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Lexus expects boost from turbochargers

Battle-ready: The LF-NX concept earmarked for next week’s Tokyo motor show will feature a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine –a stark contrast to the petrol-electric hybrid version unveiled at Frankfurt.

“Huge opportunity” for turbocharged powertrain in Lexus’ future – global VP


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11 Nov 2013

LEXUS will next week unveil its first-ever turbocharged engine, suggesting it is about to make a turn from its traditional free-breathing petrol- and hybrid-powered drivetrains.

However, the engine will feature under the bonnet of the Japanese luxury brand’s wild LF-NX SUV concept car – a concept car that we’ve already seen, but sporting a petrol-electric drivetrain under its heavily sculpted front end.

Speaking at the local launch of the re-born ES mid-sizer, Lexus global executive vice-president Mark Templin said both the LF-NX and the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine could play a big part in the company’s growth plans.

“I think there is a huge opportunity for that product and that powertrain in the future,” he said.

“That’s the biggest growth segment on a global basis. We have great heritage in SUVs.

“We started the whole SUV craze in luxury, and the RX has been the gold standard globally, so we feel like we have a great position to lead into small SUV.” Mr Templin said Lexus had taken its time in producing a turbocharged powertrain to ensure it was more refined than some of its competitor’s offerings.

“Turbocharged is the next great thing and I don’t know if a lot of people have executed it as well as we want to. Maybe we have been slower to the market than others but we are all about refinement, NVH (noise, vibration, harshness), smooth.

“A lot of the turbocharged engines in the marketplace today aren’t so smooth, aren’t so refined. We think we can do it better.”

If Lexus rolls the powertrain out to other models in its current and future line-up, it could be a logical fit in cars such as the 3 Series-sized IS, the mid-size GS, and the RC coupe revealed earlier this week and also slated for the Tokyo show.

Asked whether the development of a turbo unit was in response to its main European rivals all offering forced-induction petrol powertrains, Mr Templin said it was not and that the engine had been in development for some time.

“We just never felt like it was ready for primetime because we don’t think the refinement of those has been good enough,” he said.

“One example is that most of them have stop-start technology, and we are not happy with the refinement of the stop-start systems in those cars.

“Every time you pull up to stop light and the car shakes and you sit there and wait. That’s not a Lexus. So I think what we have been doing is developing a powertrain that has the characteristics of a traditional Lexus – it is smooth, it is powerful, and has great NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels, and we are going to come with a great product.” The unveiling of the LF-NX at Frankfurt confirmed speculation that Lexus would enter the mid-size SUV segment, filling an obvious gap in its line-up to compete with the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLK.

The design of the production model remains unclear, as will the future of the concept car’s massive ‘spindle’ grille, aggressive stance and sharp lines.

Lexus is yet to make any announcements about the timing and final styling of the LF-NX, with Mr Templin insisting that the car-maker was “testing the LF-NX concept to see how people like it”.

The concept received a mixed response at Frankfurt, but Mr Templin said he was thrilled with the reaction the vehicle received.

“What I liked about it is that it has been polarizing,” he said. “I actually like that because if everybody likes it right from the beginning, before you had brought something to market, it would really be kind of bland by the time it got to market. So to have people saying those kinds of things has been great.

“Even a lot of journalists at Frankfurt said they didn’t like it in photos but they saw it in the flesh and said ‘oh I really like it’.”

Despite the boom in the premium compact-SUV market with vehicles such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque, Mr Templin said Lexus was not considering entering the segment and was unlikely to introduce a model smaller than its current entry model, the Corolla-based CT hatch.

“Right now we don’t have plans to do that in our pipeline. We have the fortunate position that we get to live off a sister division called Toyota.

There is no pressure to go down below the CT where we are today.”

Mr Templin said adding a cheaper CT-badged car would put Lexus in competition with parent company Toyota, and he believed Lexus should remain a luxury marque.

“We are leery about pushing down too far. We have Toyota competing in those markets. I don’t have a desire to have a $20,000 car in our line-up. To me that’s not luxury.

“It prohibits us from doing those things that we do best and that’s building great quality cars and delivering an experience that nobody else can.

“If you keep just pushing down and trying to do more volume, then why would we want to do that when Toyota is already doing that.”

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