What would the automotive press write about Lexus? Most of the reviews were good, some bad, and a few ugly.
New York Times reporter Richard Stevens set the tone when he wrote, “Lexus is the most critical marketing battle for Toyota since it was first imported in 1957.”
The Car and Driver magazine headline read, “Lexus LS400 vs. the World.”
Automobile Magazine read, “Battle Royale.”
Road & Track magazine called it the “Clash of the Titans.”
Popular Science magazine stated, “The LS400 is the opening salvo in an all-out war for supremacy in the luxury car market.”
Denise McCluggage of Autoweek wrote, “One can’t help but be dazzled by the technological sophistication of the LS400.”
Jeff Karr of Motor Trend wrote, “The cabin is close to faultless; fit and finish are as good as any in the world.”
Peter Egan of Road & Track wrote, “A near absence of wind noise and mechanical commotion, along with excellent directional stability, made the new LS400 the calmest, quietest car I have ever driven at high speed.”
Popular Science named the LS400 “Best Car of the Year for 1989.”
Robert Francis of the St. Petersburg Times wrote, “The Lexus LS400 might well be the best luxury car in the world.”
And Alex Taylor of Fortune magazine wrote, “Lexus is as good as, or better than the more expensive Europeans.”
The automotive press had to be cautious and find something bad about Lexus, otherwise they would be accused of showing favoritism and would lose advertising dollars.
Jim Healy of USA Today was non-committal when he wrote the LS400 was “silky silent” but “so close to perfect that it was almost boring.” Healy asked the question, “Has the LS400 been so refined and homogenized that it has no soul?” On the same page, opposite the LS400, Healy wrote the Infiniti Q45 was “powerful fun” but noted the “instrument panel was impossible to see in bright light.” He went on to write that the Infiniti had “the aggressiveness and personality that Toyota had scrubbed from the new LS400.”
Len Frank, host of the national radio program The Car Show, said of the Infiniti Q45, “The Q45 has a better feel, better throttle response, is more adventuresome. Face it, it’s just more fun.”
Pat Bedard of Car and Driver questioned the grille on the LS400, “For a car that seems to break new ground in all its executions such ambivalence about the grille is troubling.”
Tony Assenza of Car and Driver was even more direct,” My first impression of the LS400 is mixed. It has no face, no personality and that upright grille.”
It got ugly for the ES250, which was mostly ignored or slammed. Car and Driver said that it “looked out of place in the Lexus line-up” and “more like a last round draft pick.” Fortune magazine simply dismissed the car as an uninteresting “run of the mill Camry.”
Not all the writers tried to please everyone. It was David E. Davis, Jr., the highly respected publication director of Automobile magazine, who fearlessly captured the underlying sense of all the press. Davis was not cautious. He put everything on the line with his direct and honest assessment.
Davis was prophetic when he wrote what proved to be the right thing at the right time. He wrote, “Toyota nailed it with the big Lexus. Even if the styling is safe and conservative it’s beautifully done. The car contains all the traditional hallmarks of luxury and combines them with state of the art technology. The level of refinement in every area of performance is as good as that of any other car sold in North America. Toyota’s Lexus has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt, that they can compete head to head with Europe’s best.”
Davis concluded, “My assessment? Lexus is a paragon. It will play hell with the marketing plans of the old-line European luxury-cars builders, and it could have a disastrous effect on already shaky enterprises like Jaguar and Volvo. For Detroit’s Big Three, Lexus is a new form of the same nightmare that’s been keeping them up nights since 1957.”
“It is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time.” Proverbs 15:23 (NLT)
Automobile magazine quoted Thomas McGuire of BMW North America when he said, “Let’s get on with it! Toyota has been talking, talking, and talking. Put the cars out there and let’s see who buys them.” Lexus went on sale September 1, 1989.
(To be continued in “The Battle Begins”)