The Lexus F-Line is absolutely stupid. It flies in the face of what the brand Lexus stands for.
Lexus started in 1983 with Toyota’s attempt to create a pinnacle of luxury. The end result was the 1989 LS400 – a car that, at the time, was an amazing accomplishment for the automaker. Rear wheel drive, V8 powered, and some would argue over-engineered (evidenced by the fact that there are still a ton of these cars on the road today, in good shape) – the LS400 was a statement to the world – We can build cars as good as the Germans or Americans. We can put performance, luxury, and technology into a package and deliver it in a cost-effective manner. I mean, the logo was “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” – what more do you need to know than that?
Look how smooth that V8 runs.
The brand developed through the 90s and onwards with a couple of cars. The ES was essentially a badge-engineered V6 Camry with leather, more chrome, and some upmarket options. The SC was a grand tourer which leaned heavily towards luxury and comfort over performance. Of course, the LS soldiered on as the flagship luxury car competing with the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes S-Class. All of these cars embodied luxury over performance. They embodied precision engineering and manufacturing processes that resulted in nearly bulletproof cars and the public loved it. The brand was branded – people knew what a Lexus was.
When you went into a Lexus dealership you were treated like a king, not a number. Loaner cars, refreshments, indoor putting greens – luxury, luxury, luxury. So what the hell is Lexus trying to do pawning off sports cars and a sports line?
You’ve heard me rant about it before and I’ll rant about it again – I hate it when a brand loses its focus and tries to be something its not. A Lexus is a quiet, reliable, smooth riding value proposition – its essentially a car for people who hate cars. Its a car that people purchase based on statistics and Consumer Reports – it is not a car that people purchase based on emotion or a desire for high performance.
Now, I will say as an aside that I have driven and truly enjoyed the original Lexus IS300 – a car developed as a BMW 3-series competitor. The car had wonderful steering feel and feedback, great handling, and phenomenal brakes – but it failed miserably – why? Because it wasn’t what the Lexus buyer wanted. Someone who wants a car like that just buys the BMW.
My good friend described his father’s Lexus IS350 – their attempt at a 3-series sporty competitor – as a disappointing dry hump. Essentially, it is not a car that encourages spirited driving – it may be fast, but its like driving a video game – that’s what the buyer wants – isolation.
Yet, high performance and emotion is exactly what Lexus is trying to hype today. Its resulted in a schizophrenic brand message. On one hand, you have cars that are the embodiment of luxury, at a reasonable and affordable price – especially compared with ze Germans. On the other, we have the entire F debacle – cars that have no reason to exist – cars that a Lexus purchaser has no interest in, and cars that are grossly expensive.
Lets take a look at the Lexus F-Sport accessories first. This is a customization program of “go-fast” parts that allows a customer to add brutally overpriced bits to their cars. Essentially, these are parts that could be had for half the price on the aftermarket, marked up and sold through Lexus to unsuspecting rubes so they can customize their vehicles. Essentially, its Scion but it costs more money.
Think about this – when was the last time you met a Lexus owner who was interested in hopping up their car with the hottest parts to tear up the streets? Exactly. The typical Lexus buyer doesn’t care if the parts are shipped overnight from Japan. In short, they’re not Scion buyers (who actually are not the people Scion initially targeted – but I’ve ranted about that before). They’re old people. They want to turn off their brains and arrive at their destination. They don’t want to feel the road. They don’t need big brakes, cold air intakes and exhaust systems. They need Viagra.
So, aside from transforming your badge-engineered Toyota transportation appliance with overpriced, repackaged aftermarket garbage, Lexus also offers to option to purchase a “pre-riced” car. The F-line. Right now, thankfully, just the Lexus IS-F. Big body, big wheels, big brakes, lots of power . . . . and an automatic transmission? Really? Lexus pretends to commit to the enthusiast buyer, yet won’t even offer their performance car with a manual transmission? This is what happens when a car is designed by committee and based on focus group responses. Of course there’s no demand for a manual – 95% of Americans can’t even drive a manual transmission – but if you’re going to offer something even masquerading as a performance vehicle a manual needs to be an option – just look what happened when BMW offered the M5 without a manual – a few months later it was an option.
Now, I will do a discussion down the line on manuals versus automatics, and I will concede that modern automatics and particularly DSGs are very good, but for a performance car there has to at least be an option of a manual. They have to at least put the pretense of sporting intention behind the car. To Lexus, forget it – we’re just going to make this car and you’re going to like it because, lets face it – someone who really wants a driver’s car will get the M3 – the IS-F is just for poseurs. Its for the typical Lexus buyer who through some crazy urge of capriciousness decides they want to try a performance car just this once. And these people are few and far between – as I said before, the Lexus buyer doesn’t make their purchase based on emotion – they make rational decisions – as a result, the IS-F has been a miserable sales failure as well as a poster-child for brand betrayal.
And finally, the LF-A . . . . where to start with this car. Not only is it hideously ugly, it makes no sense whatsoever. The car was originally conceived in an era when F1 cars ran a V10 engine, hence, it has a 9000+ rpm high revving V10 engine. However, there’s a few problems with this – first off, by the time the car was actually released F1 had moved on from V10s to V8s – and now F1 is considering going to 1.6L turbo 4s! Furthermore, no Lexus buyer or luxury car buyer, for that matter, wants an engine without peak torque until eleventybillion RPMs – they don’t want to rev, they want to waft. They want a car powered by something like a twin-turbo V12 – torque everywhere – instantly, all the time. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Bentley – twin-turbo V12s are on offer from all of them. These companies know luxury.
And why did it take so long to release? Well, the rumor (and one I tend to believe) is that Lexus was planning to release the V10 powered LF-A in the era of V10 powered F1 cars once Toyota won their first Formula 1 race. We all know how that went (hint – they quit after 8 years without a single victory). And finally – the price! Lexus is supposed to be a value proposition. How in the hell is a $400,000 supercar (that’s not even faster than a $70,000 Nissan GT-R) supposed to be a value proposition? I just don’t get it.
And now, there’s rumors of a GS-F in the works. This car makes even less sense. The GS is the Lexus Mid-sized luxury car – it doesn’t play pretend sports sedan like the IS series of cars do – it knows its a luxury car and has played that role well. Yet someone at Lexus thinks its a good idea to turn this mundane, if not rather decent, luxury car into another fire breathing sports car. Who gave them the idea that there was any demand for this vehicle whatsoever? Again – people who want a car like that aren’t going to look at Lexus in the first place. They’re going to go to the BMW dealership and plunk down on a new M5.
So what are we left with? We get to watch Lexus slowly commit brand suicide. Keep in mind, I’m only taking Lexus to task for their attempts at creating a sporting car. I haven’t even gotten started with regards to the opposite end of the spectrum – rebadging eco-Toyotas in an attempt to follow the hottest trend of 2010 – being green.
Fuck that noise, I say.