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  • 2015 Lexus RX 450h AWD

    Midsize hybrid crossover gains refinement for 2015

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus RX 450h

    Lexus RX 450h

    Buyers who want the mileage benefits of a hybrid along with the cargo versatility of a gas-powered crossover need look no further than the Lexus RX 450h. The 450h is the gasoline/electric sibling to the RX 350: the automaker’s highest volume crossover that competes in the midsize segment.

    What makes the RX 450h so appealing is the invisibility of hybrid technology to the driver. Aside from some subtle badging and bamboo wood interior trim, it doesn’t look like a hybrid. Performance is equivalent to if not better than the RX 350.

    The passenger cabin and cargo bay are the same size as the gas-powered version, with second-row seats able to fold flat and extend the cargo floor. The nickel metal hydride battery pack is packaged under the floor for this reason.

    Engineers wisely incorporated an electronic air conditioning compressor that works as well with the ignition off as when the gasoline engine is running. In areas with extreme heat such as the desert southwest, the ability to maintain consistently cool interior temperatures is a very big deal.

    Power for the all-wheel drive model comes from a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and electric motors on both axles. The rear-axle motor gives the all-wheel drive model better zero-to-sixty acceleration than the front-wheel drive model: 7.4 seconds as opposed to 7.8.

    Pricing for the 2015 car starts at $48,845 excluding the $910 destination charge. Options on the car include ventilated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy rims, Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, park assist, blind spot monitoring, leather upholstery, bamboo trim, power folding side mirrors and roof rails, bringing the final MSRP to $58,315. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

    Compact crossover with the heart of a sports car

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus NX F Sport

    2015 Lexus NX F Sport

    The newest member of Lexus’ crossover family, the compact NX, is a radical departure from cars such as the RX that preceded it. From its aggressively styled front end to the new turbocharged two-liter block under the hood, the NX is a more youthful, sporty alternative to conservative models it shares its badge with.

    Lexus’ first turbocharged engine develops up to 258 foot-pounds of peak torque as low as 1650 rpm for powerful acceleration off the line. Turbocharging vastly reduces parasitic power loss at altitude, making the NX a good choice for buyers living in mountainous regions of the country. The engine comes mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission with large overdrive gears to stretch gas mileage on the highway.

    The F Sport package adds a sport-tuned independent suspension, unique interior trim, a unique steering wheel with Formula-style paddle shifters, 18-inch rims with all-season tires, LED daytime running lamps and fog lamps.

    Base price is $37,980. Options include Qi wireless charging, navigation, power moonroof, blind spot monitoring, part assist, heated front seats and steering wheel, ten-way power driver’s seat and a power tailgate. Final MSRP including the $925 destination charge is $45,313. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus RX 450h

    Fuel-thrifty crossover is big on luxury

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus RX 450h

    2015 Lexus RX 450h

    Bamboo wood steals the show. While it might seem trivial, the bamboo wood trim inside the Lexus 450h hybrid crossover says a lot about the car and its mission. Bamboo is technically a plant. It grows faster than trees: therefore the wood is sustainable. Toyota and Lexus use bamboo wood trim inside their hybrid vehicles to give their message of sustainability a face.

    Bamboo wood is also gorgeous and wonderful to touch. The bamboo wood steering wheel inside the Lexus RX 450h crossover feels like satin. The typical consumer probably won’t spend much time staring at the hybrid’s Atkinson cycle engine or electric motors, but he or she will see and touch the bamboo wood steering wheel every day.

    Although the 450h is the smallest member of Lexus’ crossover/SUV family, it’s a fairly large vehicle with seating for up to five passengers. Power comes from an V-6 engine and electric motors, giving the car equivalent performance to a V-8. Four hundred fifty cubic inches is the size of a gasoline engine that would offer similar horsepower and torque to the car’s hybrid powertrain.

    Pricing for the all-wheel drive test car starts at $48,845. Options include heated and ventilated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels, Mark Levinson premium audio system, leather trim, intuitive park assist, blind spot monitoring, a moonroof, driver’s seat memory settings and roof rails, bringing the final MSRP to $58,315. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

    Compact luxury crossover is styled to stand out

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus NX 200t

    2015 Lexus NX 200t

    Although the addition of a compact crossover to the Lexus lineup came as no surprise, the car itself is a radical departure from the brand’s other models. When Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company founder, took the reigns as CEO, he promised to revolutionize the brand with his own passion for driving.

    To his credit, he has delivered in every sense of the word, with a new generation of Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles that are youthful, stylish and fun to drive. The new Lexus NX comes straight from the heart, with a bold, sensuous exterior, driver-focused cockpit, and new turbocharged engine combining exceptional power and fuel economy.

    Buyers can choose from two available powertrains, front or all-wheel drive, giving the NX broad-based appeal. The two-liter turbocharged engine delivers 235 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A hybrid model combines a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine with electric motors to mimic the power of a conventional V-6 engine.

    The all-wheel drive version uses a separate electric motor to drive the rear axle when needed. The continuously variable automatic transmission has a new kick-down feature to better mimic the performance of a traditional step unit.

    The test car is the front-wheel drive NX 200t F Sport priced from $36,550. Options include Qi wireless charging, F Sport comfort package that adds a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and ten-way power driver’s seat, 18-inch F Sport wheels with summer performance tires, navigation with Lexus Enform and premium audio, blind spot monitoring, intuitive park assist, power liftgate, power moonroof and cargo mats, bringing the final MSRP to $43,398. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

    Sweet and salty sport coupe is a driver’s delight

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

    2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

    The new Lexus RC sport coupe is two cars in one: a stylish and very luxurious car for daily driving, and slightly naughty sport coupe for the track. Although the RC is a new model for Lexus, the coupe’s dual purpose and stylish exterior are reminiscent of the SC convertible hardtop discontinued after the 2010 model year.

    Structurally, the RC 350’s front end is based on the current GS, while the rear is based on the IS. Styling is reminiscent of the LFA supercar. The RC is available with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The rear-wheel drive model tested comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The F Sport package adds adaptive variable suspension. Buyers can also opt for a dynamic handling package that adds torque vectoring.

    Base price for the test car is $42,790 excluding the $925 destination charge. Options include the F Sport package that adds special wheels and unique exterior trim, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, unique instrumentation and interior trim, navigation with the Mark Levinson premium audio upgrade, intuitive park assist, dynamic radar cruise control, a moonroof and variable gear ratio steering, bringing the final MSRP to $54,720. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »