Jan 292018
 

The Lexus IS 350 in Wimberley, TX.

Launched in 1989, Lexus easily carved out a niche in the premium segment with its reliability and exceptional customer service. But while it was upscale, it wasn’t sexy. Sporting a new design DNA, Lexus has clearly evolved from bland to brilliant. Sitting on Rioja Red leather seats, I recently drove the Lexis IS 350 during a weeklong test for Latino Traffic Report.

For some, the new face of Lexus, led by the signature spindle grille, can be polarizing, but it definitely has fans. According to Lexus, when the second-generation IS took on the new Lexus look in 2013, it became so popular that the restyled 2017 version only involved minor adjustments to its exterior appearance.

The third generation IS originally came in three trim levels but for 2018, that was reduced to two available trim levels, the 300 (200t is now the 300) and 350 that I tested. Horsepower increases by five in 2018 across all powertrains, including the specially tuned 3.5-liter V6 on the 350 that now produces 311 horsepower and 277 lb.–ft. of peak torque and is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It responded with instant speed, accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds. While all-wheel drive is available, I drove the rear-wheel-drive model with the eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission. Additional powertrains include a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder matched to an eight speed multi-mode automatic or the 3.5-liter matched to a six-speed automatic.

A sporty car should hug the road not float above it, especially on curves, plus the steering should be tight and responsive. Lexus achieves this with the Drive Mode Select system, standard on all IS trims. This technology comes with Eco, Normal, Snow, and Sport modes to customize the ride and handling. To save gas, select Eco, but for a sportier experience, select Sport. For an additional $3,155, the test model included the F Sport package, ramping up its sportiness further with Sport S/S+ mode which I engaged for tighter handling on a curvy road on the way to Wimberley, TX.

While the IS 350 should achieve and EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, I averaged 21.9 mpg.

The IS also included safety features, starting with the standard Lexus Safety System+ that included advanced technology like the pre-collision warning system, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. However, I was surprised to find that the blind spot warning system was a stand-alone option for $600. At this price point it should be standard. For 2018, however, the Enform Safety and Service Connect systems are complimentary for the first ten years.

Pricing for the 2018 Lexus IS starts at $38,820. The as-tested price, including the blind spot monitor, came to $49,530.

Sí: The Lexus IS 350 embraces its sportiness, enhanced by exceptional technology plus the red leather seats were gorgeous.

No: While an affordable option, a blind spot monitor should be a standard feature on a premium brand.

Dec 082016
 

What Toyota began with its first hybrid, the Prius, it has taken to a whole new level with Lexus. Considered up-level models for most segments, hybrids would seem to provide a natural incentive for luxury brands to dive into the green pool. Lexus led the way in 2005 when it introduced the RX 400h. I recently drove the 2016 ES 300h, one of a family of six Lexus hybrid models, for Latino Traffic Report. As expected, it saves gas but with added style and grace.

Refreshed for 2016, the ES 300h sports a design makeover that includes a new, bolder spindle grille, built from a one-piece version and framed by a satin chrome trim. Also fully redesigned, the front fascia puts the fog lights at the corners to accentuate the wide stance.

The signature hybrid system combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with an electric motor to generate 200 total system horsepower. It runs on an electric motor or gas engine alone, or a combination of both, depending on the driving situation. Like most hybrids, it gives the driver a real-time view of its functionality with the Hybrid System Indicator. The display can also encourage fuel-efficient driving habits.

The electronic continuously variable transmission further enhances the hybrid’s performance with a drive mode option that allows the driver to choose among four modes: Normal, Sport, Eco and EV. The hybrid does lack oomph, however, even in Sport mode.

No review of a hybrid can ignore fuel economy. The ES 300h has EPA estimated fuel economy ratings of 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. I achieved an average fuel economy of 36.9 mpg.

The test model came well-equipped with safety features, but at a price. Most of the them were optional, starting with the Lexus Safety System+ Package ($1,015) that included the Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert is a stand alone option and well worth the extra $500. Still, at this price point, it would be nice if more of these features were included as standard equipment. Apparently, Lexus thought so too and for 2017, the Lexus Safety System+ will be standard.

