Lexus LBX (Lexus)
Yaris Cross. Lexus has learned from Audi to base luxury models on popular models (Photo: manufacturer's website)
Is it possible to get luxury in a small way? It's a semi-philosophical question when, at least in the automotive sector, only a handful of manufacturers were employed. The only ones who have decided to tackle the issue are Audi, DS and Mini, with Lexus being the newcomer with an entirely new model called the LBX. This is a small SUV that will compete with the aging Audi Q2, the DS3 that is already in the middle of its life cycle, and in a sense also mini-brand models even though there is no real direct competitor there.
The Lexus LBX was unveiled at a press event in Milan and we were invited for an initial impression. Let's start with the first unusual item, the model name. So far, Lexus models have only had 2 letters. There is only one Lexus model with 3 letters, the LFA - a supercar that looked straight at the headlights of Ferrari and Lamborghini, and was discontinued without the introduction of a successor. The new LBX isn't designed to succeed it, but it does – according to the manufacturer – draw from it the adventurous instinct, the pushing of boundaries that in this case are about size versus class.
And the size is certainly small, because the base of the Lexus LBX is the Toyota Yaris Cross. Lexus says it took and stretched the platform slightly, increased width, moved the wheels to the edges and shortened the excess axles to get a small crossover in a dynamic package. Volkswagen has been doing this successfully for years, launching Audi models based on popular components for economic savings: A1 based on Ibiza/Polo, A3 on Golf. Lexus has seen, internalized and implemented: the NX shares components with Rab4 while the UX shares with C-HR.
Lexus has managed to create a clear design differentiation from the Yaris Cross at the rear as well (Photo: Lexus)
According to Simon Humphries, one of the brand's managers and chief designer, there is a new line here that is also functional. "The bow is new with a new interpretation of the 'hourglass' grill that was until now. In fact, we're going back to the line that existed before, of a lower grille than the headlamp line that creates a more advanced look. We also kept the hourglass design, only now it's part of the entire bow and not just the grille."
According to him, this design is also functional, because in a small car the various systems are also relatively small, such as a radiator, and this makes it possible to design smaller and lower openings that better serve the cooling and aerodynamic purposes.
"At the rear, we created a noticeable separation between the window area and the bin, and combined with a broken headlight line on the sides to provide a unique look," says Simon Humphreys, "I really like the look at the rear with the distinct shoulder line."
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The multimedia screen is large, but not too large (9.8 inches) to keep the design line low for the cockpit (Photo: Walla! System, Yoel Schwartz)
Inside, Lexus continues with the 'Tazuma Cockpit' style. Tazuma is a term describing the commands a rider gives to his horse through light gestures in the reins, with the idea of a vehicle being easy hand movements to perform any action. Most of the controls and buttons are on the steering wheel and are pleasant to use, and the rest are in the larger, but not too big multimedia (9.8 inches) because Lexus wanted to keep the design line low. According to Simon Humphreys, a low dashboard line reduces eye strain, lowers the visual center of gravity, opens up the field of vision that ultimately instills confidence in the driver.
The small crossover is offered with a wealth of accessories such as leather-like upholstery, an Alcantara, an elite windshield display and various details uncharacteristic of its market segment, such as an electric button to open a door instead of a handle (in the larger RZ style), Mark Levinson's branded audio system with 13 speakers, a host of advanced safety systems and more. However, the rear seat does not have an air conditioner port, as one is also missing in Yaris Cross.
Lexus also says four design packages according to the customer's wishes. These are not finish levels but different levels in taste. Indeed, from the plucking of my fingers on the various materials that surround the cabin, the quality impression is obtained. Those who also want a certain personalization can choose for themselves the color of the sewing in the upholstery and panels of the doors and dashboard, and the color of the belts. These are also sold in much more expensive luxury vehicles, and they are offered for the first time in Lexus.
Seating is 15mm lower than the Yaris Cross, and the promise is for a quieter ride, thanks to a tougher chassis than the Yaris Cross and added insulation materials. The front suspension is different from what the Yaris Cross has, while the rear suspension is similar but with a completely different calibration, which should help for a different result in both handling and comfort. Lexus explains that the idea is not to achieve the features of a sports car but a connection that resembles a beloved shoe. One that no matter what the occasion is, you will always choose it when you leave the house. And we appreciate the first manufacturer to call their new car a shoe.
The luggage compartment volume is not huge with 332 litres in the front-wheel drive version and 240 litres in the all-wheel drive version (Photo: Walla!, Yoel Schwartz)
The LBX gets the manufacturer's small updated hybrid unit, which was also recently introduced in Yaris. The 1,500 cc petrol-electric, 3-cylinder was upgraded from 116 hp to 136 hp in the case of the Lexuson. The electric unit has been improved, with a new generation of bipolar nickel-metal hybrid battery, so that together you get better performance and more fuel efficiency. The improvement over the Yaris Cross is quite impressive with a 2-second offset and acceleration from a standstill to 100 km/h in 9.2 seconds. Interestingly, the all-wheel drive version offers the same power and similar acceleration. More interestingly, Lexus declined to comment on the possibility of additional engine options, including whether there will be an electric version. In 2023, we can already expect such an option.
The LBX has now been revealed, but first deliveries won't begin until March 2024. It will be marketed in about 60 countries around the world, including Israel, Japan and Australia, with the largest market expected to be the European market. It is unlikely to reach markets like China and the U.S. at all. Unlike the Yaris Cross, which is produced alongside the regular Yaris in France, the LBX will only be produced in Japan.
On the shoulders of its smallest crossover, Lexus lays a very heavy weight, estimating that it will become its best-selling model in Europe – and ours. "We finished 2020 with 50,2024 deliveries," says Dimitris Tripospitis, head of Lexus Europe, "and we expect to reach 70,25 deliveries in 332 with LBX taking a share of 240,<> deliveries. There will likely be some kind of cannibalization with UX, but the price will be competitive, so ultimately we're making the brand accessible to an audience that previously didn't even think they could buy a Lexus."
And who is expected to be this audience? Asked.
"Young people and seniors, who usually travel alone or in a couple," says Tripospitis, "that's why the focus of the car is on the front of the car, on the driving feeling, on the quality of the ride. Less functional as a family car, so there are no air conditioning vents for the rear seat and the luggage compartment is not huge (<> litres in the front-wheel drive version and <> litres in the all-wheel drive version).
Electric door opening handle like in RZ Big Brother, and of course Tesla (Photo: Walla! System, Joel Schwartz)
CT200h. After three years, Lexus will once again have a relatively inexpensive entry-level model (Photo: manufacturer's website)
Lexus may be much younger than Mercedes, BMW and Audi, but it's been with us for 34 years. Its global sales volume is about a third that of any German automaker, with 635,2022 cars sold in 760, having already reached 2021,18 in 200, an 25% decline due to the chip crisis and the inability to meet demand. Models like the LBX can help it close the gap.
In Israel, and indeed around the world, the LBX will step into the shoes of the CT20h as Lexus' low-cost entry-level model. The compact, whose production was discontinued three years ago, was successful in Israel only in its last years, and today in the second-hand market, after customers realized that it was an option to drive a luxury brand at low maintenance costs. Lexus has yet to announce prices for the new model, but estimates in Europe are that they will be 200% to <>% higher than the Yaris Cross. If Lexus Israel maintains such a gap, it will have a new model for less than NIS <>,<> for the first time in years.
The writer was a guest of Lexus in Italy
- Car News