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CARS REVIEW - LEXUS


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Lexus is the luxury vehicle division of Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corporation. Lexus brand name vehicles are sold in North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, Africa, and Latin America; in the United States, Lexus is the highest-selling brand of luxury cars. In 2005, the Lexus marque launched in Japan, marking the continued global expansion of the luxury division.

Since its debut in 1989, Lexus has developed a reputation for the luxury and reliability of its vehicles, along with the quality of its customer service. In 2007, consumer ratings firm J.D. Power and Associates named Lexus the most reliable brand in the U.S. based on its Vehicle Dependability Survey, a measure of over 53,000 vehicle owners and the problems they experienced in the first three years of vehicle ownership. It was the thirteenth consecutive year that Lexus achieved this top rating. In recent years, Consumer Reports has also named Lexus among the top five most reliable brands in its Annual Car Reliability Surveys of over one million vehicles nationwide. Additionally, Lexus ranks highly on surveys of dealership service experience. The British Top Gear and Auto Express satisfaction surveys have had Lexus at the top of their ratings since the entry of the luxury division, with high reliability and quality among the main selling points of Lexus around the world.

The worldwide motto of Lexus in multiple countries is "The Pursuit of Perfection." Lexus has used this signature phrase since its inception. The slogan of the Lexus division in the U.S. has been "The Passionate Pursuit of Perfection."

In 1983, Toyota Chairman Eiji Toyoda summoned a secret meeting of company executives, to whom he posed the question, “Can we create a luxury vehicle to challenge the world's best?” This question prompted Toyota to embark on a top-secret project, codenamed F1 (“Flagship” and “No. 1 vehicle”). The F1 project, which eventually became known as the Lexus LS 400, aimed to develop a luxury car that would expand Toyota’s product line, giving it a foothold in the premium segment and offering both longtime and new customers an upmarket product. The F1 project was inspired by the success of the Toyota Supra sports car and the luxury Toyota Cressida models. Both the Supra and Cressida were rear-wheel drive cars with a powerful 7M-GE/7M-GTE engine. The successful launch of the Acura marque by Honda three years prior also influenced Toyota to advance its plans for a luxury division. Around this same time, Nissan would unveil plans to create its own luxury division, Infiniti, while Mazda and Mitsubishi considered developing luxury flagships.

Toyota researchers visited the U.S. in May 1985 to conduct focus groups and market research on luxury consumers. That summer, several F1 designers rented a home in Laguna Beach, California to observe the lifestyles and tastes of American upper-class consumers. Toyota’s market research concluded that a separate brand and sales channel was needed to present its new luxury flagship, and plans were made to develop a new network of dealerships in the U.S and in other markets.

In 1986, Toyota’s longtime advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi formed a specialized unit, Team One, to handle marketing for the new luxury brand. Image consulting firm Lippincott & Margulies was hired to develop a list of 219 prospective names; Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis were chosen as top candidates. While Alexis quickly became the front runner (possibly due to the association with the Alexis Carrington character on the popular 1980s primetime drama Dynasty) and later morphed to Lexus, the name has been attributed to the combination of the words "luxury" and "elegance." According to Toyota, the name has no specific meaning and is just meant to be pleasing and easy to remember.

Just prior to the release of the first vehicles, database service LexisNexis obtained a temporary injunction forbidding the name Lexus from being used as they stated it might cause confusion. Upon reflection, the court lifted the injunction, deciding that there was a low likelihood of confusion between the two products.

The original Lexus slogan, developed after Team One representatives visited Lexus designers in Japan and noted their obsessive attention to detail, became "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection."

The Lexus logo was developed by Molly Designs and Hunter Communications. The final design for the Lexus logo featured a stylized “L” within an oval, and according to Toyota was rendered using a precise mathematical formula. The first teaser ads featuring the Lexus name and logo, designed by Team One, appeared at the Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York auto shows in 1988.

In 1989, after an extended development process involving 60 designers, 24 engineering teams, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 220 support workers, around 450 prototypes, and over $1 billion in costs, the F1 project was completed. The resulting flagship, the Lexus LS 400, had a unique design, sharing no major elements with previous Toyota vehicles, with a new 4.0 L V8 gasoline engine and rear-wheel drive.

