Lexus Debuts Their New UX Luxury Compact Crossover with Bold Art Installation in NYC

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On any given night in New York City there are probably a million events happening, only a few of which are actually cool. So, you know if we’re going to actually leave the house, it has to be worth it — and on Tuesday night, it was.

To kick off the annual New York International Auto Show, Lexus threw a banger, and debuted their new UX compact luxury crossover. And you know, because all the best parties also include a really great collab, the brand teamed up with NYC non-profit RxArt to premiere a custom urban-landscape art installation by artist Daniel Heidkamp, which will later be placed in a New York City Pediatric Cancer Center. The piece was a life-size Manhattan skyline in bold neon Pop Art colors — the perfect backdrop for Lexus’  chic new ride.

 

 

Of course, they also gave us tote bags. But don’t worry, you can get one, too — we don’t want you to feel left out. It’s not as great as the Lexus UX, which is not only the brand’s first luxury compact crossover, but also introduces an “all new platform built for exceptional handling, an ultra-efficient powertrain and innovative luxury features,” made for young, cool, city-slickers just like you. And hey, if the L train’s going to close next year, what better option is there?

The Lexus UX (in hybrid and gas models) arrives in December 2018.

Photos by Daniel Byrne

 

Looking for Fun in a 2014 Lexus IS

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The skepticism began when I received an invitation to fly down to North Carolina to drive a Lexus around a racetrack that wasn’t their LFA flagship supercar. Rather, I would be driving the newly redesigned for 2014 Lexus IS. My lack of enthusiasm stemmed from the fact that previous iterations of the IS have never showed any signs of sport, despite their place in the entry-level luxury sports sedan segment. They weren’t bad cars by any means, and they embodied the luxury, comfort, and reliability that Lexus is known for. But when compared with its German—and now, with the addition of the Cadillac ATS—domestic competitors, the Lexus IS always fell short in the fun-to-drive department.

So when the engineers at Lexus told a room full of auto journalist (aka “driving enthusiasts”) that the goal for the 2014 Lexus IS was to create “the most fun car to drive in its class,” there was a lot of eye rolling and perhaps a snicker or two amongst the crowd.  But with over a million miles put into testing the car, I was at least willing to hear them out.

002 Lexus

Exterior

Just looking at the new IS you could tell that Lexus was taking this whole “fun to drive” thing seriously. If the design of the previous IS was plain vanilla, the new design is a flavor so intense it doesn’t even have a name yet. Too intense, in fact, for my tastes upon first glance, particularly the large front “spindle” grill, an exaggerated play on Lexus’ new signature design feature. That said, you need to tip your hat to Lexus knowing that in order to disperse the preconceived notions that the previous IS carried with it, and capture the attention of would-be 3-series or C-class drivers, they needed to offer the boldest and most aggressive styling in its class.

In any case, the more time I spent with the car, the more I came to appreciate—dare I say love—the subtleties in the design that actually make this the best looking car in the segment, save for perhaps the more conservative 3-series M-Sport.

Of particular note is the swooping line that starts midway through the bottom of the front doors, cutting through the rear wheel well to meet up with the rear lights, and finishing off through the rear trunk lid. I even came to appreciate the front end, with its aggressive air inlets and headlamps and LED’s that seamlessly integrate into the bodywork.

Lexus Interior

Interior

If you’ve ever sat in the outgoing IS, forget everything. In line with the old IS exterior, the interior was equally boring, with nothing about it inspiring spirited driving.  But with the newly aggressive exterior of the new IS comes a revamped interior to match. Replacing the wide-open feel of the outgoing model, the new IS benefits greatly from a more cockpit-like layout and lowered driver position. The seats in the standard model are comfortable and provide ample support, but the sport seats from the F-Sport package are, in my opinion, the best seats available in any car in the segment, and worth splurging for the F-Sport package on their own.

Similarly, the standard 8-speaker, 250 watt sound system is great, but the 15-speaker, 800 watt Mark Levinson system is remarkable—but only worth spending for if you’re an audiophile.

And while the computer-mouse-inspired infotainment system is safer to use than a touch screen, it still requires too much driver attention to be considered a better alternative to the tactile feel of buttons and dials found on the exceptionally easy to use system in the Mercedes C-Class. Thankfully though, some buttons and dials remain for the most regularly used functions, such as volume and climate control. 

Speedometer Lexus

Performance

So about that whole “fun-to-drive” thing Lexus was going for with the new IS …

It was smart on Lexus’ part to have an outgoing IS350 on hand for us to drive at the track for a side-by-side comparison, because, like the exterior and interior, the new IS drives like a completely different car—for the better. Where the old IS suffered from oversteer, body roll, and poor braking, the new IS felt confident in the corners, both under speed and during braking. The new chassis and suspension work perfectly together to provide you with a sporty feel when pushing the car, but not at the expense of a comfortable ride when casually cruising.

But the fun factor depends heavily on your engine choice. While most will find the 204hp and 184 lb-ft of torque 2.5 liter V6 in the IS250, with a 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds (8.3 seconds with AWD) to be enough for general driving, it lacks the power necessary to really feel fun. So if fun is what you’re after, spring for the 306hp and 277 lb-ft of torque 3.5 liter V6 in the IS350, with a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds (although most agreed it felt faster). It not only provides you with the power that’s lacking in the IS250, it also sounds a lot better too.

