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2019 Lexus UX 250h: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not inclined to be a cowboy trailing the fast-moving herd of small luxury crossover SUVs, Lexus introduces its 2019 UX with a choice of conventional or hybrid power trains.

This is not its first rodeo. Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, marketed the CT200h, a compact hybrid hatchback with the same powertrain as the popular Toyota Prius, from 2011 to 2017.

D55_5157Now it rides into the fray with the UX against subcompact crossovers like the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Lincoln MKC, Volvo XC40, Infiniti QX30 and BMW X1. The entry-level UX slots below the compact NX and gives Lexus a full array of crossovers and SUVs. Unlike SUVs, constructed like trucks with bodies on frames, crossovers are built with unit bodies like automobiles.

Lexus crossovers now include the UX, NX and the midsize RX. At the top of the lineup are the GX and LX, both truck-based SUVs.

Lexus identifies the UX as an urban crossover, which suggests that it is not intended as a long-distance traveler. But that could be said about many small vehicles that owners customarily drive across country. The UX can certainly do the same.

DSC_0497But its personality, as Lexus describes it, is that of a “creative urban explorer,” a runabout aimed to tantalize younger buyers more attuned to cityscapes than suburban/rural areas. Like others of its ilk, the UX has four doors, carries four passengers and a fifth uncomfortably center-rear, with 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat.

There are two versions: the front-wheel drive UX 200, powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturer estimates a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 8.9 seconds with a top speed of 118 mph. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 29/37/33 mpg on regular fuel. Starting price is $33,025, including the destination charge.

DSC_0197The other, the focus here, is the hybrid UX 250h, which comes with all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine working with twin electric motor generators. The system delivers 181 hp on regular gasoline. All-wheel drive is automatically engaged by a small electric motor integrated into the rear differential.

An unusual apparent shortcoming: Lexus says the UX 250h’s all-wheel drive operates only up to 43 mph, after which it becomes a front-wheel drive vehicle.

According to Lexus, that’s because the UX all-wheel drive system is electronic instead of mechanical. It operates in all-wheel drive at lower speeds when needed and front-drive at higher speeds for optimal efficiency and fuel economy. But road conditions mitigated by all-wheel drive can get nasty at more than 43 mph.

DSC_0128The zero-to-60 acceleration time of 8.6 seconds is slightly better than the UX 200’s, with the top speed of 110 less than the UX 200. But the hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 41/38/39 and its starting price is $35,025, or $2,000 more than the UX 200’s.

The tested UX 250h came with options that included a navigation system, soft-touch interior trim called Washi, blind spot monitoring, a motorized sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, garage-door opener and an auto-dimming inside mirror. The options brought the as-tested price up to $38,900, and a spokesperson said a fully loaded UX250h could reach $41,000.

Both the UX 200 and the hybrid UX 250h are frisky around-town performers with acceleration that feels quicker than the numbers would indicate. They get the power to the pavement through continuously variable automatic transmissions, which sometimes can feel as if they are high-revving and slipping.

DSC_0170These do not. In the 200, the CVT uses a mechanical gear to get an initial boost off the line; in the 250h the boost comes from the electric motors. It can mimic the shift feel of a stepped 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. There is a noticeable loud growl under hard acceleration with the 200. The 250h hybrid is quieter and feels stronger, tighter and more planted overall.

Both UX models come standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which includes pre-collision warning and braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, adaptive radar cruse control and lane departure mitigation. Blind-spot warning is optional.

There are three trim packages: Premium, Luxury and F-Sport. The last, available on both the 200 and 250h, comes with suspension modifications and special 18-inch alloy wheels to enhance handling. The tradeoff is a stiffer though not punishing ride.

DSC_1306Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus UX 250h four-door crossover SUV.
  • Engine/motors: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with two electric motor-generators; 181 system hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT).
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 86/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,605 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined fuel consumption: 41/38/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,025.
  • Price as tested: $37,875.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

D55_4132Photos (c) Lexus

2018 Lexus LS 500: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The best standard equipment on the 2018 Lexus LS 500 luxury sedan is its driver-oriented personality.

