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Lexus IS-F to match Benz C63 benchmark

Rapid response: Lexus Australia will adjust the specification of its IS-F sports sedan to meet the new benchmark set by Mercedes.

Repositioned IS supercar and all-new RX will lead next wave of Lexus sales growth

8 Apr 2008

LEXUS will flex the muscles of its compact IS sedan like never before this year, starting with this month’s important IS250X limited edition and ending with the M3-rivalling IS-F, which will be launched at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney in October and will better even the surprising new Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan on price or equipment – or both.

Lexus Australia chief John Roca told GoAuto last week that the aggressively low price positioning of last month’s new C63, which at $139,500 fires a salvo across the bows of both BMW’s M3 coupe ($157,000) and Audi’s RS4 sedan ($164,500), was perfect timing for Lexus and its first V8-powered compact sedan.

Prior to that, Lexus Australia had long said its IS-F target price was around $150,000, which would have undercut its German V8 competitors from both BMW and Audi – as well as the $160,490 C55 AMG that was discontinued in June 2007.

“We start negotiations (with Lexus HQ in Japan) on the IS-F price in two weeks,” said Mr Roca. “Previously, the RS4 and M3 were the benchmarks in the class, but now the C63 changes all that.

“The C63 price was the first thing we told them ... They've launched that car very aggressively and obviously we’ve got to take that into account. We haven’t finalised our specifications yet, so obviously we’ll be looking to offer some sort of spec premium – at the very least,” he said.

31 center imageFrom top: IS250X, LFXh concept, LF-A Roadster concept and Lexus Australia chief John Roca with the LF-A coupe concept.

Now launched in every major market outside Australia, the IS-F will receive an interior facelift in response to overseas criticism its cabin is not sufficiently different from that of the IS250, and Australian deliveries have been held back until the fresher model is available.

The upgraded IS-F will feature a revised dashboard with unique, higher-mounted satellite-navigation monitor.

“We’ll get the upgraded version with a bespoke sat-nav screen,” said Mr Roca. “The difference would only have been a few months.” Powered by a 5.0-litre DOHC V8 that produces at least 300kW of power and 500Nm of torque, mated exclusively to the LS460 flagship’s eight-speed automatic transmission (which in IS-F guise features steering wheel paddle shifters that are claimed to change gears in one-tenth of a second), the most rapid rear-drive Lexus sedan ever sprints to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds and an electronically-limited top speed of 270km/h in pre-production guise. Like the M3 and C63, it will feature a switchable three-stage traction/stability control system.

Mr Roca said Lexus hopes to sell at least 10 examples of the IS-F each month, but stressed that supply will be limited and that the first V8-powered compact Lexus sedan could prove far more popular than that “if we can price it right”.

Closer to home is yet another limited-edition X-badged version of the IS250, which goes on sale this week. Priced at $64,790 and claimed to offer $10,000 of extra value, the latest IS250X follows the launch last August of another X-rated IS, which also features 18-inch alloys, sports suspension, Mark Levinson audio, sat-nav and a sunroof, among other items.

The 260 IS-Xs revealed last year were sold out in six weeks, and Lexus says the 450 examples of the newest IS250X should prove just as popular.

The new LX570 SUV flagship also goes on sale this week, with more than 100 examples already pre-sold.

Representing far greater sales potential is the all-new RX, due on sale here in February next year. Loosely previewed at the 2007 Tokyo motor show, the redesigned RX will look smaller and more aggressive than the current model, which still found more than 4000 buyers last year and is now entering its sixth year on sale.

Despite the fact that it will offer more space inside, the new RX will remain strictly a five-seater. Australia’s second-generation luxury crossover will arrive first in RX350 guise, with a replacement for the current RX400h hybrid to arrive three months later. An internal “study tour” of the new RX will take place in July, prior to the redesigned soft-roader’s world debut later this year, possibly at the Paris motor show in September.

Next cab off the rank in Lexus’ quest to wrest sales dominance from the established Germans will be the IS250 coupe-convertible, to match BMW’s folding hard-topped 3 Series CC and both coupe and convertible versions of the Mercedes-Benz CLK, which will be renewed next year. The folding metal-roofed IS250 is slated to arrive here in the fourth quarter of next year, and is currently undergoing local durability testing.

Mr Roca said an F-badged IS-CC was not guaranteed to eventuate, and that a GS large sedan - powered by the IS-F’s 5.0-litre V8 and badged as the GS-F – was more likely to appear first.

Meantime, Lexus continues development of a new entry-level model to be positioned below the IS sedan, as previously reported. Assuming the official working title of C-Premium, the new passenger car will not be a sub-RX compact SUV based on the RAV4 as originally planned, but a hatch or sedan passenger car that is expected to become Lexus’ volume-selling model.

“We’ll know more in a couple of months and they’re still very coy about it, but I think they’re leaning towards a hatch,” said Mr Roca, adding that the smallest Lexus ever was unlikely to enter production before 2012.

Potentially positioned further upstream between the IS and GS is an all-new dedicated hybrid model to appear in concept guise at the 2009 Detroit motor show next January. A concept version of the new, exclusively petrol-electric model, which would essentially be a luxury version of Toyota’s hotly anticipated third-generation Prius, was promised at this year’s Detroit show.

Finally, development of the flagship LF-A supercar, which has been revealed in numerous concept guises at numerous motor shows, is now concentrating on wind tunnel testing in an effort to increase its top speed. But the wildest Lexus ever is not confirmed for Australia because, even if it enters production, it may not be built in right-hand drive.

“The chief engineer doesn’t want to launch the car without being faster than a Ferrari and they can’t do that by increasing power, so they’re now concentrating on styling and aerodynamics,” a Lexus insider told GoAuto, adding that the retarded development program is not likely to reap production results until 2011.

What’s coming from Lexus:
IS250X limited-edition April
LX570 SUV redesign April
IS-F sedan October
RX350 SUV redesign February 2009
RX400h SUV redesign May 2009
IS250 coupe-convertible 4th quarter 2009
GS-F sedan 2010
LF-A supercar 2011
Small sedan/hatch 2012

Read more:

First drive: LX570 is the lap of Lexus luxury

Lexus gets X-rated

Lexus to tackle 1 Series with new small car

First look: Lexus previews next-generation RX

Lexus commits to dedicated hybrid

Sydney show: IS-F here in a year

Sydney show: Lexus lets fly with IS-F, LX570

Melbourne show: Lexus tempts with LX570 and IS-F

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