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  • 2015 Lexus RX 350

    Luxury meets versatility

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus RX 350

    Lexus RX 350

    When I was a kid, most families owned one car and that seemed to work for them. Today, families own two or three cars and those vehicles are busy all the time. Not only are Americans driving more than ever, their vehicles need to work harder: haul more people, more cargo and occasionally tow a trailer.

    It’s no surprise that the versatile RX 350 is one of Lexus’ best-selling models, combining the versatility active families need with the luxury the brand is known for. Now available with all-wheel drive, the midsize, five-passenger crossover is a four-season vehicle with a high level of standard safety features, enough cargo space to carry skis, camping equipment and bicycles, and the ability to tow a small trailer.

    Available Siri Eyes Free mode technology enables drivers to call contacts, play music from iTunes and get navigation through their Apple iPhone accounts.

    Power comes from a 270-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection. Base price is $42,195 excluding the $910 destination charge.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, a 12-speaker premium audio system, 10-way power front seats, cargo area tonneau cover, power liftgate, dual-zone climate control and rearview camera.

    Options on the test car include xenon high intensity discharge headlamps, LED fog lamps, rain sensing wipers, dual-screen rear DVD system, navigation, Lexus Enform, 19-inch wheels, heads-up driver display, Mark Levinson surround sound system, blind spot monitoring, leather trim, power moonroof, power folding exterior mirrors, heated steering wheel, roof rails, wood and leather trimmed steering wheel and shift knob and a cargo net. Final MSRP is $55,099. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2015 Lexus NX

    New compact crossover fuses luxury and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

    2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

    It was almost twenty years ago that Toyota introduced the compact RAV4 crossover: a car that helped create one of the fastest growing segments in the auto industry. This year, Lexus follows suit with the new NX: a vehicle based loosely on the RAV, but with some important new technology.

    Most notable is a two-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine, reflecting CEO Akio Toyoda’s commitment to bringing his personal passion for driving to the brand. Lexus developed the twin scroll turbocharging and air-to-liquid intercooling technology in-house.

    Toyota employed a similar strategy in developing its hybrid synergy drive system, now used extensively throughout the brand. This writer expects that the turbocharged platform will become a game changer for the automaker going forward.

    The NX, which might well be the new Lexus poster child, was not a quick-to-market endeavor. Designers and engineers sweated the details, progressing methodically through concept sketches, clays and the concept car introduced last year.

    There are two variants: the gasoline-powered turbocharged car called the 200t, also available as F Sport, and the 300h hybrid powered by a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine. Gasoline models come equipped with a new six-speed automatic transmission while the hybrid gets a continuously variable automatic. Both variants are available with front or all-wheel drive. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Lexus IS 350 AWD

    Third-generation compact luxury sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    2014 Lexus IS 350

    The Lexus IS that began as a niche product geared towards the tuning audience has evolved into a series of sport sedans that target similar buyers, but with more performance options and luxury accouterments. The third-generation car that debuts this year features is available with a choice of two V-6 engines rated at 204 and 306 horsepower respectively.

    A manual transmission is no longer available, but IS 350 buyers can control the eight-speed automatic transmission with formula-style paddle shifters. The driver can opt for four performance modes ranging from eco to sport plus, depending on the type of driving he is planning to do.

    The rear-wheel drive sedan is also available with all-wheel drive, sending engine power to the wheels with the best grip. Engineers focused on improving the chassis’ torsional stiffness using high strength and extra high-strength steel. New features for 2014 include an electric power steering system to save weight and enhance fuel economy, and a multi-link independent rear suspension.

    Base price for the all-wheel drive IS 350 tested is $41,700, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include an F Sport package that adds a unique grille, 18-inch wheels, thin film transistor instrument cluster, leather steering wheel and shift knob and special interior trim; blind spot monitoring; dynamic cruise control; navigation with a Mark Levinson premium audio system, Lexus Enform, HD radio, real-time traffic and weather. Final MSRP is $50,164. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport

    The big luxury sedan gets a dose of sportiness

    By Bob Golfen

    2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport

    With the European luxury-car makers tuning their opulent, full-size sedans for top performance and handling, Lexus follows suit with the F Sport version of its big flagship, the LS 460.