It’s interesting that a nameplate could produce such excellent products over its 28-year lifetime that it would get rapped for being too good. Polite people said a Lexus was done so well that it was unobtrusive — like a silent butler. Arch critics said it was boring, even sleep-inducing.

The executives, designers and engineers at Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division, eventually felt wounded enough that they decided to inject the LS 500 flagship with doses of automotive pheromones to get enthusiasts’ juices flowing.

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The effort went all the way to the top with final approval test drives by none other than Toyota’s chairman, Akio Toyoda, a well-known driving aficionado, who drove the LS 500 repeatedly. Photos of him in a helmet and racing coveralls at a test track were shown at the national press introduction.

In motoring circles, an article of faith for years has been that German luxury cars — Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi — were most prized by enthusiasts. Not only did they exhibit superb handling, performance and braking, you could actually hear the growl of the engine under hard acceleration and even cruising on the freeway.

The Lexus, on the other hand, was usually so quiet you had to listen carefully or check the tachometer to find out whether the engine was actually doing its thing or was possibly an electric.

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That’s now in the past. The new Lexus LS 500 takes on the Germans in a way that it has not done before, including actual engine sounds intruding into the passenger pod. Some items:

  • A new rugged platform with down-low engine accommodations for a lower center of gravity, better fore-and-aft balance, accurate steering for flat cornering, and responsive acceleration and braking.
  • An all-new 415-hp, twin-turbocharged V6 engine that delivers 442 lb-ft of torque, said to match the performance of competitors’ V8 engines. It is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting via paddles on the steering wheel. Lexus says zero to 60 mph flashes by in 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 136.
  • A multi-stage hybrid model with a new 3.5-liter V6 engine and electric motors that delivers 354 system hp and 359 lb-ft of torque with EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 25/33/28 mpg in the rear-drive version.
  • An F Sport variant available with both the LS 500 and LS 500h hybrid, which is oriented toward improved handling with 20-inch wheels, an air suspension system and rear-wheel steering on rear-drive models.
  • A redesigned, striking Lexus “spindle grille” with 5,000 individual surfaces to catch the light. On the F Sport models, the grille has 7,000 facets.

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All three LS 500s can be ordered with all-wheel drive as well as the standard rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive versions get slightly lower fuel economy ratings than the rear-drivers. With a starting price of about $76,000, sales start in February.

Because some buyers likely will employ chauffeurs, an optional package enables the right-rear seat to be reclined with a full footrest, while at the same time moving the right-front seat out of the way.

Surprisingly, this new Lexus is not a large car by the U.S. government’s definitions. With 98 cubic feet of space for passengers and 17 cubic feet of volume in the trunk — a total of 115 cubic feet – the LS 500 is classified as a midsize, which no doubt contributes to the excellent handling. However, it feels roomy on the inside, with surroundings that include soft leather upholstery, hand-pleated origami-style cloth, laser-cut wood-grain and jewel-cut glass.

2018_Lexus_LS500_0022_A766A0CEA9ED47F62FEC3A822B5607809AF15C46_lowContributing to its luxury/sport sedan feel is the exterior coupe-like styling. This is not new. Other luxury competitors have models with that bumper-to-bumper flow, which in the middle of the last century was called a “torpedo body” and has become widespread again.

Asked why they invested so much effort in a flagship sedan when the industry trend is toward crossovers and traditional sport utility vehicles, Lexus officials said they believed most of the LS 500 customers already owned SUVs. If not, they pointed to another top model: the LX SUV. There’s also the all-new LC 500 sports coupe.

When the discussion gets exhausted, the conclusion for the new Lexus LS 500 is that you can obtain the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too — that is, an extravagant luxury conveyance with sport-driving credentials.