Lexus Art Shot

Wrap-Up

So is the new Lexus IS fun to drive? Absolutely. Is it “the most fun car to drive in its class”? It’s hard to say. When you remove cost as a factor, the 335i M-Sport still gets my nod in the fun department, but fully loaded comes in a few thousand dollars higher than the comparably equipped IS350 F-Sport. If cost is a factor, you could argue that the Cadillac ATS, which is a blast to drive and comes in a few thousand less than the IS, is the best value.  But regardless of those minor differences, there’s no question that the 2014 IS is now a serious contender in the entry-level luxury sports sedan segment, and a car that its competitors should be worried about.

[More by David Heath]

Confessions of a Tree-Hugger Hater

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imageFull disclosure. I don’t have my license, I don’t recycle, and I’ve smoked more cigarettes than my lungs care to remember. Also, I’m scared of vegetarians, vegans, Bob Dole, people interested in the environment, people who use the word “green,” Leonardo DiCaprio, Vanity Fair‘s “Green Issue,” farmers markets, and fresh produce in general. These are just a few of my shortcomings, which is why it struck me as odd when I was asked to explore the new eco-friendly Lexus Hybrid Living Suite on the 10th floor of San Francisco’s legendary Fairmont hotel.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was staying at the palatial inn, as were her Secret Service henchmen and killer canines, who frightened me for altogether different reasons. The President of El Salvador had just checked in, and was met with protesters brandishing placards of Spanish rhetoric and political venom. Had they heard about my refusal to compost?

I was ushered through the door to my hotel room—non-smoking, to be sure—and spent some time looking out onto Alcatraz, cable cars, and the “Full House” residence of my childhood dreams. I changed into a bow tie and tighter jeans, and made my way to meet the representatives from Lexus and Fairmont. Every light in my room was left on as I closed the door behind me.

In the Lexus Hybrid Living Suite (more on its design later), I sampled local cheeses while dodging the dreaded question: “So, how often do you write about green issues?” Think, shudder.

Turns out the tree-huggers of the world aren’t as much like L. Ron Hubbard as I’d originally assumed. “Let’s break into the basement later tonight, after a few drinks, and I’ll show you the stuff they’ve got lying around. It’s insane down there. I keep expecting the doors to open, blood to pour out, and to see The Shining twins staring back at me,” said the suite’s designer, famed eco-designer Kelly LaPlante, who is currently putting her finishing touches on Fairmont’s Washington, D.C. outpost. That version will be “far more conceptual,” she explains. “I wanted it to feel like you were walking into a black-and-white photograph. And the bathrooms are sepia!”

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In this room, however—with only a faint aesthetic whiff of concern for the environment—the fixtures, furniture, walls, and draperies all mimic the color palette outside, as if bleeding out onto nearby streets. Blues and pale oranges—I’m colorblind too—are picked up by the San Francisco Bay and the palm tree-lined houses down below. I’d be lying if I said I understood the details of energy-efficiency and solar-blaggity that went into the creation of the suite, although listening to LaPlante speak somehow made perfect sense. Most of the furniture had been re-used from the hotel’s glory days, other pieces had been bought from eco-friendly designers (all of whom seem to love bamboo), and one piece in particular—a stunning, rounded coffee table—had been covered with leather left over from old Lexus models. What’s more, the partnership between Lexus and Fairmont is less about the room itself, and more about the experience of travelling green. (Wait, what? Did I just… ) In addition to the suite, guests can buy a package that includes a Lexus loaner, and an audio guide with tips on where to get your eco on in the city. Despite myself, I was beginning to feel won over.

Over the course of the three-day sojourn, I spoke with my hosts on a variety of subjects. One had stolen a bracelet from Brad Pitt while the superstar was puking at a party. Another proved to be a true champion in the art of rock-paper-scissors. Yet another shot me down when I suggested that Donny and Marie Osmond were twins. The conversation was only slightly peppered by greenery. I did, however, hear about LaPlante’s work (which, I’ll admit, is sort of fascinating). Over stinging nettle soup and cactus salad at the hotel’s restaurant, LaPlante, in an eco-friendly design previously worn by Darryl Hannah, discussed the residential projects she has completed in the past for Ally Sheedy and Michael Rapaport. In fact, LaPlante has overhauled so many celebrity interiors that she is self-publishing a book, écologique: the style of sustainable design, about the experience.

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There were delicious meals served throughout the trip (the wine and steak at Spruce were pretty super-fantastic), tours in a Lexus that told us where to steer, and a quick jaunt to Stellar Spa for a facial. Overall, the whole experience was quite pleasant.

My driver was waiting to bring me to the airport at some ungodly hour on Saturday morning. He was early. I was late (but I’d had bacon, so things were good). As we navigated the West Coast hills, past runners and cyclists, something LaPlante had said resonated in my head. “I know very well that I’m a niche designer, and that I can’t be everything to everyone. But, you know what? I feel confident that people will find me out, that they’ll want to do the right thing for the environment. And, personally, I think it’s better to do one thing really well than a bunch of things poorly.” I couldn’t agree more, as I sit down to write this piece in my slummy New York apartment, in desperate need of a smoke.

For more information on the Lexus Hybrid Living Suite, click here.