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First look: Lexus LF-Ch compact car laid bare

Revealed: Lexus has shown these pictures of its new premium hatchback, the LF-Ch, which reveal a coupe-like styling.

Lexus bares all with its sleek near-production prestige hatch

10 Sep 2009

AT LAST, Lexus has unveiled the crucial new hatchback that will rival the BMW 1 Series and the Audi A3 when it enters production late in 2010 and reaches Australia in the first quarter of 2011.

Although it carries the word ‘concept’ after its name, the LF-Ch details and images introduced overnight – which include the first full exterior shots as well as a look inside – provide a clear indication of the volume-selling prestige compact car Lexus will take to market.

While a three-door model is expected to emerge before long, the five-door shown here will be the first to enable Lexus to lower its brand admission price to below $50,000 in Australia, placing it well below the IS250 sedan and right alongside the 1 Series and A3.

Detailed technical specifications are still to come for the compact hatch, which GoAuto revealed in 2007 as being developed under the codename C-Premium. Full information now looks to have been reserved for the model’s world debut at the Frankfurt motor show next week.

However, Lexus has revealed that the front-wheel drive LF-Ch rests on a 2600mm wheelbase – the same as the Toyota Corolla, which is built on the same platform – and measures 4300mm in overall length, 1790mm in width and 1400mm in height.

31 center imageThis is a little lower, wider and longer than the Corolla, reflecting its more muscular and performance-oriented design, and is quite a bit smaller than the IS250, which is built on a 2730mm wheelbase and is 285mm longer (4585mm), 10mm wider (1800mm) and another 25mm taller (1425mm).

Meanwhile, the front-drive A3 is a touch smaller in most areas than the Lexus compact, with a 2578mm wheelbase, 4292mm in length and 1765m in width, although it measures 1423mm in overall height (based on the 2.0 TFSI variant). And the rear-drive 1 Series? The 120i has a 2660mm wheelbase and is 4239mmm long, 1748mm wide and 1421mm high.

Lacking a diesel engine with which to compete head-to-head with its European rivals, the luxury division of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) will, as GoAuto has reported, present the all-new hatchback in Frankfurt with a 1.8-litre petrol-electric drive system from the Prius, which also shares the same vehicle architecture as the Corolla.

In the lead-up to the C-Premium’s release, Lexus enthusiasts have bemoaned such close associations with the anti-niche and less flavoursome Corolla – the biggest-selling car in the world – and the lack of a rear-wheel drivetrain that places it on an equal footing with the 1 Series.

The question that now comes to the fore is how the world will react to the C-Premium’s looks – and whether it has enough appeal to lure customers from a large number of European rivals and top-end versions of mainstream Japanese hatchbacks, such as the Mazda3.

In releasing the first full-frame photographs, Lexus said its decision to enter the competitive European premium compact segment “reflects the growing demand for cars that are smaller and more fuel and CO2 efficient, but with no compromise in levels of refinement and driving pleasure”.

And it notes that, come 2010, the compact segment is expected to claim the largest share of the European premium car market.

“The LF-Ch concept reaffirms Lexus’s commitment to Europe, combining compact dimensions, stylish five-door, full hybrid technology and low emissions to satisfy the most demanding customer requirements, and to appeal to a new, younger generation of customers,” the company said.

The so-called L-finesse creed that governs all Lexus designs is said to be expressed in every aspect of the LF-Ch, “not only in the visual harmony between the interior and exterior design, but also in the combination of leading-edge engineering and technology with a user-friendly simplicity of function”.

Standout features of the LF-Ch face include a bold grille design that sits above a deep, full-width bumper and airdam with brake-cooling slots that aim to give the car a “powerful and purposeful” wide-track stance.

Its compact dimensions are reinforced through tapered side windows, a rising beltline and short rear overhang, while the now common practice of creating coupe-like aesthetics for a conventional hatch is achieved with a steeply raked windscreen, long flowing roofline, blacked-out B-pillars and rear doorhandles integrated into the C-pillar window trim.

The idea is that this Lexus hatch looks more like a pillar-less coupe.

At the rear, the trailing edge of the roof overhangs the rear window to create an integrated spoiler. The tailgate section also has a pronounced step, which flows from the fat wheel-arches (containing 20-inch wheels with 225/35-section tyres, the same as the front) and is then “anchored” by a wraparound tail-light design.

Aerodynamic detailing of the lower bumper is designed to smooth airflow from beneath the car and feed air to the rear brakes.

“The designers focused on the careful juxtaposition of opposing major and minor elements,” Lexus said. “Intriguing contrasts are created between the powerful, machine-like overall surfacing of the bodywork and the painstaking detail of even the smallest elements, creating a synergy between technologically driven design and a fluid, hand-sculpted quality.” While the exterior is finished in Dijon Mustard Yellow (our description), the cabin has blue illumination for a more calming effect.

The interior has liberal amounts of semi-aniline leather, polished aluminium, wood and soft-touch materials, while the seat design is said to be inspired by high-brow furniture with exposed metal frames, lightweight leather and grained black wood used in inter-related layers.

The driver is presented with a “strongly asymmetric” and ergonomic dashboard and, upon starting the car, is treated to a personal greeting on the navigation screen and an ambient lighting pattern on the headlining “to create a sophisticated lounge feel”.

The driving position is low, the wide-grip steering wheel has paddle shift controls, and the instrument binnacle houses large twin dials embellished with a turbine motif. As seen in the latest RX series, Lexus Remote Touch controls are used to keep distracting instrumentation and switchgear to a minimum.

The onboard entertainment unit includes iPhone docking for rear seat passengers.

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