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Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Lexus LS 500 four-door sedan.
  • Engine:5-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 415 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 2 inches
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 98/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,707 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/27/21 mpg
  • Base price, including destination charge: $76,000 (est.)
  • Price as tested: $76,000-$105,000.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018_Lexus_LS500_FSPORT_012_B5EE785F73ED6336B2A225A21B65F2C1419AB712_low

Photos (c) Lexus.

2018 Lexus LC 500 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Italians are rightly famous for delivering high style in high-performance cars, but they have serious challenges on both fronts from the all-new 2018 Lexus LC 500 Coupe.

This is a stunner stylistically, one that turns heads parked or speeding down the highway. In fact, it looks as if it’s speeding even when it’s parked. The sparkly black execution of the Lexus “spindle” grille gets right in your face and its rear fenders look like the muscular haunches of a champion Percheron draft horse.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_009_F90DA0EA5041232810CA8F2535C6F5079E8B4CD6Moreover, the LC 500, from the luxury division of Japan’s Toyota, does have the performance, along with the promise of legendary Lexus reliability, to entice a specialized cadre of buyers — people who can afford to buy outright, finance or lease a car with a $105,614 price tag.

That’s the as-delivered sticker on the LC 500 tested for this review. The base price, $92,995, is almost as daunting. But it comes with a potpourri of performance engineering and luxury enhancements.

Start with the power train: a 471-hp 5.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 398 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode via magnesium paddles on the steering wheel.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_002_945A15CD4E154A5966F73069FF08CADB1D3E8897It is enough to propel the 4,280-lb coupe to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, depending on the skill of the driver. Top speed, as published by Lexus, is governed at 168 mph.

The LC 500 is purpose-built for behind-the-wheel thrills, so it has little in the way of practicality. The shallow trunk has only five cubic feet of volume.

A two-door, four-passenger coupe, it is what used to be called a “Two-Plus-Two,” which means it has two nearly unusable seats in back. Moreover, the designers have not even made the effort to make them easily accessible. The front seats move only so far forward, requiring gymnastic contortions into the back row, where there’s little space anyway.

Lexus_LC_500_001_BB74131E8F47AC977ECD592DA05B448D1C339096Up front is another story. Comfortable seats, upholstered in heated and ventilated alcantara cloth trimmed with leather, deliver superb support for hustling around mountain curves and comfort for long-distance cruising. The alcantara cloth is also used for the headliner.

Even at that, however, entry and exit through the front doors takes a bit of effort. Drivers with big feet will be challenged to swing in the left foot unless the door is fully open. Once there, thankfully, you are cosseted deep in luxury sports car surroundings.

As part of a $5,960 performance package — as if it needed one — you are treated to active rear-wheel steering, carbon-fiber roof and door sills and an active rear spoiler. Other options get you 21-inch forged wheels, a head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a stratospheric 915-watt Mark Levinson audio system.

Lexus_LC_500_003_449D1F74A5CE595FA4B157BDFEE94E59A1D86566But that’s frosting on a tasty morsel with ingredients that include  dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping detection and assist, and automatic headlights.

With all its safety and luxury touches, the LC 500’s strong suit is the driving experience, long on excitement and short on anxiety. Like all such performance and super cars, however, it can be frustrating because there’s nowhere you can legally drive this machine anywhere near its designed potential. Without a race track, the best you can do is enjoy it in short bursts.

There are six driver-selectable driving modes, starting with Eco. Why that would be important on a car like this is a puzzle, although there also is a separate Snow setting for easier acceleration on slippery surfaces. Others are Comfort, Normal, Custom, Sport and Sport Plus. The former settings allow you to drive the LC 500 as a smooth boulevardier with a relatively decent ride and imperceptible shifts.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_005_75D9A1BB914CA638376189130D18FAC72CDFABDBBut select Sport Plus, everything tightens up. The ride gets choppy and the throttle acts like a hair-trigger. Shifts happen instantly and with crackling intensity from the V8 engine. There’s automatic engine rev-matching on downshifts, regardless of whether you’re in automatic or the manual-shift mode.

