeaks and rattles. This demanded an intensive testing programme in which the prototypes were subjected to sustained running in the harshest conditions imaginable.
The name – LS for Luxury Sedan, 400 for the 4.0-litre V8 engine – was chosen in 1988, a couple of months before the car was revealed in public for the first time, alongside its smaller sister, the ES (Executive Sedan) 250, at the Detroit Motor Show. When the cars reached American showrooms for the first time, in September 1989, the response was immediately positive: in the first month more than 4,200 cars were sold.
INTRODUCTION IN EUROPE
Lexus’s early success in America provided a perfect springboard for the next stage of its development plan, the introduction of the brand to Europe. This was achieved in 1990 with the launch of the LS400 into a marketplace traditionally dominated by Europe’s own, long-established prestige manufacturers. In that first year, a modest 1,158 Lexus cars were sold in Europe, but at the same time more and more people were learning about the qualities that make Lexus special, in terms of both its products and its service to its customers.
The LS400 continued as Lexus’s sole standard-bearer in Europe until 1993 and the launch of the GS430 luxury performance saloon. Styled by Giugiaro, the car had particular appeal to European customers and helped increase Lexus sales in the UK by almost 100 per cent.
These two models continued to represent Lexus in Europe until 1998 when the LS400 was revised to achieve even greater refinement and performance and a new GS300 model was launched. The new GS300 offered a more compact body but a longer wheelbase, thus improving passenger accommodation. Ride and handling were improved, the power and torque of the 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine were increased, and a new five-speed automatic transmission was introduced.
Lexus’s market performance was transformed in 1999 with the arrival of the IS200, a compact sports saloon that was the first Lexus model specifically designed for Europe. As well as conforming to Lexus’s established standards of refinement and quality, its handling and performance quickly marked it down as one of the most able and desirable cars in its class. Its driving character is defined by its classic front-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration and its perfect 50:50 front to rear weight ratio.
The IS opened up the Lexus brand to a whole new customer base that was quick to respond to the car’s fresh appeal and the built-in Lexus quality. End-of-year sales results for Lexus in 1999 revealed it as the UK’s fastest-growing car manufacturer, with figures up more than 100 per cent on the previous year. At the same time, cumulative sales in North America had passed the one million mark.
At this point, Lexus’s product development cycle was entering an important new phase, delivering vehicles that pushed at the boundaries of traditional market sectors. The RX300 arrived in Europe in the autumn of 2000, following its big impact in the North American market, where it created a new market niche for premium SUV models. The RX300 combined the robust engineering of four-wheel drive vehicles with sleek, contemporary styling and a host of luxury features of the kind people had come to associate with Lexus’s regular saloon models.
At the same time, Lexus presented its all-new LS430, a car which demonstrated more than any other model Lexus’s “relentless pursuit of perfection” with its hitherto unseen levels of quality and refinement. Under the bonnet an all-new 4.3-litre V8 engine delivered its increased power even more quietly and smoothly.
The growing impact of Lexus was revealed in 2001 when it took the Gold Award in the J.D. Power and Associates UK Customer Satisfaction Survey. In the first year in which Lexus was eligible to take part in the survey, it triumphed comprehensively, demonstrating that its ground-breaking customer care programme was the best in the industry in the opinion of the most important commentators – the customers themselves.
This was the first of four successive Gold Awards, with Lexus maintaining its top status year after year. In 2004 it set a new record high score of 878 points out of 1,000 to confirm its pre-eminence in the UK car market.
Similarly, on the other side of the Atlantic, Lexus has reaped many more honours, both for the quality of its products and its unparalleled levels of service.
In 2001 Lexus also brought its handsome SC430 to market, a beautifully styled sports coupe equipped with an electric folding hard top. With typical Lexus attention to detail, the sophisticated Mark Levinson audio system automatically adjusts to provide the optimum sound performance when the top is lowered or raised. Such was the impact of the car when details were first released, order books were filled months ahead, before any customers had even driven the vehicle.
The IS range was extended in 2001 with the introduction of the IS300, powered by a 211bhp version of the six-cylinder engine. At the same time a new body style was introduced, the SportCross. This gives the IS the added versatility of a fifth door and flexible seating and load area arrangement, ideal for those with active leisure and business lifestyles. The IS300 SportCross was followed in October 2002 by the IS200 SportCross.
