2021 Lexus SC
It isn’t consistently accessible to admit a watershed moment as it happens, but aback the Automobile agents aboriginal collection the 1990 Lexus LS400, editor David E. Davis Jr. accustomed the significance. “All you guys from Munich, Stuttgart, and Coventry, alarm your offices,” he wrote in the January 1989 issue. “I’d say the fox is about to acquisition his way into the henhouse.”
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Although its bourgeois administration and quiet address led some to abolish the LS400 as a adored Toyota, it accepted the Japanese accepted what Americans capital in a affluence car, conceivably alike bigger than Detroit and Stuttgart did—and that they could assassinate it with the aforementioned abstruse absorption to detail and affection for which they were accepted best.
“Audi may abolish it as plastic,” we wrote aback we called the LS400 a 1990 All-Star. “Porsche may abolish it as a pretender. Mercedes-Benz may abolish it as plebeian. And they’d all bigger duck, because the LS400 is about to bang some austere appendage in the luxury-car market. Nothing abutting to the Lexus flagship—in price, size, and class—will be artless by the new standards the LS400 has set. We all knew the Japanese were austere about their move upmarket into the big-money machines. But in all honesty, none of us accepted such a beauteous first-year accomplishment from the masters of the econobox.”
The LS400 was notable for its discreet approach. The administration was a bit derivative, but it was honest, a simple appearance with no tacked-on adornment. Inside there wasn’t a lick of chrome to be found, aloof affluence of covering and a bit of wood. Alike the plastics didn’t pretend to be annihilation but. Every switch, lever, and button acquainted beefy and solid, a akin of affection that fabricated Cadillac and Lincoln attending like amateurs. And with a abject amount of $35,000—some $28,000 below than a Mercedes 420SEL—it was appropriately awkward to the Germans.
Even today, a drive in an aboriginal LS400 impresses, if not for its avant-garde amenities again for its silence, smoothness, serenity, and solidity. Dynamically it’s not absolutely up to avant-garde standards; the brakes feel soft, the council lacks feedback, and the agent takes its time to body up torque. But admitting today’s affluence cars try to beat you with amenities, the LS400 takes a simpler approach, affable you in and agreeable you to get comfortable. Drive it for a mile, and you’re accessible to achieve in for a cross-country cruise.
In 1991 Lexus followed up with the 1992 SC coupe, which abashed Americans with its styling. In that era, best rear-drive coupes were boxy, long-hood, short-deck affairs—think ’89 Monte Carlo, or alike ’64 Mustang. But the SC’s shape, all curves and no collapsed planes, was a novelty. The car was bound by Calty Architecture Research in California, and Lexus went so far as to architecture a bespoke hydraulic radiator fan drive to ensure the ability amalgamation would fit below its adapted hoodline. History has blunted the SC’s impact; the blow of the industry went bonkers with the no-straight-lines approach, and it became a cliché of 1990s automotive styling. That the first-gen SC backward in assembly for eight years with few changes didn’t advice much, either. At the time, though, no one had apparent annihilation like it.
The SC fabricated a able counterpoint to those who anticipation the LS400’s administration and dynamics were too bland, and it accepted Lexus could be flexible. Although it aggregate its basic with the LS, alterations to the wheelbase, steering, suspension, and gearing gave it a audibly adventurous edge. Inside, it featured a wraparound cockpit and maple copse trim that arced into the aperture panels, a aciculate adverse to the added sedate LS. The SC400 debuted with the LS400’s V-8, and Lexus would chase with the SC300, featuring a 3.0-liter inline-six that would anon accept a starring role in the ’93 Toyota Supra, accompanying with an accessible chiral transmission.
We took a drive in a best SC400, and it’s still a adequate adventurous auto by today’s standards—a bit bookish, perhaps, but with a audible accurateness to its responses. Best important, it’s a actual altered car to drive than the LS, a acumen that showed the apple Lexus wasn’t a one-note brand. It’s not difficult to see why our 1992 staffers were so admiring with the SC400 we added to our Four Seasons fleet. After a year and 36,468 afar with the car, we wrote, “Toyota set out to accomplish the absolute apparatus and, with the Lexus SC400, has appear as abutting as anyone anytime has. It is difficult not to about-face a backflip for this car and the absolute aggregation that fabricated it possible.”
If the LS and SC put Lexus on the map, the 1993 GS300 showed the apple area its architect were set. With the SC300’s inline-six, rear-wheel drive, and a de-chromed exterior, the GS300 was a attempt beyond the bow of BMW’s 5 Series. This may accept backfired on Lexus, because in the assured comparisons, the GS consistently came up short. In our aboriginal drive, we cited Lexus’s ambition to body “a Lexus with a BMW persona. It isn’t quite, but we’re not black with what we found.”
Our modern-day drive in a first-year GS brought the memories calamity back. The straight-six agent is a change today, but it lacks the breeze of the LS’s V-8, while the exoteric administration doesn’t accept the SC’s beheld excitement. Lexus eventually added an alternative V-8, all-wheel drive, and a performance-minded amalgam powertrain, all much-needed improvements, but the GS 300 was the aboriginal adumbration Lexus wasn’t absolutely infallible.
You can’t allocution about Lexus history after advertence the 1999 RX300. At the time, the affluence SUV articulation consisted of gussied-up trucks like the Infiniti QX4, a poshed-up Nissan Pathfinder (not to acknowledgment Lexus’s own Land Cruiser-based LX450). Toyota’s RAV4, our 1997 Automobile of the Year, had already alien America to car-based SUVs—the appellation “crossover” was not yet in accepted use—and the RX 00 brought the aforementioned abstraction to the affluence field, in a added family-friendly size. (Mercedes was attempting the aforementioned affair with the ML320.)
Today we booty it for accepted that SUVs will drive like cars, but 20 years ago, it was a new concept. At the time, we were a bit abashed by an SUV that couldn’t go off-road, but we absolutely accepted the bendable on-road ride. The RX300 flouted the advantages that came with its beyond army V-6, including a collapsed attic and minivan-style centermost animate abstracted from the dashboard. This was absolutely the agent that flush burghal moms were attractive for. A year afore it went on sale, Lexus predicted the RX would be one of its acknowledged models. It was, and it charcoal so to this day.
Driving the RX300 in 2019 is a actual altered acquaintance than the added best Lexus models. Aside from the all-embracing appearance out back—we hadn’t accomplished how baby and bankrupt aback windows accept become—the RX acquainted altogether ordinary. And that, we realized, is what makes it so amazing: What the RX300 pioneered 20 years ago has become today’s normal.
Today, Lexus is a affluence cast alive adamantine to break advanced in a actual aggressive segment. Ironically, it ability not accept to assignment so adamantine to attempt had it not aloft the standards for the accomplished industry in the aboriginal place.
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