In 1990 Lexus made its debut in the UK, a new luxury brand from Toyota represented by a single model: the Lexus LS 400 saloon, powered by a distinctively smooth, refined and whisper-quiet 4.0-litre V8 engine.
Could it cut the mustard against the established European prestige marques? Could it set new standards in technology, equipment specifications and safety? And could it achieve higher customer satisfaction levels than any other brand?
Move the calendar forward to 2010 and Lexus has achieved all these feats, and more. The doubters of the '90s - and there were more than a few ready to dismiss an upstart luxury brand from Japan - have been proved wrong and Lexus commands respect as one of the most innovative and accomplished car makers in the world.
Today Lexus's UK range of four mainstream models - Lexus IS, Lexus GS, Lexus RX and Lexus LS - plus the high-performance Lexus IS-F and ultra-exclusive Lexus LFA supercar, are among the most technically advanced, luxurious and sophisticated in their class. Furthermore, no automotive brand delivers better service to its customers, according to the independent annual UK customer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power and Associates, in which Lexus's status as the top ranked manufacturer has been unchallenged for the past 10 years.
In terms of powertrain technology, too, Lexus maintains its industry leadership. It introduced full hybrid power to the prestige car market with Lexus Hybrid Drive in the Lexus RX 400 in 2005 and has continuously improved the technology to deliver an unmatched combination of power, fuel efficiency and reduced emissions in new generations of the Lexus RX, Lexus GS and Lexus LS.
Lexus's product development will enter an important new phase early in 2011 with the launch of the full hybrid Lexus CT 200h, its first model for the luxury small car segment. Although positioned as the gateway to the Lexus range, it has been designed in detail to deliver sporty ride and handling performance, combined with emissions and fuel economy benefits of the Lexus Hybrid Drive powertrain.
Twenty years ago the on-the-road price for a new Lexus LS 400 was £34,625, which is the equivalent today of around £58,000. The contrast with the current top-of-the range Lexus, the full hybrid Lexus LS 600h long wheelbase limousine, is stark in almost every respect: in place of the V8 engine there is a full hybrid powertrain; the equipment specification has a wealth of significantly more sophisticated and luxurious features; and the car is designed, engineered and built to higher standards all round.
Comparing the 1990 Lexus LS 400 and today's Lexus LS 600hL reveals how far engineering and technology have advanced.
|1990 Lexus LS 400||2010 Lexus LS 600hL|
|Engine||32-valve 3,969cc V8||Lexus Hybrid Drive
4,969cc V8 with 650V electric motor
|Max. power (bhp)||241||439|
|Max. torque (Nm)||350||520 (V8)
300 (electric motor)
|Max. speed (mph)||155||155|
|Acceleration 0-62mph (sec)||8.3 (0-60)||6.3|
|Kerb weight (kg)||1,805||2,410|
|Urban cycle fuel consumption (mpg)||19.6||25.0|
|Safety systems||Five seatbelts
|Pre-Crash Safety system
Adaptive Cruise Control
Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management
Driver monitoring system
Emergency Steering Assist
Vehicle Stability Control
ABS with EBD
|Comfort and luxury features||Climate control
Electrically adjustable front seats
Electrically adjustable steering column
Electrically adjustable door mirrors
Seven-speaker audio system with cassette player and six-CD changer (in the boot)
Walnut interior trim
|Body temperature-sensing four-zone climate control with roof-mounted diffusers
Electric reclining rear seats
Heated and air conditioned front seats
Air conditioned rear seats with massage functions (left side)
19-speaker Mark Levinson hifi
Rear DVD player
HDD Satellite navigation
Intelligent Park Assist