The new Lexus IS is upon us. You can’t have one.
Even before the C-19 pandemic swept away all previously held norms and nostrums, the motor industry had been undergoing something of a shakedown on a number of levels. Old orders were either tumbling or at the very least teetering on less than solid foundations, as customers voted, as they are prone to do, with their credit scores. Amid those sectors experiencing that unmistakable sensation of cold steel upon the nape of their necks was the upmarket-brand, rear-wheel-drive close-coupled sportive saloon.
In some respects, it’s something of a surprise that this market sector has managed to survive this long, since the cars themselves, not just bloated shadows of past glories, fall some way short of real-life viability when it comes to accessibility, space, and utility. Throw fashion into the mix and really, it’s amazing anyone bothers with them at all.
What’s more, the market has broadly decided that it only really wants these cars with the three pointed star of Baden-Württemberg or the propeller of München Milbertshofen upon their ever-broadening schnoozes. Therefore, despite the likes of Audi, Volvo, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Cadillac, Infiniti and Lexus grubbing around the table for fallen scraps, the game is more or less up – unless of course you happen to be a disruptive EV interloper from Palo Alto.
Once upon a time, Lexus was spoken of in similar terms to that of Mr E. Musk’s fashionable perambulatory devices, but despite the Japanese luxury carmaker’s commitment to hybrid propulsion, the brand has been undergoing something of a crisis of confidence of late. Having met with early success, Lexus has never quite come to terms with the somewhat inevitable backlash that comes with it – especially in the US market, where the bulk of their sales success has stemmed.
Initially criticised for bland styling, the carmaker latterly adopted a highly stylised form, with probably the most unmistakable grille signature of any premium carmaker, yet to little real avail. Nowadays, critics complain of polarising looks – there really is no pleasing some people. Styling is of course a matter of personal taste, and as many mediocre cars have sold on style as good ones have not, based upon its deficit.
The outgoing 2013 (XE30-series) Lexus IS was a good looking car, notwithstanding some of its more outré styling flourishes. A good car as well, it would seem, Lexus proving themselves to be the logical choice of those who intend to keep their cars beyond the usual 2-3 year lease period. Nevertheless, take-up has not been stellar, the default German-brand hegemony proving irresistible to the majority of punters.
This week, following delays owing to the political volatility across the US and elsewhere, Toyota have officially announced a heavily revised version of the IS. Basically a reskin of the outgoing car, the new IS aims for a holding position rather than anything more ambitious. So weight has been cut, rigidity has been enhanced, as has overall length – albeit fractionally.
The body styling is broader across the hips, yet maintains a litheness which was one of its predecessor’s more attractive visual features. The body maintains its signature scoops and slashes, but emerges as a more mature stylistic product. Inside, changes are less obvious, but apart from the inevitable advancements which have taken place amid infotainment displays and the like, it appears rather refreshing in its lack of wall to wall tech.
None of which of course makes the slightest difference to those of us on this side of the world because the new IS will not be sold in Europe. The reason for this, say Lexus is that the paltry sales of the outgoing model can no longer warrant the costs incurred. In a declining market, and one the carmaker states where European customers are only interested in their crossover offerings, another nail has been hammered into the sector’s coffin. Given its likely fate in the US market (where crossover is king) it’s very difficult to see how Lexus can justify another once this one runs its course.
It may take a while yet, but it really is beginning to look as though this is a sector about to run out of road. Because if someone with the size and scale of Toyota cannot make it work, the auguries are not good. But while Lexus have other fish to fry, what of the sector leaders? I would suggest that if this announcement isn’t met with some sobriety amid German boardrooms, it perhaps ought to be.