Friday, March 31

Lexus's original sports Sedan

September 1989. Toyota launches their luxury line to challenge the worlds best, calledLexus, after years of clandestine meetings. Two models were available, the LS 400 and ES 250.

August 1991
The SC 300 is introduced.
Lexus sweeps the J.D. Power and Associates studies, topping the Customer Satisfaction StudySM as the #1 Carline, the Initial Quality Study (IQS)SM as the Best Overall Carline, and the Sales Satisfaction StudySM as the Best Overall Carline.

January 1992
The SC 400 and ES 300 are named Automobile Magazine All-Stars, and SC 400 a Car and Driver 10Best. Lexus outsells BMW and Mercedes-Benz to become the number-one luxury import.

Lexus has had numerous accolades over the years. There is certainly no doubt Lexus is one of the world's best and in so many ways they've achieved their goal of "Challenging the world's best" and then some. My favorite Lexus thus far is the sultry IS 300 introduced in June of 2000. The car was received not only by the critics but by the public with much fanfare. The IS was a completely brand-new car (not based on any Lexus line). The car was powered by a 3 liter in-line 6 making, in its time, a hefty 215 HP@ 5800 rpm and 218 lbs of torque. The car also came with the ultra-cool F1 paddle-shifters, a first in the Japanese car market (and an optional stick-shift i believe). Weighing in at under 3,250 lbs it was a relatively light sedan. To help keep the car from unwanted wheel spin under heavy driving, the car came with (unheard of then in Japanese Sedans... mostly because most were front-wheel drives) LSD or limited slip-differential. All of this equated to the appellation performance sports sedan. Until then unless you drove a German car you couldn't call your car a sports sedan.

The car's MSRP was under 30K affordable then to the working class. The body design ultra-sleek and the interior sub-luxurious. I called it the uber-lexus because even though it wasn't their flagship vehicle, in my opinion, and in the eyes of many it was the best & most beautiful Lexus ever built. Lexus had designed and built a four-door car that appealed to my generation with the performance that rivals the best performance sedans in the world and an affordable price to boot. Surveys revealed that men under 30 single or married with or without kids was the main draw to the new car. Men who lust for performance sedans and perhaps couldn't afford BMW's 330i or Audi's S4 had an alternative in the IS 300 without compromising performance and luxury. Because it was a brand-new model it didn't carry Audi's badge of excellence or BMW's venerable heritage. But no matter the uber-lexus was the coolest car ever to come out of the Lexus camp. Best dressed in Blue or that dark orange....

My love for the car made leaps & bounds when Lexus decided to race their performance sedan in the ST class (Sports Touring) of the ROLEX Grand-American Racing a North-American based road-racing series starting in the 2001 season (Team Lexus it is called... more on this later) only several months after its debut. On its 2nd year in the series Lexus won the overall driver and manufacturer championship, impressive huh? I was there to see one of their impressive victories in the California Speedway.

The car remained virtually unchanged throughout its first 5 years of existence. In early January 2005 however Lexus announced plans to finally redesign the car (probably in response to BMW's redesign of their venerated 3-series. A car the IS 300 was compared to constantly). I didn't pay much attention to the news. Probably the same reason why i don't watch pre-season baseball. In other words i like to read about the finished product. Anyway when the car finally made the showrooms and graced my beloved car magazines i was astonished to find out that the new IS re-design was based on the new GS platform instead of it's own. In fact i was appalled. What the fuck? i muttered... The new long-awaited re-design of the new IS was much anticipated by its true fans only to find out it looks exactly like the new GS. It was no longer a unique car with it's own unique chassis but a small brother to Lexus's expensive flagship Sedan the GS.

I think Lexus has forgotten that part of the reason why the IS was a successful endeavor aside from fact that it's a beautiful car and the relatively low msrp (manufacturers suggested retail price) is that the car was not based on any other Lexus line, in a class otherwise dominated by the German car manufacturers whereby no one comes even remotely close in performance & luxury (especially the futile American cars), wherein the Lexus IS 300 dared and came damn close. The IS purist are clamoring 'why must it look like the GS'... Granted the new redesigned IS (now in two forms IS 250 & IS 350) looks damn good, if not better than the original "some might say" but i beg to differ, as a purist i can't help but feel nostalgic because it no longer has it's own indentity. The IS is now someone's little bro' who looks just like his older & bigger brethren. Very uncool i might add...

To finish my point and my quirks about the new car. Why is it that only it's lesser version the IS 250 comes with an optional stick-shift? A 6-speed at that. The top of the line IS 350 is rated @306 mighty horsepowers, which is best in class in that category, best in class in top-speed and for good measure best in class in acceleration, but no manual transmission?. Lexus has not been modest in using these numbers as a marketing scheme, and you can hardly blame them for that.... Okay... okay... let us pretend for one second that the performance sedan IS enthusiast who lives to shift manually divorces the wife and changed religions... because trust me that's what it takes. He signs the divorce papers pays alimony and still had enough money to cover the IS 350's mind-numbing base-msrp of $36,030.00 (WHAA HAPPEN to under 30K?.... 36K is BMW Country...) with the 6-speed sequential-shift automatic (which is the same tranny used on every Lexus model... yes the IS no longer is a unique car i tell ya) instead of a 6-speed manual shifter and actually liked it, what do you suppose Team Lexus (the IS 300 Race Team mentioned earlier) who won the Rolex Grand-Am ST Class Championship in 2002, in which according to regulations "only manual transmission is allowed" will drive in the 2006 season???

Well of course i already know the answer to that. Team Lexus has abandoned the ST class beginning in 2005 season to develop an IS 350 race car in preparation for the 2006 ALMS (American Lemans Series) season particularly in the GT2 class. They will be racing against the likes of Porsche GT3's, BMW M3's, Aston Martin's Cadillacac STS, Panoz or in other words the Big Boys of Road Racing, with yes, you guessed it, a Getrag 6-speed manual transmission. A bold & ambitious endeavor i must say... A Lexus racing the Big Boys... i'll see them in Laguna Seca.


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