The launch of the original RX300 provoked several rival prestige manufacturers to set about preparing their own premium SUV models and some of these were only just arriving in showrooms in 2003 when Lexus raised the stakes once more with an all-new RX300. Pioneering new features, such as a power-operated tailgate, rear view monitor and parking assist system and knee airbag protection for the driver and front seat passenger moved the RX300 comfortably ahead of its rivals. Not surprisingly, it set new record sales figures for the model in the UK.
The RX range is also set to take Lexus into the field of alternative fuel systems. In 2005, a production model will be offered with a hybrid power system. Similar in concept to the system used in Toyota’s ground-breaking Prius, it will combine a V6 petrol engine with electric motors to achieve performance to match the performance of a conventional V8. At the same time, the hybrid power system will deliver greatly improved fuel economy and much lower levels of exhaust emissions.
The production RX400h model was unveiled at the 2004 Detroit Motor Show, alongside the next generation GS saloon. The new GS will be the first production model to display dynamic new Lexus design principles, developed under the theme L-Finesse. This new approach will go on to inspire and shape the appearance of a whole new generation of Lexus vehicles. The new GS is due to reach European showrooms in 2005 and will have the distinction of launching Lexus as a brand in its home market, Japan.
LEXUS (GB) LTD
Lexus (GB) Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Toyota (GB) PLC. It is responsible for the marketing of the Lexus brand in the UK and supports the national centre network. Its central UK office is at the Toyota headquarters, a state-of-the-art building near Epsom, Surrey, which opened in 2001.
THE LEXUS CENTRE NETWORK
Lexus sales and servicing in the UK are handled by a national network of around 50 dedicated centres, all of which have been designed and equipped to meet Lexus’s industry-leading standards.
The concept was to provide a welcoming and user-friendly environment, providing a wide range of facilities whatever the customer’s needs, from a children’s play area to business meeting rooms.
The atmosphere was rendered more welcoming and relaxing with softer lighting, comfortable furnishings and an open environment in which people can browse the vehicles without feeling under pressure or unwelcome.
THE LEXUS PRODUCT RANGE
IS200/IS200 SportCross, IS300/IS300 SportCross
The IS series was the first Lexus model range to be designed specifically for the European market. It is a compact, four-door executive sports saloon endowed with a superb handling thanks to its classic front-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration and perfect front-to-rear weight distribution.
Both saloons feature powerful and flexible straight six-cylinder petrol engines which use intelligent, variable valve timing (VVT-i) for strong performance and fuel efficiency at all engine speeds. The 1,988cc engine in the IS200 develops 153bhp at 6,200rpm and maximum torque of 195Nm at 4,600rpm. Significantly, the engine is smooth and sweet sounding right across the rev range, adding to the high degree of driving pleasure. Performance is even stronger in the IS300, its larger capacity engine producing 211bhp and 288Nm of torque, which give the car nought to 62mph acceleration in 8.2 seconds. Strong pulling power is guaranteed with more than 250Nm of torque available from just 2,000rpm.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on IS200, while the IS300 is equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission with an E-shift function that allows the driver to make fast and efficient gear changes by means of buttons mounted on the steering wheel.
The IS range also offers SportCross versions of both the 200 and 300 models. This five-door “crossover” design offers extra convenience with a rear tailgate and load area that can be easily extended by folding down the rear seats. The increased versatility is not at the expense of performance. The models use the same engines as their saloon counterparts and achieve near identical performance in terms of acceleration and fuel consumption, thanks to the SportCross’s aerodynamic design and clever use of weight-saving measures, such as the lightweight aluminium tailgate.
GS430 and GS300
The original GS300 was Lexus’s second model to be launched in the UK after the ground-breaking LS400. Now in its second generation, the GS range offers a strong blend of luxury and performance. Power under the bonnet is matched by high quality features, such as a sound system by top international audio designer Mark Levinson. The dual zone climate control features a pollution sensor with a deodorising function that ensures traffic fumes are prevented from entering the cabin.
The GS430 is equipped with the same 4.3-litre 32-valve V8 engine used in the flagship LS430. This potent power unit achieves a top speed, where permitted, of 155mph and nought to 62mph in 6.3 seconds. It is among the fastest cars in its class and its smoothness and refinement are unmatched.
Its sister model, the GS300, uses a straight-six engine developing 216bhp. Equipped with variable valve timing and electronic throttle control, it is capable of moving the car from rest to 62mph in 8.2 seconds and reaching a top speed of 143mph. Both GS models are equipped with five-speed automatic transmission, the GS300 additionally benefiting from Lexus’s E-shift system that allows the driver to effect gear shifts by means of control buttons on the steering wheel.
