The beginner’s guide to Lexus
Everything you could possibly need to know about Lexus and its thirty-something-year history
What’s Lexus, and when did it start making cars?
Lexus is a luxury car brand owned by parent company Toyota. It was founded in the 1980s, around the same time rivals Honda and Nissan were launching their Acura and Infiniti brands in an attempt to make inroads into the premium car sector.
Recognising that the Toyota badge - then associated with cheap and cheerful cars - wouldn’t cut it as an object of desire, chairman Dr Eiji Toyoda assembled a team to “create a luxury car to challenge the very best” in 1983. Referred to internally as the Circle F project, and under the leadership of Ichiro Suzuki the unit got to work developing a vehicle that could hold a fistful of candles to the best in the business.
And boy did they do their homework. A team was deployed to the US to study the western way of life, and understand what Americans wanted from their cars. A new V8 was developed. Three million miles of road testing were driven. Nearly 4,000 people were employed and the total development spend was thought to have exceeded $1 billion.
Then they had to come up with the brand itself. A list of 219 names included Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis, and it was the last of these that eventually morphed into Lexus. The new brand launched in 1989 with the LS 400, and 3,000 examples were sold in the first month.
Fast forward to the present day and Lexus is still going strong. It isn’t the most exciting car brand in the world, but it’s earned a reputation for reliability and customer satisfaction. And you can’t really quibble with that.Advertisement - Page continues below
Where are Lexus built, and how many does it build in a year?
Before you make a beeline for the comments section, yes, Lexus is apparently the plural of Lexus. Back to the question: most Lexus are built in Toyota-owned factories in Japan, including Tahara, Yoshiwara, Kyushu, Miyata and Motomachi. There are also assembly lines in Cambridge (the Canadian one, not the British one) and Georgetown, USA.
In 2020 Lexus sold 718,715 cars around the globe, a fall of 6 per cent on the previous year that the company blamed on a certain virus that begins with ‘C’ and ends with ‘ovid-19’. The downturn was harshest in the company’s home market, which fell by 21 per cent on 2019 levels.
What cars does Lexus build?
Lexus sells a variety of vehicles, but as a luxury brand it doesn’t do smaller cars as the profit margins are tiny, and the idea of selling one with Alcantara seats and a Harman Kardon sound system makes no sense anyway.
The UX compact SUV is the smallest car in the Lexus line-up, and recently it's been followed by the 300e, the brand’s first electric car. Next up is the NX, another compact SUV but with a more premium job description and now - for the first time in a Lexus - the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Then there’s the ES mid-size saloon, RX large SUV (there’s an even bigger RX L with seven seats), and a mid-size coupe called the RC F.
The LC coupe is the closest you’ll get to a supercar with a Lexus badge on the front, and there’s a drop-top version in the form of the LC500 Convertible. Finally there’s the LS limo, which is the firm’s flagship model and Japan’s answer to the Mercedes S-Class.
On these shores virtually every Lexus is available with some form of hybrid tech, with the exception of the LC500 Convertible.Advertisement - Page continues below
What’s the cheapest car Lexus builds? And what’s the most expensive?
At the time of writing, the only way you can get a Lexus in the UK for less than £30,000 is to buy the UX SUV and then not treat yourself to an extra trim level or two. Which is fine, but kind of defeats the object of buying a Lexus. Standard kit includes dynamic cruise control, a seven-inch touchscreen, a reversing camera and 17-in alloy wheels, which isn’t too shabby. You don’t have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto either.
The LC500 Convertible is the most expensive Lexus there is, with prices starting from just over £92,000. By the time you’ve added the Sport + package and played with the options list, you’ll be looking at a six-figure sum.
What’s the fastest Lexus ever built?
That’d be the bonkers Lexus LFA. Almost a decade in the making it was finally launched in 2009, with a production run of no more than 500 examples promised. Powered by a 4.8-litre V10 engine, it produced 552bhp and could go 0-62mph in 3.7secs on its way to 202mph.
And then the LFA Nurburgring Pack came along. Lifting power to 562bhp and introducing new aerodynamic tweaks, this version went round the Nurburgring in 7m14secs, eight seconds faster than the standard car could manage. When it was announced Toyota promised to make only 50, but according to reports it exceeded this limit by more than a dozen.
The last LFA was built in 2012, and Lexus hasn’t committed to making anything quite as fast since.
What’s been Lexus’ best moment?
Honestly, it’s hard to look past the LFA as the brand’s crowning achievement to date. The fact that it came from a company that had never shown any real interest in going fast beforehand made it all the more astonishing.
There was only one real catch. Because of the nine-year development programme and the sheer volume of carbon fibre involved in the construction of each car, the LFA cost £340,000. The Nurburgring pack took that figure over £400k. And even at that price Lexus wasn’t turning a profit. Yikes.
What’s been Lexus’ worst moment?
Lexus hasn't really endured that much turmoil since its birth at the end of the Eighties. Most car companies go through a financial crisis or two at some stage, but then Lexus is still something of a youngster compared to more established brands.
Back in 2010, Toyota and Lexus were forced to recall millions of their cars worldwide after it was found that potential faults with the floor mats and accelerator pedals could cause ‘unintended acceleration’. Which is the worst kind of acceleration.Advertisement - Page continues below
What’s Lexus’ most surprising moment?
Pretend for a minute that you’re Steven Spielberg. You’re about to start shooting a new movie set more than fifty years in the future, and you need a really futuristic-looking car for leading man Tom Cruise to escape some baddies in. Who do you turn to?
Lexus, apparently. Turns out Spielberg is a Lexus driver, and he challenged the company to make a car that would look the part in the year 2054 for his 2002 film The Minority Report.
Designed by Haral Belker and Toyota’s Californian design studio Calty, the unimaginatively named Lexus 2054 featured fuel cell technology, a crashproof structure and biometric security. No Apple CarPlay though.
The car also makes a brief appearance in 2005 film The Island, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, albeit painted blue instead of red.
What’s the best concept Lexus built?
Lexus loves a concept car. And the deeper it tries to look into its crystal ball, the better. This LF-30 Concept is a vision of what the year 2030 will look like: four electric motors combine for 536bhp and 516lb ft, with 0-62mph taking 3.8 seconds (very nearly as fast as the LFA!) on its way to a top speed of 124mph.
Climb through the gullwing doors and you’ll discover AR-equipped screens, seats that mould themselves to your individual shape and gesture control that - presumably - doesn’t make your life needlessly more complicated.
Not interested? Try the Lexus GXOR for apocalypse levels of toughness and a hearty V8 over electric power.Advertisement - Page continues below
Tell me an interesting fact about Lexus.
Ever thought that the names Lexus gives its cars are a bit… random? There’s actually some logic behind it. UX stands for ‘Urban Explorer’, NX means ‘Nimble Crossover’ and the ES is ‘Executive Sedan’, while the RX is a ‘Radiant Crossover’ (nope, us neither) and the LC is a ‘Luxury Coupe’. The RC in RC F means ‘Radical Coupe’, while the LC and LS are ‘Luxury’ coupes and sedans respectively.
Even the LFA followed the same protocol as an abbreviation of Lexus Fuji Apex; the Fuji Speedway in Japan provides the inspiration for the ‘F’ moniker in all of Lexus’ sporty models.