The LS 400 debuted in January 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The following September, Lexus vehicles officially went on sale at a network of 73 new Lexus dealerships across the U.S. The LS 400 was sold along with a smaller sibling, the Toyota Camry-based ES 250. The launch of Lexus was heralded by a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in both television and print media. Lexus subsequently launched in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia in 1990.
The LS 400 was widely praised for its silence, well-appointed and ergonomic interior, fine engine performance, outstanding build quality, aerodynamics, fuel economy, and value. (In some markets, it was priced against mid-sized six cylinder Mercedes-Benz and BMW models, while offering size, performance, and quality comparable to their full-size cars). It was generally regarded as a major shock to the European marques, but was criticized by some automobile columnists for anonymous styling and a suspension regarded as too compromising of handling for ride comfort. Nonetheless, the LS 400 won several major motoring awards when released.

In 1990, during its first full-year of sales, Lexus sold 63,594 LS 400 and ES 250 sedans in the U.S., the vast majority being of the LS model. By 1991, sales had increased to 71,206 cars in the U.S. market, making Lexus the top-selling luxury import in the U.S. That same year, Lexus earned first place in J.D. Power’s studies on initial vehicle quality, customer satisfaction, and sales satisfaction. Lexus also introduced two new models in 1991, the SC 400 coupe and ES 300 sedan. The SC 400 (designed in tandem with the Japanese market Toyota Soarer) shared the LS 400’s V8 engine and rear-wheel drive design, while the ES 300 replaced the ES 250 and became Lexus’ best-selling sedan. In 1996, Lexus introduced its first luxury sport utility vehicle, the LX 450. In 1998, Lexus debuted the first luxury crossover SUV, the RX 300.

Lexus has grown to become the top-selling automotive luxury brand in the United States. In 2006, Lexus sold 322,434 vehicles in the U.S., more than any other luxury competitor, foreign or domestic. In terms of volume, Lexus has been the number one selling luxury marque in the world's largest automotive market for the past seven years. Lexus vehicles are now available in over forty countries across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, and the Lexus marque ranks as the fourth-largest luxury car brand in the world by volume. Lexus was finally introduced to the Japanese market on July 26, 2005, ending domestic sales of Lexus-similar models under separate brands. The compact IS sedans, convertible SC, and mid-size GS sedans became available in Japan in the 2006 model year.

The Lexus flagship sedan has been upgraded in four successive generations and premiered in 2006 as the all-new LS Series. This latest generation of the LS retains many of the original LS 400’s noteworthy attributes, but now offers both standard and long wheelbase versions (LS 460 and LS 460 L), along with greater luxury and technological appointments than previous models. New LS features, never before seen in luxury vehicles, include the world's first eight-speed automatic transmission, automated parallel/reverse parking, and four-zone climate control with infrared body temperature sensors. Among the awards it has garnered since its release, the LS 460 was named International Car of the Year and World Car of the Year in 2007.

Lexus’ full vehicle lineup now includes the IS, ES, GS, and LS series of sedans, the SC convertible coupe, and the RX, GX, and LX ranges of luxury sport utility vehicles. The IS and ES sedans are positioned towards the entry-luxury consumer, with the IS performance sedans catering to the luxury sport segment, and the larger front-wheel drive ES catering to the comfort luxury segment. The GS performance sedans are focused on the mid-size luxury sport sedan market. Lexus' luxury SUV lineup progresses in size with the RX crossover SUV, mid-size GX, and full-size LX models. Designed for the high-end luxury consumer, the convertible SC and the flagship LS sedans complete the Lexus model range.

Lexus directly competes with such luxury brands as Europe's Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Saab, and Volvo; the U.S.’ Cadillac and Lincoln, and Japanese brands Acura, and Infiniti.

