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Lexus IS to spawn 4WD, hatch versions

BMW 330i chaser: IS350 is under evaluation by Lexus Australia, but a V8 could also be in the works.

Lexus looks to increase its cache of derivatives based on the new IS sedan

18 Nov 2005

TOYOTA’S luxury division Lexus is understood to be developing several new model variants based on its IS series platform, including a small four-wheel drive wagon and a new series of compact hatchbacks.

Overseas reports indicate that the 4WD wagon is about two years from market and will slot underneath the RX series – a model that is expected to grow when the third-generation model appears around 2008 – to rival the likes of LandRover’s Freelander and BMW’s X3.

The platform hardware is already in place as Lexus offers an all-wheel driveversion of the IS250 in Japan and America – the rear-wheel drive version of which was launched in Australia last week.

The small 4WD would be expected to come at the cost of a regular wagon.

In the previous IS series, a five-door hatchback known as the SportCross was available overseas, but was never sold in Australia. It did not replicate the stylistic or commercial success of its three-box sedan sibling.

GoAuto believes a new model line that would slot underneath the IS series is also under evaluation.

Designed expressly for Europe, the three- and five-door hatchback would offer rear-wheel drive as well as AWD variants.

It could also spawn a baby four-door sedan to suit the more conservative Asian and North American markets.

Two-door coupe and convertible models based on the IS architecture have also been mooted.

"Engineering resources within the company are reportedly stretched at the moment," said Lexus Australia executive chairman John Conomos, playing downsuch speculation at the IS250’s launch last week.

Development of the second-generation IS was overseen by the chief engineer of Lexus’ product development group, Suguya Fukusato.

31 center imageOne Toyota spokesman told GoAuto: "Mr Fukusato is an engineer with plenty of ideas. He would probably love to do a wagon, or 4WD, or hatchback, but whether that is in the best interest of the corporation is another matter."On the engine front, a V8 for the IS range is on the cards. The IS250’s engine bay is the same size as the larger GS430 sedan, which uses a 207kW/417Nm 4.3-litre V8.

Lexus could leverage both luxury and high-performance versions from an IS V8. The former would contend with the BMW 330i while an M3 rival is possible with the latter.

The Toyota luxury division previewed an IS430 version of its previous-generation IS in 2003 at the SEMA show in the United States. It commissioned vehicle customiser Rod Millen Special Vehicles to develop the one-off concept car for the event.

Of the IS models Lexus has already unveiled overseas, Mr Conomos said the 228kW/375Nm 3.5-litre V6 IS350 and the 130kW/200Nm diesel IS220d were the variants he desired most.

Mr Conomos said the IS350 was a stronger candidate now that it would be sold in Europe, which has similar homologation standards to those required in Australia.

As for the diesel, a Toyota spokesman said Lexus was "waiting and watching" to see how well BMW performs with the 3 Series diesel it plans to launch here later next year.

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