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In 30 years on sale in Australia, Lexus has managed to move the meter on luxury cars in all but one crucial metric – emotion.
Anyone who has watched Lexus’s progress since the original LS400 in 1989 couldn’t fail to be impressed by the quality of the cars, the expansion of the model range, and a customer-first approach to sales that forced Audi, Benz and BMW to treat people nicely and install cappuccino machines.
But passion? Excitement? Joy? Not a chance. The upscale offerings from Toyota’s prestige offshoot have been frequently derided as boring and unadventurous.
Yet watch what happens these days when a Lexus RC F pulls up at the lights. Heads swivel. BMW owners blush.
Something has changed at Lexus, and clearly a lot of people like it.
The LS flagship is now a smoothie that’s only spoiled by a grille that looks like the terrible teeth of the Moonraker baddie ‘Jaws’. The long-running SUV, the RX – once a mish-mash of weird and conflicting angles – is surprisingly smooth and gentle on the eyes.
By Lexus’s own admission, something had to give. Change has been dictated from the very top, where company chief Akio Toyoda is pushing his own preference for personality into cars that look good and drive well.
For proof of his commitment, Toyoda is the one who gave the green light to the 86 and born-again Supra sports cars, and has just raced a Supra in a 24-hour race at the daunting Nurburgring in Germany.
Here in Australia, the updated RC F is one of the key cars to have driven double-digit improvement in sales through 2019.
Lexus looks better and is doing better as a result, having discovered the key to appealing to the 30-somethings who are the key to long-term success.
Prestige brand bosses always say it’s easier to win someone new than convert a 50-something owner who already has formed brand allegiances.
For the RC F, Lexus opted for lighter, faster and sharper for a car more like a BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C 63 than anything from its own back catalogue.
It’s likely to appeal to driver types, as well as sitting purposefully alongside the mainstream RX SUV and pointing to a bolder future.
That boldness is also reflected in a $3600 price cut for the basic RC, but it’s the Track Edition – at $165,690 (plus costs) – that says everything about Lexus in 2019.
The basic shape is unchanged, but the nose is more aggressive, there are carbon-fibre side mouldings, and a rear wing that dumps 26 kilograms of downforce over the back wheels.
Visually, there are also LED lamps at both ends, but the updating does best with a more-powerful 5.0-litre V8 engine, and an eight-speed auto which now snaps through the gears instead of slurring its changes. There is even an exotic titanium exhaust to sweeten the soundtrack.
The Track Edition also comes – for the first time since the Formula One-inspired LF-A – with launch control, for maximum traction away from the lights. Cue more red faces.