Recently, Lexus has been a pioneer in the field of hybrid vehicles. In 2005, Lexus introduced the world’s first hybrid luxury SUV, the RX 400h. This vehicle combined gas and electric motors for increased power, improved fuel efficiency, and lower emissions relative to traditional, gas-powered equivalents. In 2006, Lexus unveiled the GS 450h, a performance hybrid sedan with a V6 gas-electric powertrain and rear-wheel drive. In 2007, Lexus launched the LS 600h and LS 600h L hybrid versions of its LS flagship series. According to Lexus, the LS hybrids are designed to offer V12 performance with lower emissions and the fuel economy of conventional V8 engines. The LS 600h L is offered in the U.S. and Canada; the LS 600h and LS 600h L are both offered in Europe, Japan, and other countries. Lexus terms the powertrain setup in its RX 400h, GS 450h, and LS 600h/LS 600h L vehicles as Lexus Hybrid Drive, with each hybrid model being the halo vehicle in their respective lineups.

In January 2007, Lexus announced a new performance division, F-Series, which would produce racing-inspired versions of its luxury performance vehicles. The first F-marque vehicle, the IS-F, made its debut at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, accompanied by an exotic F-marque supercar concept, the LF-A. The Lexus F-marque vehicles will rival the high-performance, motorsport-derived lineups of the leading European and American luxury brands. The IS-F debuted with a 5.0 liter V8 engine generating over 400 hp, along with numerous performance enhancements. Detailed specifications for the LF-A have yet to be released.

In the U.S. and Canada, the full Lexus model range is sold, including almost all gasoline- and hybrid-powered variants. The diesel-powered IS 220d is only available in Europe, where the ES sedan and GX/LX full-size SUVs are not sold; similar versions of the latter models are sold under the Toyota brand in Europe. In recent years, Lexus has broadened its model range internationally as part of its ongoing global expansion, with new vehicle launches in Europe and Asia.

Lexus design has traditionally placed an emphasis on quality engineering and world-class luxury vehicle standards. Key Lexus attributes, emphasized from the first Lexus LS model onward, include aerodynamics, performance, smooth ride, interior ergonomics, quiet cabins, fuel efficiency, safety, and reliability. General characteristics are summarized in the Lexus IDEAL philosophy (Impressive, Dynamic, Elegant, Advanced, and Lasting), which guides the development process of each Lexus design. Each Lexus vehicle also must fulfill over 500 specific product standards known as Lexus Musts ranging from steering wheel responsiveness to leather seat stitching. Technological innovations on Lexus vehicles include advanced safety systems, powertrain designs, and vehicle comfort, convenience, and entertainment features.

In the vehicle cabin, Lexus has incorporated touchscreen navigation system interfaces across the entire model range, eschewing knob-style rotary button systems. SmartAccess, the smartkey entry and startup system on new Lexus vehicles, senses owner proximity and aims to make vehicle operation more user-friendly. Instrument panels feature electroluminescent Optitron gauges, improving clarity. Dealer-adjusted Lexus Personalized Settings allow owners to customize operation of door locks, lighting, and other vehicle features. Lexus cabin refinement includes storage compartments, cupholders, and visors that open at the same speed for a harmonious effect.

Lexus vehicles were among the first to offer surround sound premium audio systems, partnering initially with stereo firm Nakamichi and since 1998 with high-end audio purveyor Mark Levinson. The latest Lexus sound systems incorporate digital sound imaging and multiformat capabilities. Along with premium audio, Lexus designers have focused extensively on improving the quiet of their cabins, a tradition going back to the first LS 400 when sound-absorbing foam was injected into structural passages around the cabin. The latest IS models sport sound-absorbing sun visors, the RX and other models feature acoustic glass windshields, and the power window motors on the latest LS are designed to slow as they approach closing for a more pleasant sound. Multiple cabin systems were redesigned for the new LS hybrid sedan to match the powertrain's extreme quiet. The Lexus Hybrid Drive systems used on the RX, GS, and LS hybrid models benefit from the quiet performance of electric motors, with the overall hybrid system tuned for increased power while retaining hybrid efficiency and environmental advantages.

In addition to the first eight-speed automatic gearbox, intelligent powertrain control, and the Advanced Parking Guidance System (automated parking), luxury features newly introduced on the fourth generation LS include shiatsu and shoulder massage systems, ceiling climate diffusers, and real-time traffic guidance with dynamic rerouting.