Happily Lexus Enform Safety Connect, is standard on all 2016 Lexus vehicles, with access to Lexus Enform response centers 24/7/365.

Standard creature features included a ten-way adjustable power front seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, NuLuxe perforated upholstery, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, Smart Access door unlock with push button start, a premium audio system with a CD player, Bluetooth, and Siri Eyes-free Mode. Added options included a heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450), Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), and the nifty one touch power trunk ($400), similar to a power liftgate.

The optional navigation system ($2,650) also added an eight-inch display audio screen as well as the Lexus Enform App Suite that uses voice-enabled apps to search the Internet.

Pricing for the 2017 Lexus ES 300h starts at $42,795. The as-tested price came to 49,410.

 

Sí: The ES 300h brings Lexus premium appeal to the hybrid driving experience.

No: While offering some safety features as stand alone options makes them a little more accessible, some of them should be standard on a premium vehicle.

Jul 252016
 

2015-11-03 Land-LR462016-05-10 LX570.lic

A premium sedan wows car buyers with a striking design, a plush interior, and exclusive technology. A premium sport utility vehicle (SUV) does the same thing, but with the added potential for rock climbing, should the urge strike. On recent test drives of the 2016 Land Rover LR4 HSE LUX and the 2016 Lexus LX570 for Latino Traffic Report, I fought the urge and stayed on-road, cruising in comfort and style.

While not direct competitors, these SUVs shared some similarities as well as unique attributes to sustain such an exclusive niche.

Tread Lightly

Some may confuse off-roading with rally racing but the two couldn’t be more opposed. A true enthusiast prefers to tread lightly, enjoying an intimacy with nature by driving rather than hiking on the trail.

LR4 center stack

LR4 center stack

To do this effectively requires basics, starting with full-time four-wheel drive (4WD), which they had, but both the LR4 and LX570 added technology that enhanced the ride.

For starters, they included knobs for selecting terrain challenges to fine tune off-roading functions—General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand with the LR4’s Terrain Response System. The test model also came with the Heavy Duty Package that added the Rock Crawl mode, a two-speed transfer case,  active locking center and rear differentials, and a full-size spare tire. The LR4 improved on-road performance with the Command Shift transmission that included a choice among Normal, Sport, and Manual modes.

LX570 center console

LX570 Terrain Response System

Land Rover may have set the standard for luxury off-roading but Lexus stepped up with the Multi-Terrain Select system that offered Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mogul, Loose Rock, and Mud and Sand modes. To improve on-road performance, I had a choice among Comfort, ECO, Sport S and Sport S+ modes.

Suspensions also matter for on and off-road driving and both utilized adjustable suspension systems that lowered and raised the vehicle based on driving conditions.

Heart and Soul

Powered by a 5.7-liter V8 engine, the LX received a new eight-speed sequential shift automatic transmission for 2016, replacing the previous six-speed. The powertrain offered 383 horses and 403 lb.–ft. of torque. The LR4 also included an eight-speed transmission, but it was matched to a supercharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine with 340 horsepower and 332 lb.–ft. of torque.

LR4 seats.

LR4 seats.

As an SUV, towing is a consideration. LR4 owners can tow up to  7,716-lb, while the LX can pull 7,000 lbs. The standard panoramic view camera, new for 2016 on the LX, will help hitch and maneuver a trailer.

While both try to utilize technology to improve fuel economy, SUVs this size and weight make fuel economy a challenge. The average fuel economy is fairly similar for each, 15 miles per gallon (mpg) for the LX and 16 mpg for the LR4. I averaged 15.4 mpg and 16 mpg respectively.

The P in Premium

The experience inside of these vehicles accentuated their membership in the premium SUV segment. There were no cloth options for seating, just leather please, with real wood and aluminum accents. Heated front seats were standard on both, plus the seven-seat LR4 also included heated rear seats. The eight-seat LX test model included a heated second row via the Luxury Package ($1,190) that also added ventilated (cooled) front seats.

LX570 seats.

LX570 seats.

A 12.3-inch center display screen with a mouse in the center console, or Remote Touch Interface, to control the Lexus Enform infotainment system, navigation, and air conditioning distinguished the LX. Lexus Enform also enabled interactivity with smart phones.

