Blog : Lexus – The new thinking man’s posh car?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Running a Lexus CT200h was a rewarding affair.
Running a Lexus CT200h was a rewarding affair.

Or: Can anyone beat the Germans?

The past month of Lexus CT200h stewardship has been a satisfying one. I’ve already said my piece on the hybrid drivetrain, and we can debate the pros and cons of it ’til we’re blue in the face. In the CT200h, it enables the driver to enjoy a smooth, refined powertrain with diesel levels of fuel consumption, as well as an astonishingly low CO2 output. And ultimately, that’s a very good thing if you’re a diesel-denier, and find the early morning rattle too much to bear. Personally I like modern diesels (in the cut and thrust of modern driving), and the slug of easy low-down torque they give you – even if that’s tempered by the frustration of running out of revs too early.

Horses for courses.

This is more about Lexus, and how in today’s troubled market, it seems to be the marque that is beginning to fashion out an interesting niche for itself. Allow me to explain. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, if you wanted an executive or director’s car (as What Car? used to call them), you could buy yourself a Rover SD1, Ford Granada or Vauxhall Senator and be very happy indeed. And then in the mid-1990s, the gap between continental and UK prices closed markedly, and suddenly, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes cost the same money as the ‘domestic’ options. Then Audi went mainstream. And we know what happened to Rover, Ford and Vauxhall in the up-market sector. They vanished.

Then, in the late 1990s, those fuller-sized executives were replaced by up-gunned versions of medium-sized cars – hence the rise of the risable A4/3er/C-Class trio. The empty nest executive could have all the prestige of those full-sized cars, but without the heft and bulk. But he’d still pay the price, of course.

In the left-field, though, manufacturers such as Saab and Volvo continued attracting badge-denying buyers with their well-engineered alternatives as they’d been doing for decades. Then, of course, Saab was taken over by GM, and over time, its core values were eroded, and the company suffered an undignified few years in the enthusiast wilderness before Chinese oblivion. That leaves Volvo. Saab’s Swedish rival certainly flourished under Ford ownership, developing and nurturing a new style and increasingly youthful image…

…which now hangs in the balance. Will new owner Geely be able to continue Ford’s good work?

Finally, there’s Jaguar Land Rover. And what a wonderful range it currently possesses! But with the death of the X-Type, Jaguar’s now out of the fray, unless you’re lucky enough to have the means to run to an XF; and Land Rover’s Evoque starts at a tempting £30K, but it’s rather a lot more to buy one specced-up to a level you’d actually want. Once again, we need a ‘new’ Rover – cool and edgy, and engineered like a Jaguar or Land Rover, but sized and priced to go up against the A4/3er/C-Class trio.

So where do badge-deniers go now? Well, one train of thought is that if Skoda plays its cards right, it could become the Saab replacement we’re all yearning for. But there’s a few years to go before we can realistically make that leap (and be assured, Skoda executives will be thinking in these terms). Cadillac also had some potential with the lovely STS of the 1990s, and then blew it with the unfulfilled BLS. Both which are now creaking bargains, definitely worth a punt if you enjoy a used bargain, and don’t care too much what your neighbours think.

So that leaves us looking East to the best badge-denier’s car – and Lexus. Since 1989, the company has been selling its slightly quirky range of executive and luxury cars in the UK, and has slowly been gaining traction in the process. The original LS400, which I have a lot of time for personally, might have lacked a little in the styling department, but it was an absolute tech-fest, and button-fetishist’s delight. Build quality and reliability were second to none, too. And as for its 4.0-litre V8… that changed the game completely. And right now these cars are a secondhand bargain beyond compare – if you can afford the fuel.

But since then, it’s been introducing more and more cars that you’d actually want to own. And in some cases, they’re quirky as well as well-made and stylish in an unconventional sense of  the word. It’s clear the company has taken the hybrid drivetrain, and is really running with it – in some cases very successfully indeed. And as for the LFA supercar… wow. But does that make it the new thinking man’s executive car of choice?

I think so. No names, no pack-drill, but when I hear slightly obnoxious people, in heightened social circumstances say in oozingly stifled English, ‘it has no class, that Japanese saloon…’, I know it’s a car I could do business with. Perhaps not the CT, but almost certainly an IS or GS.

Food for thought…

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

26 Comments

  1. Too much of an Inbetweener.. Too posh to be mainstream, not classy enough to be upmarket, so I can’t make head nor tail of it in terms as an alternative to established rivals. However, if I was completely souless, didn’t give a monkeys about what people though and wanted more goodies for my money, then I would cold-heartedly, head calculatingly go for a Lexus.