In July 2003 the range was developed further with the introduction of Sport version of both GS models, adding to the car’s high level of driver appeal. The cars’ excellent handling characteristics are further sharpened thanks to lowered, sports-tuned suspension and the fitting of larger, 18-inch alloy wheels shod with lower profile tyres. The Sport models also feature discreet body styling elements, including a rear spoiler and deep front air dam.
The RX300 created a new breed of vehicle when it made its debut in North America in 1999. It is the original luxury SUV and is also the world’s most successful, with sales of more than half a million.
The RX300’s combination of robust 4×4 construction and street presence with impeccable Lexus quality and refinement inspired a series of imitators from other prestige marques. Some of these were only just launching their first generation models in response to Lexus’s lead when the all-new RX300 was launched in 2003, raising the industry benchmark even higher.
In redefining the RX300 for the next generation of buyers, the Lexus development team concentrated on creating a vehicle that could deliver excellent dynamic performance – especially in handling and ride comfort. The car’s sleek and powerful design makes it stand out from the crowd, while the interior achieves new high levels of quality and finish.
The superior specification of the RX300 – available in the UK in three trim levels – includes nine airbags as standard (including a front knee airbag), a rear parking monitor that relays pictures from a tailgate mounted camera to a dashboard display screen for safe and simple reverse parking manoeuvres; and a power tailgate that opens and closes automatically. The technical advances also extend to the world’s first air conditioning system, which responds in the same way as the human nervous system to ensure the correct level of heating or cooling according to the season, and adaptive headlights, that rotate in line with the car’s steering to provide greatly improved illumination through bends and at junctions.
In the UK, the RX300 is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, coupled to a five-speed electronically controlled gearbox. Safe and secure handling is aided by a full suite of active features, including ABS, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control and Brake Assist.
The LS430 is Lexus’s flagship saloon, a car of unrivalled quality and refinement in its class. Measured against its competitor models from European manufacturers, it offers an unmatched luxury specification at a fiercely competitive price, proving that the finest quality does not come at a prohibitive price.
When the original LS400 launched the Lexus brand in 1989, it achieved hitherto unknown levels of smoothness and quiet operation. Subsequently that exceptional refinement has been taken to even higher levels thanks to detail adjustments to the car’s design, construction, suspension and powertrain. It is perhaps no surprise to learn that the car’s aerodynamic shape was refined in a wind tunnel that was previously used in the design of Japan’s iconic Bullet Train.
At the heart of the LS430 is Lexus’s supreme 4.3-litre V8 engine, capable of accelerating the vehicle from nought to 62mph in 6.7 seconds. Even at high speed, the cabin remains quiet, the noise of the engine and the six-speed electronic transmission barely perceptible.
Both driver and passengers enjoy the lap of luxury inside the LS430. Both front and rear seats are electrically adjustable. Those in the front are air conditioned, while those in the rear offer a vibro-massage function. Unlike many of its competitors, the Lexus comes with an all-embracing specification, so owners do not have to pay thousands of pounds extra for additional equipment.
Other key features include an adaptive front lighting system, like that introduced on the new RX300 (see above); a complement of 10 airbags, including driver and passenger knee airbags; a DVD-based Lexus Navigator satellite navigation system with touch-screen operation; an integrated cool box between the rear seats; Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free communications and an advanced voice recognition system for wide range of functions, including climate control, navigation and audio controls.
The SC430 is the jewel of Lexus, a superbly appointed four-seat coupe with an automatically retracting hard top that transforms the car into a stylish cabriolet at the touch of a button.
Its beautiful design as created at Lexus’s design studio in the South of France and was influenced by the classic style of luxury yachts. Throughout, the car presents the quality and attention to detail that sets Lexus apart from all other manufacturers.
A perfect example is the operation of the nine-speaker Mark Levinson hi-fi that automatically adjusts to deliver the finest sound reproduction when the roof is lowered or raised.
At the same time, the SC430 provides exhilarating performance. The renowned 282bhp V8 engine achieves nought to 62mph in 6.4 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
The car was designed from the outset as the perfect combination of coupe and cabriolet. With the roof in place insulation from noise and vibration is to the highest standard, while with the roof down and stowed out of sight in its rear storage compartment, a wind deflector ensures minimal interference from the airflow, even at high speed.