The first time I ever noticed accent piping on leather seating was on a Land Rover. The array of knobs and levers for engaging different functions also stood out. The modern LR4 retained the awe factor inside, especially on the test model that included the HSE LUX Package ($10,200) with premium soft Windsor leather with twin-stitch detailing to the top of the dashboard and doors, armrest and grab handles and also around the instrument cluster. Its five-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) driver information LCD screen located within the instrument cluster, however, was a little less striking. The L

LX dash.

LX dash.

R4’s infotainment system, Land Rover InControl, can utilize apps downloaded from either the Apple App Store or Google Play to connect to a Smartphone. Oddly, Sirius/XM Satellite radio was added as an option; one would think it would be included, especially on the HSE LUX package.

Both test vehicles included a cooled storage unit for added convenience and a CD player.

LR4 cooled storage.

LR4 cooled storage.

Safety First

Stepping up to a premium SUV brings expectations for an extensive list of standard features, including safety. This can also be where these SUVs fall short.

Airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control make-up the technology that’s expected. But some innovations like a blind-spot monitor, pre-collision mitigation, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control should also be included. They were on the LX but not on the LR4.

2015-11-03 LR4-rear2016-05-10 LXreare2The as-tested pricing for the 2016  Land Rover LR4 came to $66,570, while as-tested pricing for the 2016 Lexus LX570 came to $97,405.

: Both of these premium SUVs offer what the segment requires, great styling, interior plushness, and off-road capability.

No: While the LR4 fell short on standard safety technology, the LX570 placed quite a premium on including them with pricing that approached six figures.

Dec 172015
 

2015-06-09 SBS.q50,gs350.fr.lic

Weekly car loans allow me to review vehicles for my readers, but it’s rare to have two vehicles delivered the same week that happen to be direct competitors. Such was the case when the Lexus GS350 F Sport and Infiniti Q50S arrived in my driveway. In a side-by-side comparison, these midsize luxury performance sedans managed to distinguish themselves. Here’s how they measured up.

Powertrain

A sports car sets itself apart in several ways, ride, handling, and most importantly, powertrain. The GS350 came equipped with the 3.5-liter V6 with direct fuel and port injection, 306 horses and 277 lb.–ft. of torque. The 3.7-liter V6 that powered the Q50 offered more horsepower, 328, but less torque, 269 lb.–ft.

Transmissions included an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the GS and a seven-speed automatic, also with paddle shifters, manual shift mode and downhill rev matching on the Q50. They both included a drive mode selector to allow drivers to choose among Normal, Eco, Snow, or Sport modes on the GS and Standard, Eco, Sport, Personal, or Snow modes on the Q to enhance performance.

Q50 grey leather seats with purple accent stitching.

Q50 grey leather seats with purple accent stitching.

ES350 beige leather seats.

GS350 beige leather seats.

The F Sport Package on the GS added Sport S+ mode, a sport tuned adaptive variable suspension, and Variable Gear Ratio Steering, among other features.

While all-wheel-drive is available, the test models were configured as rear-wheel-drive sedans; the GS sat on a front independent double-wishbone and independent multi-link rear suspension and the Q sat on a sport-tuned independent front and rear suspension that gave it the rougher ride expected from a performance sedan. Adding to the Q’s sportier feel was speed sensitive power steering, making the Q50 a bit more fun to drive.

The expected fuel economy for each was practically identical with the Q50 earning 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city, one more than the GS, and both earning 29 mpg on the highway. I averaged 22 mpg with both.

Technology

GS350 12,3-inch display.

GS350 12.3-inch display.

Q50 center stack.

Q50 center stack.

As luxury nameplates, these sport sedans should be generously equipped with technology. Standard features on both included review cameras, traction and stability control, and anti-lock brakes, but the GS 350 trumped the Q50 by including Safety Connect with automatic collision notification. That neither included a blind spot monitor as a standard feature was disappointing.

The entertainment systems on both included an AM/FM stereo, CD player, Sirius Satellite Radio, and Bluetooth with voice recognition, but the Q50 included its infotainment system, InTouch and two USB connections, while the GS 350 added iTunes tagging, traffic, and climate information via HD radio. The optional navigation system on the Lexus brought Enform infotainment and a striking 12.3-inch display screen with three sections. Navigation on both was optional.