    The F Sport option is Lexus’s way of injecting a dose of driving edge to its stable of smooth, reliable but ultimately bland vehicles. We’ve sampled the package in the sport-compact IS, the midsize GS and even the RX crossover, with varying degrees of persuasion; it adds plenty of spark to the IS and GS, but it’s pretty much wasted on the cushy RX.

    This is F Sport’s first availability for the LS, now in its fifth generation, with the goal of turning the plush luxury liner into something akin to a sporting machine. But it’s up to the driver whether to enjoy the firmed-up ride and sharpened response or float along in the LS’s customary ultra-soft cocoon of splendid isolation.

    The key ingredient here is the standard dial mounted in the console that allows the driver to select from various driving modes: Eco, Normal or Sport. The F Sport version with its adjustable air suspension adds two more modes: Comfort and Sport+. The modes adjust the suspension firmness, steering response and the electronic mapping of the throttle and eight-speed transmission.

    Here’s the drill: Eco, Comfort and Normal deliver the same old LS ride, with just minor variations. Sport tightens things up, raising the level of handling and response for what Lexus calls a ‘more engaging driver experience.’ The transmission shifts more aggressively, and the steering feels quicker and firmer. Sport+ further raises the ante by firming up the steering and suspension even more. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Lexus GS 450h

    Hybrid five-passenger sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Lexus GS 450h

    The 2013 GS 450h is the second version of Lexus’ hybrid rear-wheel drive sport sedan: the first rolled out in 2007. While it utilizes similar technology to the Toyota Prius, the purpose of the electric motors in the GS is primarily to boost power rather than extend fuel economy.

    Both Toyota and Lexus have used hybrid technology to create halo cars throughout their model lineups. It is a reflection of the automakers’ leadership in the field, as well as their commitment to a sustainable future.

    The motors give the 3.5-liter V-6 engine in the GS the power of a V-8, combined with 31 mpg fuel economy according to the EPA. The synergy hybrid drive system is capable of operating in pure electric mode at low speeds. The driver can use a rotary dial on the center console to choose between eco mode, which favors fuel economy, or power for better performance.

    Base price is $58,950 excluding the $875 destination charge. A luxury package on the test car adds 18-inch alloy wheels, heated rear seats, LED headlamps with adaptive front lighting, a bamboo and leather steering wheel, semi-aniline leather seating, three-zone climate control, 18-way power front seats and rear sunshades ($5645). Other options include blind spot monitoring ($500); a Mark Levinson premium sound system ($1380); navigation with Lexus Enform, real-time weather and traffic updates ($1735); intuitive park assist ($500); a trunk mat, cargo net and wheel locks ($242). Final MSRP is $68,952. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport AWD

    Five-passenger crossover tuned for performance

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport

    As a car enthusiast and athlete, I’m always on the lookout for vehicles that fill both squares. This year, Lexus adds an F-Sport variant to the best-selling RX 350 crossover, upping the car’s performance ante.

    While the F-Sport model shares the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine as a base model, an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters enables the driver to better optimize its power.

    The F-Sport model also adds a sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels to improve handling on challenging roads. A unique grille and badging differentiate the F-Sport from other RX 350 exteriors, while the interior gets black trimmed leather seats, aluminum pedals and a black headliner.

    The test car is all-wheel drive for better traction on wet and snow-covered roads. Base price is $47,000. Options include blind spot monitoring, a premium 12-speaker sound system, navigation with Lexus Enform, intuitive park assist and a cargo net. An $895 delivery charge brings the final MSRP to $51,729. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2014 Lexus IS

    Compact sport sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Lexus IS

    This summer, Lexus rolls out the third all-new version of its IS sport sedans. The model that began with one variant in 2001 now includes the 250 and 350: both available in rear-wheel or front-wheel drive.

