Toyota Rolls Out Plenty of Products

By Gary S. Vasilash

Let’s face it: As much as people would like to think that the pandemic is something that is talked about in the past tense, the direction of those arrows showing cases and hospitalizations and deaths related to Covid are going in the wrong direction.

This means that OEMs have to consider the ways and means that they announce product to the press, and in turn, the public, because this ain’t 2019 anymore.

Toyota has announced a tranche of products and developments that would usually be metered out drip by drip.

Instead, it has essentially said, “Get ready, here we come!”

GR Corolla MORIZO Edition. Yes, you could go to Costco in it. But you’d probably have a whole lot more fun at a track. (Image: Toyota)

As in:

  • 2023 Corolla Hybrid with optional AWD–What makes this different is that there is a separate electric motor mounted on the rear axle to switch from what is ordinarily a FWD vehicle to AWD.
  • Corolla Cross Hybrid—The SUV-ish vehicle now (1) is available as an AWD vehicle and (2) uses Toyotas Fifth Generation Hybrid system. Oddly, Toyota touts that the vehicle has a 0 to 60 time of 8 seconds. No one—probably not even a rogue valet—is going to pin the accelerator on a Corolla Cross, hybrid or otherwise.
  • GR Corolla MORIZO Edition—“GR” stands for “Gazoo Racing.” It was established as something of a skunkworks for running at the 2007 Nürburgring—but as it was established by Akio Toyoda. . .  . Anyway, GR is both a racing team as well as an operation that provides performance to production vehicles. This vehicle, limited to 200 cars, is designed for the track (but is street-legal), as the engineers worked at taking out weight (they removed some 100 pounds from the GR Corolla Circuit Edition), added a close-ratio manual transmission, and increased overall rigidity. Here’s something you don’t necessarily associate with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine: 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
  • 2023 GR86 Special Edition—Last year Toyota introduced the GR86 sports car, and the vehicle has been doing well. In Q1 ’22 there were 3,257 GR86s sold, which may not seem like a big number, but is an increase over Q1 2021 of 326.3%. The Special Edition will be limited to 860 vehicles. The vehicle features a cat-back performance exhaust to make the 228-hp 2.4-liter engine sound, well, more bad-ass. There are forged matte black 18-inch alloys. And there are various trim mods inside and out.

Meanwhile, over at Lexus:

  • 2023 RX—The fifth generation of the vehicle that, arguably, made Lexus. Were it not for the luxury crossover, a segment that the RX pioneered, odds are that Lexus might have been like those other two brands that launched around the same time that are now pretty much footnotes. The new RX is on a new platform (GA-K), which is important because it allows a weight reduction (always good for performance) and increased rigidity (ditto). The RX has been available as a hybrid since 2005 (!). That continues with the new model. But there is a second hybrid, the RX 450h+ that will be coming, which is a plug-in hybrid.

And there’s this:

  • Cabin Awareness concept—This is a development from Toyota Connected North America, an operation that focuses on things of a digital nature. This concept is based on a 4D imaging radar sensor—and it has absolutely nothing to do with autonomous driving. Rather, the sensor, mounted in the headliner of a vehicle, determines whether there are life forms in the vehicle (adults, kids, infants, pets). This is useful to make sure that no one is left inside a vehicle. And because this will be important in the autonomous world (e.g., say someone books a ride for himself and pet and upon arrival at the destination, gets out but leaves the pet behind), Toyota is working with autonomous vehicle company May Mobility on testing it out in autonomous Toyota Siennas (back to that parenthetical scenario: the Cabin Awareness sensor finds the pet is still there and a signal is sent to the vehicle system such that it won’t move on until the situation is resolved).

Yes, lots of things from Toyota in a compact amount of time.

What Comes After RX?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lexus has revealed the 2023 RZ 450e, the brand’s first electric vehicle. Like the RX—which it undoubtedly hopes the RZ will follow in the tire treads of—it is a crossover.

(The RX isn’t going anywhere, of course. It continues to be the linchpin of Lexus. In Q1 in the U.S. Lexus sold 64,365 vehicles, of which 26,795 were RXes.)

Lexus plans to have an electric version of all types of its vehicles by 2030 and to have full EV sales on a global basis by 2035.

So the RZ is the start of what promises to be an unfurling ribbon of new products powered by electricity.


One of the things that Lexus is touting for the vehicle is the DIRECT4 all-wheel drive system that basically distributes torque based on factors including speed, acceleration and steering angle. The distribution ranges from 100% to the front to 100% to the rear depending on conditions.

This is what the steering wheel of the future (as in late 2022) will look like: Inside the Lexus RZ 450 e. (Image: Lexus)

The vehicle has motors on both the front (201 hp) and rear (107 hp) axles (for a total of 308 hp). Cleverly, so as to keep things going smoothly even should someone mash the accelerator, there is a front-to-rear drive force ratio distribution between 60:40 and 40:60– there is said to be a linear feel as a result.

Also in this smoothness realm is the use of Frequency Reactive Dampers that work to adjust the force on the extension stroke so as to provide handling and comfort. (The objective is to create a drivable vehicle for those who like to imagine that they’re piloting the vehicle [which could go to the point of the available rectangular steering wheel, which looks like it could be in a flight deck] as well as for those who buy a luxury vehicle because they want to feel cossetted.)

