Monday, December 11, 2017
Search

LEXTREMES

Lexuses have been known for certain qualities since Toyota first launched its premium division in 1989 with its ambitious LS luxury car supported by a warmed-over Camry called the ES250. Both were upscale, conservatively styled and faultlessly assembled, and over time they proved highly reliable and, well, highly forgettable. More than a dozen additional Lexus models have emerged since with similarly high marks for quality, but little to stir the loins in terms of styling. Then Toyota President Akio Toyoda, a genuine car en­thusiast and talented racer, held a particularly impactful discussion with potential customers at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance during which most in attendance characterized Lexus products to be nice but rather, uh, boring, the mandate to set: add emotion to the brand and “ensure that the words ‘boring’ and Lexus never showed up in the same sentence again.” Well, mission accomplished, we’d say, especially with the two we are profiling this month.

2018 LEXUS LC

If the LC500 looks like a concept car, that’s because a concept car is how it started out in 2012, and that’s all it was expected to be. But soon after the original show car debuted at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, the design’s overwhelming response prompted Lexus to green-light the swoopy coupe for production in two forms: the juicy V-8-powered LC500, or the more serene, fuel-efficient LC500h hybrid. And after driving both on the road and on a racetrack at the LC preview drive in Spain, I can say that the  last word any sane individual will use to describe it is “boring.”

Styling is really quite radical, especially for a Lexus. The classic, long-hood/short-deck proportions are Corvette-like, only with cabin that’s been enlarged sufficiently to add a pair of tiny rear seats that are rather useless for humans but plenty accommodating of gym bags and/or little dogs. The controversial “spindle grille” design that’s now a Lexus design hallmark is rendered more three-dimensionally than ever, with the upper region jutting forward then tucking back in near the base. Head- and taillamps are set within wild graphic elements that will be echoed on future Lexuses, we’re told, with the taillamps incorporating nifty two-way mirrors to give the illusion that they’re several feet deep. Clever.

Things are more conventional inside, but the ambience remains de­cidedly avant-garde. As a true sports car, the sculpted sport seats are set low within the dash, doors and center console that seem to rise around the occupants like giant leather flower petals. The gauges are big and purposeful and the infotainment screen graphics are gorgeous, and while the LC introduces yet another evolution of Lexus’ control inter­face, it’s easy enough to learn. And as ever, the appointments are divine and assembled as well as cars that cost three times as much as the LC.

Speaking of prices, after lots of time in both versions, we can say that the 471-hp LC500 delivers far more satisfaction for the money at its $92,995 base price than the $97,485 LC500h, the latter costing more on account of its sophisticated hybrid V-6 powertrain but which produces just 354 docile horsepower. Deliveries commence in May.

2017 LEXUS LX570

CNN recently ran a story about a ranch in southwest Texas that lets visi­tors drive around in World War II-era tanks for fun. And indeed, it looks fun. Well, the hulking Lexus LX570 SUV is about as close as you can get to replicating that experience in an automobile that can be driven on public roads in peacetime. Only without the turret and antique cool-fac­tor, the fun is decidedly missing. Like the LC coupe, it’s far from boring, just at the opposite extreme.

Certainly, there’s considerable daylight between the eight-passenger LX570 and a Sherman Tank, though the LCX’s 6,000-lb. curb weight is closer to tank level than most other four-wheeled things, including the gargantuan, long-wheelbase Cadillac Escalade ESV. What’s the point of it, you ask? Well, the LX570 is a Toyota Land Cruiser beneath the skin and, as such, boasts astounding off-road capability that is bound to remain untapped forever by its customers yet is a necessity in order to sell against Range Rovers. It’s a proper SUV flagship, and at the flagship SUVs level, customers demand that their demand that their vehicles can actually do what they look like they can do, even if the furthest they ever go off-road is parking on the grass at a neighbor’s estate.

However unstoppable the LX570 is, it’s a dinosaur next to most other SUVs. This model first appeared in 2008, and a 2016 freshening just made it scarier—the only way you could make it more intimidating would be with camouflage paint and machine guns. At the helm, one never forgets how big and tall it is. You’re never close to the action—it’s like driving in a tree—and between the window pillars, rear headrests and huge side mirrors, outward vision is poor, making tight quarter maneuvers a daunting task. Even with its big V-8 corralling 383 ponies underhood, the LX570 is reticent to accelerate, though once your chosen velocity is reached, it’s pure, Lexus-grade serenity.

At $90,855, the LX570 is far pricier than other luxo-utes with as many seats and similar or better powertrains. It certainly fits Toyoda-san’s anti-boring mandate, but unless a mobile missile launcher finds its way onto the options list, we’re not sure why we’d want one. If that does happen, however, Texas here we come!