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Lexus to spread its wings

200-topper: All-new LandCruiser-based LX570 hits Oz in January.

Lexus plans to attack BMW's class-leading M3 and X5 as it enters new luxury segments

26 Apr 2007

LEXUS will diversify its six-model range in Australia via a series of new and innovative vehicles that will include a small SUV below the next RX, drop-top and BMW M3-chasing versions of the IS, and a bespoke hybrid vehicle.

All will follow the January 2008 Australian release of the recently unveiled LX570, the upper-luxury SUV based on Toyota’s 200 Series LandCruiser, which goes on sale here in late 2007.

The news comes hot on the heels of this month’s Australian launch of the fourth-generation LS upper-luxury sedan, the V8-powered LS460 variant of which will be joined in October by the segment’s first hybrid in the guise of the long-wheelbase LS600Lh.

GoAuto understands that the next RX, to be derived off a development of the current Camry-derived platform, will be significantly larger and wider than today’s second-generation model.

The all-new SUV is due here in the second half of next year.

A Lexus insider describes the new RX’s sleek styling as "...a coupe on stilts," but promises that it will be far more spacious, comfortable and involving to drive on-road than the current model.

Speculation also suggests that a long-wheelbase seven-seater version, beginning with the RX350L, is also on the cards.

Both versions will see the nameplate better equipped to take on the BMW X5 and Mercedes M-class in both size and dynamic capability, and will move up in price accordingly. Expect little change from $90,000 for the new base RX350.

Of course, another hybrid RX will also appear, and is expected to use a V6 petrol/electric combination of about 3.5 litres in capacity.

Speculation is also circulating that Lexus may introduce a super-luxury long-wheelbase V8 petrol/electric hybrid RX, utilising a development of the 5.0-litre unit powering the LS600Lh.

However, the RX development story does not cease there.

It is believed that Lexus is also putting the finishing touches to a rebodied and shorter-wheelbase version of the new RX.

Known internally as the ‘New Entry Level,’ it will be a five-seater part-time all-wheel drive crossover SUV/wagon about the size of today’s Toyota RAV4.

Lexus may unveil a lightly disguised concept version of this car before the end of 2007, although a late 2008/early 2009 release date is more likely in Australia.

31 center imageStarting at significantly under the current RX350 (from $75,000), the ‘JX’ crossover – as it has been referred to by some quarters of the media – will be pitched against the BMW X3, as well as the upcoming Mercedes-Benz MLK compact 4WD wagon and Audi's 2010 Q3.

Rumours are running hot that that the JX – to be built in Ontario in Canada – will also offer a petrol/electric hybrid variation.

GoAuto understands that Lexus in Australia is particularly keen on this vehicle, to fill the sales volume void left by the previous Camry-derived front-wheel drive ES.

Ironically, the new ES we don’t see in Australia shares a lot of components with the ‘JX.’ Meanwhile, Lexus is working hard on expanding the IS brand with two distinct developments.

An IS coupe-convertible, with two doors, four seats and a retractable folding hardtop, is on the way for a late 2009 or early 2010 introduction into Australia.

A hint to what this car might look like is in Lexus’ 2005 Tokyo motor show LF-C concept car.

However, the IS coupe-convertible will be beaten into showrooms by at least 18 months by a 5.0-litre V8-powered IS sports sedan.

The production model, expected to appear at September’s Frankfurt motor show, will be very similar to the IS-F concept car unveiled at January’s Detroit motor show.

It will deliver in excess of 298kW/474Nm to the rear wheels, hit 100k/h from standstill in under five seconds, and keep up with an Audi RS4. Yet the IS V8 will still offer luxury-car levels of refinement and comfort.

Lexus Australia is undecided about whether the fastest IS will be sold under its high-performance "F" sports division, as the car will not be as raw as an RS4 or BMW M3. ‘IS500’ is thus a more likely moniker.

On the subject of V8s, the LS460’s 4.6-litre V8 powerplant, complete with its world-first eight-speed automatic gearbox, will be slotted into the current GS next year.

Replacing the slow-selling GS430 (it has fallen victim to the success of the faster yet cheaper and much more frugal GS450h petrol/electric hybrid), the new GS460’s expected 280kW/493Nm powerplant should give the V8 a performance edge over the hybrid. To keep the GS range fresh, a minor facelift is also expected to be introduced.

For 2010 and beyond, Lexus is believed to be developing a hatchback IS, although the timing suggests that the company may wait for the next-generation platform to come along.

Lexus admits that it is ignoring the booming premium small-car segment, especially in Europe, where it could make serious inroads into Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volvo C30 sales.

A hybrid-only model – very loosely based on one of the next-generation of Prius derivatives that Toyota is said to be working on for next year – is also in the pipeline.

Such a vehicle would provide Lexus with a greener alternative to the popular diesel versions of the A3 and its ilk – especially in Europe – while diesel-wary Americans have already proven their seemingly insatiable desire for hybrids.

Lexus Australia divisional manager John Roca says that a hybrid entry-level Lexus would be a very welcome addition to his model line-up.

"A hybrid taking over the void left by the ES would work," he revealed.

One model that Lexus does not seem to be frantic to replace is the current SC430, now six years old, and in line to match its SC400/Toyota Soarer predecessor’s decade-long run in production.

We understand Lexus is still considering the next model’s design and packaging parameters, although it is a safe bet that it will stick with the retractable hardtop feature of today’s 2001-era car.

Lexus may wait until the next-generation GS model arrives because the current SC is built off the old GS platform. In the interim, expect the SC to also gain the 4.6-litre V8.

"It is not a priority for Lexus to change the SC," one insider told GoAuto.

Of course, Lexus may also choose to effectively replace the slow-selling SC with an Audi R8, Porsche 911 and Nissan GTR-seeking super-coupe based on the LF-A concept from Detroit in 2005.

Our tip is a V10-powered production version of the LF-A will appear at this year's Tokyo motor show in October, with a late-2008 on-sale date and an LS-exceeding pricetag to follow.

What's coming from Lexus:

LS600Lh - October 2007
LX570 - January 2008
IS500 - First half 2008
RX MkIII - Second half 2008
LF-A supercar - 2008
GS facelift/GS460 - 2008
SC facelift/SC460 - 2008
JX compact SUV - 2009
IS Coupe-Convertible - Late 2009/early 2010
Bespoke entry-level Hybrid - 2010/11
IS hatch - 2011
GS MkIV - 2012
IS MkIII - 2012

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