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Lexus Is-f

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by Peter M. DeLorenzo

Memo to Lexus: Don't blow it.

Detroit. A report in this week's Automotive News by Mark Rechtin that Toyota's Lexus division would be formally announcing a new "F" performance division ("F" as in Fast) at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January in preparation for its street intro one year from now was an interesting piece of news. On the one hand, the fact that Lexus would want to go up against the likes of Mercedes-Benz AMG, BMW's "M" division, Cadillac "V-Series," and Audi's S and RS high-performance machines is commendable. On the other hand, I feel a giant "wince" coming on - because as a car company Lexus hasn't exactly distinguished itself as having the first clue about this whole performance thing.

Toyota certainly has been involved in motorsports for years and years, but the Lexus division was founded on two fundamental guiding principles: impeccable quality and exceptional dealer service. At no time was there anything roiling around in the Lexus mission statement about the fundamental act of driving. Or the words "emotional connection" or "fun" for that matter, either. Effortless cruising and comfort maybe - and a luxurious, unruffled demeanor, certainly - but under no circumstances could the Lexus "experience" be construed as anything but a coldly calculated exercise in precision-crafted blandness.

The Automotive News report confirmed all the right-sounding ingredients for their first "F" offering - a Lexus IS sedan boasting a real live, Yamaha-tuned, 425-hp, 5.0-liter V-8. And other goodies like the now ubiquitous Brembo brakes. But as some other manufacturers have found out, a list of obligatory high-performance ingredients doesn't necessarily add up to a complete - and desirable - high-performance whole.

Will Lexus go the BMW route and get lost in the Sea of Electronic Overkill, which is right next to the Peninsula of Delusional Overengineering? Meaning, will they load up their "F" machines with more electronic gimmickry than anyone in their right mind would want to bother with on a daily basis? Which, in its own sick way actually removes the driver from the act of driving - and this from a company that still fancies itself as purveyors of the "Ultimate Driving Machine."

I certainly hope not, but the Lexus track record suggests that orchestrated gimmickry could be a large part of their "F" division's equation. And that would be too bad.

So, for what it's worth, here's my prescription for Lexus in their quest to create a high-performance division, or better yet - a high-performance philosophy...

Keep it simple. Forego about 75 percent of the luxury stuff and resist your natural tendencies to cram more "initial" engineering (e.g., affixing initials to some sort of trick technological overkill that comes into play maybe .01 percent of the time for the average driver) in the car than anyone could possibly use. I know you guys would feel naked if you showed up at a media conference without the usual 20 pounds of initials dripping off of the press release sheets, but trust me, it doesn't matter. Focus on the fundamental goodness of the machine and forget about all of that other stuff. It might actually save you several hundred pounds too. The current high-performance idiom that the German manufacturers adhere to, where weight doesn't matter because their cars are so damn trick is not, I repeat, not the way to go. So, please don't.

Keep it honest. If you're really serious about creating a high-performance division that will have the stones to go up against the competition for the long run, concentrate on delivering a balanced, honest machine that connects the driver with the high-performance experience. Track cars are fine for limited applications but impractical and unrealistic for all but a few. Think AMG Mercedes minus seven hundred pounds, plus a livelier, edgier personality, and you'd at least be heading in the right direction.

Wrap it in go-fast credibility. And no, this doesn't mean linking it to Toyota's F1 program, because last time I checked, you haven't won a damn thing since that program's inception. No, you need to jump into big-time sports car racing with both feet - and stay there. Not in prototypes, either. Go out and enter the American Le Mans Series in GT1 or GT2, or the GT class in the Grand-Am series, or the GT class in Speed World Challenge and stay there until you win. And then stay there until the Lexus name is as ubiquitous on a race track as it is in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Studies. Which basically means committing to racing as a fundamental part of your "F" division's raison d'etre. Anything less, and you will be instantly known for creating a series of semi-trick cars for the boulevardier set - and we definitely don't need any more of those, thank you very much...

At the end of the day, you have an opportunity to do something special with this new Lexus. First of all, you can quiet all of the naysayers like me by delivering something that we're not sure you're capable of - a series of genuine high-performance machines that are pleasing to look at and desirable to own. Honest machines that are first and foremost fun to drive. It's a simple enough goal but one that's extremely elusive.

And remember that high-performance ingredients are just that - a series of parts and pieces that anyone can assemble and bolt on to an existing platform. That doesn't imbue the resulting whole with character or a personality - or that essential emotional connection.

And most important - you can't attach a number or series of initials to a laundry list of ingredients and come up with a car's "soul." If you're waiting for some mystical moment when all of this stuff magically comes together and transforms into a worthy high-performance machine by osmosis, well, you know what I'll say.

It's not only notgonnahappen.com; it's far too late for that.

You must build it in from deep within, not add it in the mix later. Somehow, I'm not optimistic that the Lexus division has what it takes, but we'll see.

For now, all I can say is that I hope they don't blow it.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.


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  • 2 months later...

I went to the Chicago Auto Show and saw the new IS-F and of course the LF-A

I've uploaded photos of the IS-F to:


and photos of the LF-A to:


I wish I had a better quality camera, my cheapo digital doesn't do them. Of course when I get my IS-F I'll post lots of photos!

You can click on the photo to advance to the next one.

Maybe fellow FIB's will post more photos here. I'll be happy to host as many photos as any of you have on my server (I have GIGS of space and bandwidth available).

Hope you enjoy.

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I posted a video of the IS-F at:


I also have photos of the IS-F at http://www.taxicabs.com/autoshow/chicago2007/Lexus/IS-F/

and finally, I uploaded 20 new photos of the LF-A at http://www.taxicabs.com/autoshow/chicago2007/Lexus/LF-A.

Just click the photos to move to the next one.

Tomorrow, I'll upload more IS-F photos and video/photos of the concept Toyota Supra (hybrid & hot).


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