A readable touch screen in the center of the dash conveys information about navigation, audio and other infotainment functions. However, it is controlled by a touch pad on the console similar to the one on your laptop computer.

But don’t try playing with it while underway. Even changing radio stations requires you to focus on the screen while manipulating the touch pad. Pull over, get set up and then move out for joyful driving.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_020_31EEE1647DBF7700C27423642604F218D2918566Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Lexus LC 500 two-door, four-passenger coupe.
  • Engine:0-liter V8, 471 hp, 398 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,280 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/26/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $92,995.
  • Price as tested: $105,614.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_022_419939A8D6E5F708B232BF01C5D98524601D27DAPhotos (c) Lexus.

2017 North American International Auto Show: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—Bucking the tide of compact crossover sport utility vehicles, three new sedans from Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Kia captured onlookers’ attention here at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which runs through Jan. 22.

A few manufacturers introduced new compact crossovers, which have taken over as the hottest category in U.S. sales—mainly at the expense of midsize and compact sedans. But they were few and overshadowed by three four-doors.

They are the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry, the 2018 Lexus LS500 from Toyota’s luxury division and the 2018 Kia Stinger, a new midsize sports sedan that looks as if it could threaten some of Europe’s best.

On the small crossover front, Nissan unveiled the new Rogue Sport, a smaller version of its compact SUV. It is based on the Nissan Qashqui, which is sold in other world markets. Mercedes-Benz introduced an all-new GLA and Chevrolet presented its redesigned Equinox, a compact crossover that tilts toward midsize.

But that was about it unless you count the new Chevrolet Traverse, a full-size, three-row crossover, the stretched Volkswagen Tiguan—also with three rows—and the smaller performance-oriented Audi SQ5.

toyotacamryDespite the booming popularity of compact crossovers, manufacturers still obviously believe in midsize sedans. The Camry, despite losing 40,737 customers between 2015 and 2016, still topped the midsize field with 388,618 sold in 2016.

The 2018 model, seeking to mitigate the Camry’s reputation as durable but bland, boasts styling changes and improvements across the board. It is longer, lower and wider, with a lower center of gravity for better handling.

As before, there are four versions: LE, XLE, SE, and XSE. The LE and XLE models have a different grille from the S and XSE versions and are oriented toward comfort. The S and XSE models have a more sporting personality. Power choices are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a 3.5-liter V6 and a hybrid.

For 2018, all Toyota Camry models get the company’s Entune 3.0 connectivity system, which includes navigation and a host of other state-of-the art features.

lexusls5502Over at the Lexus display, the attention grabber was the all-new LS500, which at 17 feet 2 inches long is bigger and classier than ever, rivaling the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The LS500 is powered by a 415-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers, a 10-speed automatic transmission and a predicted zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 5.1 seconds.

Among other things, its standard and optional features include a 12.3-inch center screen with navigation and handwriting recognition, air suspension system, heated, cooled and massaging front and rear seats, and a detection system that can trigger braking or steering around a pedestrian.

kiastinger2Most of the excitement among enthusiasts, however, focused on the Kia Stinger, an all-new car with a new name. It marks a milestone at the South Korean manufacturer, which delivers high quality cars, crossovers and even a minivan.

The midsize Stinger is a performance-oriented Gran Turismo four-door with a fastback design and a rear hatch, not unlike the larger Audi A7, which competes among cars that can cost up to $80,000.

Few Stinger details were available at the introduction, including the price, but it likely will be way less than the A7’s—more competitive with the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars.

With rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive with torque vectoring for improved handling, the Stinger will offer two power plants: 225-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters for a manual shifting mode. No manual gearbox was considered.Vice President Joe Biden Visits 2017 NAIAS

Photos and Logo (c) NAIAS.

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