    An optional F-Sport package adds a unique grille, bumper fascia, staggered wheels, LED headlamps, special seats and interior trim, adaptive variable suspension, sport plus mode, variable gear ratio steering and stickier brake pads.

    Although the original IS appealed mainly to sport compact car enthusiasts, the new models cover a wider audience. Lexus positions the IS as one of three entry luxury models, the other two being the CT 200h hybrid hatchback and the ES 350 midsized sedan.

    Pricing ranges from $35,950 for the rear-wheel drive IS 250 to $41,700 for the all-wheel drive IS 350. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Lexus RX 450h

    Gasoline/electric hybrid five-passenger crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Lexus RX 450h

    It would be easy to be perfect in a perfect world. In an imperfect world, it’s a lot harder.

    Say, for example, a parent wants to leave the world a better place for his children. It would begin with minimizing his environmental footprint. But because he and his wife have children, the family needs a car with a lot of room. A crossover, with its tall vertical cargo bay, would be ideal.

    Unfortunately, cars with a two-box architecture are like bricks in the wind. Fuel economy is not their forte. Is it possible to solve the family’s transportation needs without carving another hole in the ozone’

    It is, thanks to hybrid technology. The Lexus RX 450h utilizes the same gasoline/electric hybrid system found in the Toyota Prius, to boost the car’s fuel economy. The hybrid RX all-wheel drive model averages 29 miles-per-gallon in combined city and highway driving according to the EPA, putting its fuel economy on par with the average compact sedan.

    Base price for the RX 450h is $47,310, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include rain sensing wipers with heated and ventilated seats ($825); a dual screen rear entertainment system with navigation, Lexus Enform, satellite radio and a rear backup camera ($4920); heads-up display ($1200); blind spot monitoring, semi aniline leather trim, power moonroof, power folding outside mirrors, heated steering wheel, 19-inch wheels and roof rails ($6135); Mark Levinson sound system ($995); intuitive park assist ($500); and pre-collision with adaptive radar cruise control ($1500). Final MSRP is $64,280. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

    Performance focused five-passenger crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

    Having added hybrid variants throughout its model line-up, Lexus has shifted focus to enhancing performance on the gas-powered models. F Sport is the designation for the race-inspired versions, the newest of which is the RX 350 five-passenger crossover.

    The RX is by far the most popular of Lexus’ sport-utility vehicles. The new F Sport grade expands the car’s audience to include buyers wanting more dynamic performance, similar to BMW’s X3 or the Infiniti F series.

    Although the new RX utilizes the same engine as the base model, it features a modified suspension, bigger wheels, eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, modified exterior and special interior trim.

    Base price is $47,000, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring, a heads-up display, Mark Levinson premium audio system, navigation with Lexus Enform and satellite radio, intuitive park assist and a cargo net. Final MSRP is $53,924. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Lexus GX 460

    Seven-passenger SUV takes adventurers off the grid

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus GX 460

    The GX 460 sits between the full-sized LX and compact RX in Lexus’ sport-utility lineup. Because of its body-on-frame construction and full-time four-wheel drive system, the GX has ride and handling characteristics much closer to the LX.

    Although its tall, two-box profile isn’t great for gas mileage, it offers some significant benefits for buyers with active lifestyles. Friends of mine who ride mountain bikes installed a stand-up bike rack in the cargo area that can hold two bicycles. There are very few cargo areas with the vertical clearance to make that possible.

    The eight-cylinder engine is slightly smaller than the block on the first-generation model, yet offers better power. Engineers also made Lexus’ kinetic dynamic suspension standard. It decouples the sway bars on extreme uneven trails to maximize wheel travel.

    The driver can also change the height of the vehicle using controls on the center console, to maximize ground clearance when driving conditions call for it.

    Base price for the premium grade tested is $58,240, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include hard drive navigation, a Mark Levinson premium audio system, intuitive park assist, pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, rearview camera, intelligent high beam headlamps, crawl control and a cargo net, bringing the final MSRP to $66,799. Read the rest of this entry »