Safety features which have been incorporated on multiple vehicles of the Lexus lineup include the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) stability/traction control systems, Emergency Steering Assist, twin-chambered passenger airbags, knee airbags, backup cameras, swivel headlights, and sonar warning systems. The Lexus Pre-Collision System (PCS) integrates multiple safety systems along with emergency avoidance and collision detection capabilities. Select models of the new LS and GS sedans feature facial recognition systems which monitor driver attentiveness. As a safety precaution, Lexus GPS navigation systems feature a motion lockout when the vehicle reaches a set speed. To prevent distraction, navigation inputs are limited while in motion, while voice commands and pre-programmed buttons remain accessible. The new LS Series flagship also introduces a number of safety innovations, including the world's first advanced pre-collision/safety systems with infrared and pedestrian detection capabilities, lane keep assist, and rear pre-collision whiplash protection. The hybrid LS 600h L is the first production vehicle to use LED headlamps, with glare-reduction benefits.

In 2005, Lexus completed a full organizational separation from parent company Toyota, with dedicated Lexus Design, engineering, training, and manufacturing centers working exclusively for the luxury division. This effort coincided with the launch of Lexus in its home market of Japan, and an expanded global launch of Lexus in major world markets. A recent focus of the Lexus Development Center (founded in 2003) is the introduction of L-finesse, a new design philosophy for the latest generation of Lexus vehicles (see following). Related areas of focus include the incorporation of Japanese cultural motifs into new designs, and the development of future automobile technologies. The new GS, IS, and LS designs are a product of the new Lexus design and engineering centers, along with the latest LF Series concept vehicles. Separate efforts are underway to produce the Lexus F-marque performance division. Lexus Japan headquarters are located in Toyota City (Aichi, Japan); in wards of Tokyo, rivals Acura (Minato, Tokyo) and Infiniti (Chu-o-, Tokyo) have facilities, along with Lexus (Bunkyo--ku, Tokyo). Companion Lexus design facilities are located in Southern California and the Côte d’Azur, France.

Many Lexus vehicles are manufactured in Toyota's Tahara, Japan plant, a highly sophisticated, computerized manufacturing plant. In 2005, J.D. Power and Associates bestowed its Platinum award for worldwide plant quality on the Tahara plant, stating that it has the fewest defects of any manufacturing plant in the world. It was the fourth consecutive year that the Tahara plant captured this award. In 2006, J.D. Power named the Kanji (Iwate) plant, site of ES and IS model production, as its recipient of the Platinum award for worldwide plant quality.

Lexus manufacturing techniques include methods and standards of quality control that differ from Toyota models. At the Tahara plant, site of LS, GS, IS, and GX production, separate assembly lines were developed for the manufacture of Lexus vehicles. New molds and specialized manufacturing equipment were also developed for the Lexus production process. Lexus plant workers, typically veteran technicians, are identified via repeated performance evaluations and ranked according to skill grade; only a select group of craftspeople are eligible to work on Lexus vehicles. In addition, welding processes, body panel fit tolerances, and paint quality requirements are more stringent for Lexus models. Each production Lexus vehicle is given an extensive visual inspection for flaws, individually test-driven at high speed, and subjected to vibration tests to ensure a smooth and quiet ride.

All Lexus wood trim is genuine and procured from sustainable sources; each wood inlay in a single vehicle is selected from the same tree for a consistent appearance. Lexus engines are tested by stethoscope-equipped takumi engineers (Japanese for "feeling master") to ensure optimum performance. These engineers are responsible for maintaining production standards at key points in the assembly process. Craftmanship on the latest Lexus LS model extends to a paint process where the entire vehicle is hand-sanded twice, the steering wheel leather buffed for six hours, and the window chrome trim carved out of a single piece of metal and polished by hand.

The North American-market RX 350 (since the 2004 model year) is produced in the city of Cambridge, in Ontario, Canada, and is the first Lexus plant located outside of Japan. Lexus vehicles are produced at the Araco, Kanji (Iwate), Kanji (Kanto Jidosha), Katashiki, Kyushu, and Tahara plants in Japan.

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