Lexus is introducing a new convertible and hybrid car, with more variants and a lower entry-level price
Lexus NZ manager Debbie Pattullo is remarkably upbeat given the current economic climate. She expects the luxury brand to retain its share in a segment that downsized early, as punters with money spotted the downturn and tightened their belts last year.
It helps that she's introducing a new strategy, a hero car - the Lexus IS250C - and a second generation Lexus RX450h hybrid, particularly important given electric-petrol hybrids make up around a third of Lexus sales.
The new strategy involves a wider spread of variants for each model, including a lower-priced entry-level than is traditional for the brand. That's achieved by cutting specification, leaving buyers who aspire to own a Lexus able to decide whether to pay that bit extra for the additional fruit.
Naturally Pattullo is assuring buyers that the brand's legendary service rep will not be affected. Buy a Lexus and you'll still get the service levels Lexus owners expect, including a 24 hour number to a real person to call for assistance, whether you've locked your keys in the car or lost your credit card. You'll still get four years warranty and still get a free set of tyres should the originals wear out before those four years are up.
Good news for those buying the entry-level IS250, which now also arrives as a convertible from around $93,000. Topless cars make up just three per cent of the small luxury segment and Pattullo expects to sell only 20 per year, but they'll pull new punters into showrooms.
What they'll find is a handsome hardtop car with the anal build quality now expected from the brand, a handsome cabin based on the sedan platform, with four seats and a boot that at 391 litres fits just seven litres less luggage than the sedan. Provided the roof is up, that is. Lower it - it takes just 20 seconds - and boot space drops to 136 litres. Lexus says it'll still carry a bag of golf clubs - we'd say, take the car when you buy the bag or you may be disappointed.
Otherwise the IS250C gets the same 2.5-litre V6 engine as the sedan, still driving the rear wheels, but with firmer springs and dampers for the double wishbone suspension and a stiffer body. It's 125kg heavier than the sedan too, which lifts the 0-100 acceleration time by 0.6 seconds.
Our launch drive was brief, with winter grit introducing handling wibbles unexpected from an otherwise sweet-handling car, the suspension seeming more effective than expected from the limited changes; perhaps they work well with the extra weight?
Meanwhile the RX450h may look similar to its predecessor, but there's a multitude of technical changes under the skin. A much more efficient, bigger petrol engine mated to two more grunty electric motors delivers more power and greater torque, more efficiently, with fuel economy considerably dropped.
Lexus claims 6.4l/100km, down from 8.1, and carbon emissions so low this car's powertrain will meet emissions regs for the next decade or more.
Again, there are more variants, with prices starting at $114,990. Like its predecessor, this RX hybrid is a very clever car - but it's easy to forget it and just enjoy its blend of sleek looks, build quality and comfort, and impressive acceleration - alongside a far smaller than expected hit at the pump.
Keen? You'll have to wait. Prices are still indicative as Lexus NZ negotiates with its Japanese bosses, with cars on sale from August.