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…