This is really about an advertisement. The image is from Car magazine, July 2008…
…back in the day when a) I still bought it and b) when it still carried lots of advertising.
The Lexus IS, as standard, conformed to the Lexus template of being well-made and not wholly satisfying to look at. All the reviews I looked at bang on about Lexus being conservative which if taken in aggregate is a conservative attack on conservative design and comfy driving. Motoring journalists have their own conservatism which is that cars are better being aggressive and sporty. How about that for self-reflexivity. Well, Lexus decided that there was nothing for it but to
produce a response to the motoring press and to produce a response to the BMW M3 and Mercedes C63 AMG. As such, the Lexus ISF had a 417 BHP V-8 engine and a price tag more than double the already very adequate IS 222d (see page 45-47 for a poem about the car).
The advert has a pretty decent amount of copy for the times. The headline is “Performs like no other road car because it was developed like no other road car”. The smaller print says Lexus tested the car on th Fuji speedway. There’s a postage stamp-sized photo of the speedway to underline the point. The ad tells us the car has six-piston 360 mm brakes, a 5.0 litre V8 (I said that earlier) and forged aluminum wheels inspired by Samurai swords (because it’s Japanese).
The way I read this is that the race-track competence of the car is underwritten by the association with the Fuji Speedway. The car has re-modelled front wings as well and some extra details on the flanks to hint that the owner plumped up more than fifty grand for the object if they bought one. Which not many did. Maybe the cod quad exhaust pipes blew up the impression of engineering seriousness.
The word on the road is that the ISF didn’t catch on and it threatened BMW and Mercedes not one bit. One of the reasons might be that the advertising didn’t help with the message that this was a race-track tuned car. The image only shows a generic close-up of the car which looks like an IS 220d (£23,000) on a blurry bit of road. You can’t see the Samurai wheels either.
Close inspection reveals the road is a track, yes, but close inspection should not be needed to get across the message this is a car as closely associated with the Fuji Speedway as the competition is with the Nurburgring. What was called for was a totally analogue, unairbrushed, unfinessed image of a real, dusty car on what is plainly a race-track: tyre debris and rubber stripes and all.
Blood if necessary. Autocar’s photo (above) gets closer to the idea than whichever agency put a black car on a dull grey background with a stamp-sized photo of the evidence for the justified, true belief this was a serious high-performance car.
Of course, the advertisement was not the only factor in the ISF’s inability to crack the over-priced and over-powered saloon market. Yet it was Lexus’ tool to alert customers to whatever Lexus wanted them to know and feel about the car. The reviews didn’t say much about the Fuji Speedway and yet this element defined a car “developed like no other”. In the ad, the signal is all but lost.