Looks

Inside and out, both vehicles were easy on the eyes. I’m a big fan of the distinctive spindle grille on the Lexus and Infiniti’s muscular lines. Both came with leather seating, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless entry, dual –zone climate control, and a sunroof. While fancier features like heated seats were optional on the Lexus, they were standard on the Infiniti. The craftsmanship and fit-and-finish on both exuded quality.2015-06-09 SBS.Q50.gs350.lic

Value

With a starting price tag that was $5,000 more than the Infiniti and about $10,000 more in packages and extra features, the GS350 surpassed the Q50 in plushness. The as-tested price for the 2015 GS350 F Sport came to $59,200, while the as-tested price for the 2015 Infiniti Q50S came to $47,755.

 

Sí: Both vehicles bore striking exteriors and elegant interiors.

No: They both came up short when it came to standard technology.

 

Jan 072015
 

2014_Lexus_GX_460_027

Lexus has redesigned the GX 460 for 2014 and as summer approaches, this new luxury utility vehicle (LUV) could suit the family road trip. For comfort and versatility, nothing beats the minivan, but for travelers who prefer a more posh ride, an LUV may be more apt.

I recently test-drove the all-new Lexus GX 460 around Austin. For starters, Lexus gives the GX a definite advantage—the base model is $4,710 dollars less than last year’s. It also comes with important features like the distinctive spindle grille, a rear back-up camera—an essential for the rear visibility challenged sport utility vehicle segment—plus a tilt/slide moonroof, and roof rails.

2014_Lexus_GX_460_002Adding the Premium Package will not only get you to last year’s price, it’ll get you the following features: a navigation system with backup monitor, perforated leather trimmed interior, heated and ventilated (cooled) front seats, heated outboard rear seats, Intuitive Parking Assist, and three-zone climate control.

For convenience the second row seats are split 40/20/40 or 60/40 to allow access to the back seats, which are also 2014_Lexus_GX_460_003split 50/50 to fold flat. Maximum cargo volume is 64.7 cu. ft. The rear tailgate, however, does not lift up, but rather opens to the right. The key fob includes a power release button that controls the rear window, not the tailgate, so that it pops up for reaching in or loading from the rear.

Road trips also call for onboard entertainment features. The GX 460 comes with an AM/FM/in-dash single CD with Automatic Sound Levelizer and MP3/WMA capability, Bluetooth hands free phone and phonebook download capabilities and music streaming, Dual USB ports with iPod connectivity, an eight-inch touch screen, HD Radio Real-Time Traffic and Weather, and an Integrated SiriusXM Satellite Radio receiver (complimentary 90-day trial subscription included).

For watching movies on the road, however, the Rear Seat Entertainment System is optional, available on the Luxury trim level, and the Lexus navigation and Enform telematics system were a bit tedious.

Powered by one engine, the 4.8-liter V8 with 301 horsepower and 329 lb.–ft. of torque, it has a towing capacity of 6,500-lbs. It’s also equipped with trailer sway control for added safety and stability.2014_Lexus_GX_460_007

Complete with the six-speed automatic transmission, the powertrain achieves a modest EPA estimated fuel economy of 15 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. My average mpg came to 17.2 at the end of the weeklong test drive.

An advanced standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System helps the GX 460 attain the smooth ride for which Lexus is famous. It’s enhanced by the Adaptive Variable Suspension that allows the driver to tailor ride and handling balance by selecting from among Normal, Sport or Comfort modes.

The standard full-time four-wheel drive with an electronically controlled transfer case and a TORSEN torque-sensing limited slip center differential gives owners added on-road security and off-road capability.

Standard safety features include traction control, vehicle stability control, anti-lock brakes, and ten standard airbags including knee protection in the front seat and side curtain protection for all three rows.

The test model included the Premium Package as well as an essential safety feature, the blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, well worth the additional $800.2014_Lexus_GX_460_020

Smooth, quiet, luxurious and with seating for seven, the GX will take families to vacation destinations in style.

Available in two trim levels, Base and Luxury, pricing for the GX 460 starts at $49,995 with destination charges. The as-tested price came to $55,815.