  2. Sorry Keith – I’m with Lord Sward – for me to part with that amount of wedge, it’s got to look great! I’ll stick with my supposedly unreliable Alfas (until FIAT turns them into badge engineered Chryslers – then I don’t know what I’ll do…..maybe buy a Jag XF?)

  3. As Alan Partridge once said, “It’s the Japanese Mercedes”. Plus he replaced his Rover with one. I’m not really sure what conclusions to draw from this!

  4. As a Honda driver, I’d much rather have a Lexus than an Audi, Beemer or Merc (although I quite fancy a Jag). Of all the Japanese prestige brands, Lexus is the only one that has really lasted the course, although I quite fancy a Honda Legend after seeing a two year old one at my local Honda dealer for £11k. Now that’s depreciation!

  5. There is still way too much bagde-snobbery in the world. Not only in the UK, but also on mainland Europe. Let’s not forget Lexus also built the completely bonkers LFA. EVO likes it very very much, even so much that they placed it above a Ferrari 599 GTO a few months back. And now Chris ‘Monkey’ Harris has driven the Nurenbuerg version and thinks it a better drive there than the Porsche 911 GT2 RS… Ouch.
    Going back to the saloons, yes they can look a bit garish, when ‘tuned’ to personal ‘taste’ or better, lack there-of. But you can also buy some very tasteful German saloonacy. To get back to this story however, I quite like the IS-Lexus. All those 3-series and A4’s are boring to look at.
    And lest we forget, how about Infinity? They are quite new to Europe, but in my eyes at least they don’t look too bad. But then I’m no English (or even Dutch) Lord 😉

  6. I’d take a Lexus over a Benz, a Beemer or an Audi any day. Well made, refined and different from the big-selling herd. But if I was looking for a car with a bit of exclusive appeal, it would primarily have to look the part, and I wouldn’t want to spend anything like £30,000. So my money would go for an Alfa, or even (dare I admit this?) the stylish and nicely trimmed new Chrysler.

    Or, taking the Bangernomics option, you can get a very decent Rover 75 or Jaguar X-Type for £5k.

  7. “…which now hangs in the balance. Will new owner Geely be able to continue Ford’s good work?”

    I think it’s debatable whether Ford put Volvo onto the path to where they are today. Before they were acquired in 1999 they did have products like the 850/S70/V70 T-5 and the curvy S80 and C70. The S60, MkII V70 and XC90 were also signed off and in the pipeline by the time the company was taken over.

    The first Ford influnced model arrived in 2004 with the S40/V50 and since then, none of their cars have ever really been near the top of the class. You will also notice that a lot of quality has been lost along the way, with doors on today’s cars shutting with more of a “clang” rather than a “thunk”.

  8. Or for the brave badge denier there’s the enthusiast choice which no-one ever mentions and only a handful of people buy – Citroen C5 V6 with proper fluid suspension

  9. @406V6 – Just took a look at one online – a handsome car – pity it’s replacement is bland as can be……..

  10. when the original IS200 was launched i thought what a nice antidote to the germans,with its beautifully simple instruments and silky smooth engine,now i think they have lost thier way the cars look bereft of soul and are just another toyota washing machine although the LS is understated in a dignified way, the rest of the range doesnt flick my switches.

  11. I agree with Steve Bailey.

    As a Honda driver experiencing my first Japanese car and the quality and reliability that goes with it, I was thinking what would replace the Accord coupe?

    In terms of a 4 door saloon, I don’t like German marques.
    BMW and Audi are now so common and a bit vulgar. Mercedes’ build quality is nothing like the W123 halcyon days.

    Volvo’s quality is also not what it is, Saabs future is in the balance as GM are poised to throw a spanner in the works of the chinese takeover.

    Been there before with Alfa, with a GTV.
    C6 would be nice, but they’re as rare as hens teeth, and as those who are familiar with the site’s regulars, questionable quality/dealer apathy.

    Jag XF would be a good second hand buy, especially with the oil burner.

    However, having gotten used to Japanese ‘it just works’ quality, Lexus was the one I was thinking. Ridden in an LS before, silky smooth, but would be too thirsty.
    An IS220d would be on the shopping list. I’ll admit, it’s not the most beautiful saloon car, but it has an understated class and everytime I see one, I imagine the driver has a professional career, taking over the Saab stereotype.

  12. Another Hondaphile, but with a caveat:

    Google “Acura” if you want to see how not to do a Japanese exec!

    Go on; it’ll make some of BLzebub’s worst designs seem a lot better.

  13. well i love hondas,especially the civic type r,im not fond of the type r malaysian built gearbox as they break easy and the accord is just quality!

  14. The Lexus was initially designed with mainly targeting the USA market. They knew many were unhappy with the Cadallic and Lincoln in USA made choices as poorly made, not attractive. Many didn’t like M-B’s as too expensive to buy and maintain, Audi’s were not of the class and suffering with the ‘unintended accelertion’ problem and BMW’s were not really seen as ‘luxury’ or any of the Kraut cars due to personal political reasons. Jags looked great, but had horrible build quality and dealers. The Japanese brands saw a huge opening. They saw buyers wanted a car that gave decent performance and ride for the class, all the bells and whistles, but not at a stupid price and with by then Toyota/Honda reliabilty and quality. Honda did the same thing too, markeing the Legend, sold here under a separate badge, Acura. That both Toyota and Honda (along with the Nissan top range competitors marketed in NA as the Infinity)were able to come up with cars that would become highly respected brands and models, to some better than M-B, is a tribute to sound management and engineering.

  15. Didn’t Clarkson and co say, a few years back for the “exclusivity factor” over a BMW 3 series buy a Mondeo?

    Thats it for me then, a top of the range Mondy, or much better looking and with a (cough) “lifetime warranty” the Insignia will do just fine, ta.

  16. “Thats it for me then, a top of the range Mondy, or much better looking and with a (cough) “lifetime warranty” the Insignia will do just fine, ta.”

    Pound for Pound you often get a much better car by buying a top of the range Mondeo (or any other large mainstream saloon) compared to a base model 3 Series. Doesn’t sound so good in the pub though when you say you have a Mondeo.

    I like the original IS-200, thought it had great looks. But it’s like it was designed and built by a totally different manufacturer. The rest of the Lexus range were, while very well put together, either hideous or large bland looking barges. I don’t know what it is with Jap cars, maybe it’s a cultural thing, but they never seem to have that touch of class to them. Take say the Rover 600 and the Honda Accord, both the same car, but the Rover just had a handful of little styling touches that made all the difference in terms of looks.

  17. Remember the times when buying a bmw or merc the radios were cost options? out of all the japenese car makers i think only honda and nissan stand out in terms of having a cohesive design language i.e juke,civic,qashqai etc mazdas seem overtly japenese if i make sense!

  18. I know a friend who has a Lexus is200 and nice it is, though I still dont class it in the Jag league. I know the CT200h is a tremendous vehicle but not for me as I dont have a need for that type of car.

  19. The thing about Japanese cars is the quality of the engineering is better than the quality of the hype. With a German car it is engineered to be put together one time and never serviced. Japanese cars are laid out in a fashion that not only functions well for a very long time but that is also easy to service when the car gets older. This keeps down time and servicing costs to a minimum when compared to the German competition and is one of those things that new car buyers usually fail to consider. So while yes, some Japanese cars are considered bland in terms of style ( an entirely subjective metric if there ever was one), they usually are the better car. For that reason, I would buy Japanese over German any day. After all, who cares what other people think? I would much rather make my own choices based upon logic than follow a herd of my oftentimes less intelligent peers.

  20. I think with Volvo, the amount of Volvo that shaped “New Ford” – rather than Ford shaping Volvo – should not be underestimated.

    Volvo’s acquisition by Geely may well position Geely as the Chinese company to watch, if they allow Volvo to take the engineering and design lead.

  21. Looking at the used car prices of Lexuseses, they do seem to hold their value well, which is bad news for us used car buyers.
    They also don’t seem to have any automatic diesels?
    Automatic petrol is a dream in the morning commute, but very thirsty. Would like a diesel next.

    Strange, as there seem to be a few Avensiseses with diesel autoboxes.

  22. Stewart: Always preferred Soapras. Originally, take the front of an A70 Soarer and stick it on the corresponding (pointy) Supra, now equally applicable to taking the bits out of the later, blobby Soarer and putting them into a Supra.

    And countless other variations on the drift-scene lead theme.

    My choice would be an Aerotop with digital instruments:

    I can’t remember if they did a narrow arch aerotop – I get my JA70, MA70, A71 etc mixed up since it’s over 6 years since I was into Supras.

    Early Aertops are less pointy…

    And yes. That’s the origin of the “totally random and totally hideous to most European tastes” Lexus SCs.

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