And while on the subject of steering, know that there is a steer-by-wire system deployed and the steering control is setup so that the need for hand-over-hand steering movements is minimized. (One thing the shape of the geometric steering device does: maximizes visibility of the control panel.)

As an EV, there is the key question regarding range. The vehicle has a 71.4-kWh battery and it will provide an estimated range of 225 miles.

The RZ 450e will be available late this year.

Premium Vehicle Perspective: Depends Where You Look

When looking at charts developed by French auto analyst firm Inovev of the sales of premium vehicles in the U.S., China and Europe for the first 11 months of 2021, there are a few surprises.

As in sales of 2 million in the U.S., 3 million in China and 2.5 million in Europe.

It’s not surprising that the number is higher in China than in the other two regions. After all, it has a population of 1.4 billion.

It is a little surprising that the numbers break as they do, given that the population in Europe is 748 million, which is about half of that in China and slightly more than twice the population in the U.S. The 500K increments seem strange given that.

Clearly wealth is not evenly distributed, with the U.S. having a higher proportion of its population capable of affording a premium vehicle.

But the surprising thing is the relative sales of the premium brands in the three markets.

The five three brands in the U.S. during this period are BMW, Lexus, Tesla, Mercedes and Audi. Then there is a slight falloff in numbers.

The top five brands in China are BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big decline (Audi is at over 600,000 units) to Tesla (at 240,000) and Cadillac.

In Europe it is BMW, Mercedes, Audi, then a big drop to Volvo (Audi: >500K; Volvo: 245K) and Tesla.

While there is consistency with BMW, Mercedes and Audi, and while Tesla is certainly on a roll, Lexus is something of an outlier. It doesn’t show up at all in the listing of sales in China and in Europe it is in ninth position, behind Lancia and just ahead of Jaguar, all of which are well below 100,000 units.

Lancia doesn’t show up at all in the sales tracking for the U.S. and China, and in the U.S. Jag is in last place and it is third from last in China.

Seems as though the German brands are consistently solid around the world while for everyone else it is somewhat random.

Guess Who Made This Vehicle

Even though I know the answer already I am still surprised

By Gary S. Vasilash

OK. It is a concept. That was developed in Europe. It is 122.8 inches long, 68 inches wide and 71 inches high.  

(Image: *)

The ROV—or recreational off-highway vehicle—is powered by hydrogen. There is a one-liter hydrogen engine that “works just like a petrol engine, but with a high-pressure tank for compressed hydrogen.”

Answer: Lexus.

Explanation from Spiros Fotinos, Head of Lexus Europe, comments: “The Lexus ROV is our response to the growing passion for the outdoors and adventurous spirit of luxury consumers. As a concept, it fuses our desire to also develop lifestyle-oriented products with our ongoing research into new technologies that contribute to carbon neutrality. As well as delivering a concept that is thrilling to drive, it has near zero emissions thanks to its hydrogen powered engine.”

Near-zero? Turns out there is some oil burned during driving.


Why Lexus Is in the Marvel Universe

It is still a vehicle brand, not a superhero. But it is interested in more sales, so. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

The second biggest grossing film of all time is Avengers: Endgame (2019). It brought in about $2.8-billion.

Number five on the list is Avengers: Infinity War. It launched in 2018 and took $2-billion.

And at eight is The Avengers (2012): $1.5-billion

If we go beyond the top 10 there is Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) at 11 and $1.4-billion, Black Panther (2018) at 12 and $1.3-billion, and Iron Man 3 (2013) at 20 and $1.2-billion.

Five movies. $10.2-billion.

No matter how you look at it, a lot of people have seen Marvel movies.

So when you hear that Lexus has created cars for all of the key characters in Marvel’s forthcoming Eternals and think, “Lexus is a luxury brand. What is it doing with a comic book movie?”

Think this: Just imagine if a small percentage of the Marvel Universe fans go out and buy Lexuses.

It would still be a big number.

(Image: Lexus)

About the 2022 Lexus ES

Yes, sedans matter. Done right.

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lexus has revealed the major midcycle update of the seventh generation ES, which appeared in 2018. The ES is a sedan. The ES is one of the fundamental products of the brand that we now know as Lexus. In 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Lexus was introduced to the world with two models: the LS 400 sedan and the ES 250. While many associate Lexus with the wildly popular RX crossover, it wasn’t introduced until 1989.

Without the ES, arguably, we wouldn’t have the Lexus that we now know: Let’s face it, while the top-of-the-line LS is notable, its sales potential is limited. (That is: the starting MSRP for an LS is $76,000, while the starting price for an ES is $40,000. The difference is not trivial.)

The 2022 Lexus ES. Yes, people still like to drive cars. (Image: Lexus)

Lexus has seven cars in its lineup: IS, RC, ES, GS LS, LC and LFA. In 2020 there were 68,205 Lexus cars delivered. Of that number, 43,292 were ES models. Second to it is the IS, at 13,600.

Of course, the brand that made luxury crossovers a thing has five models in the SUV category. In 2020 it sold 206,836. Of that number, 101,059 were RX models. Second to it is the NX, at 55,784.

While it is clear that the crossover is certainly bringing in more buyers, note how important the ES is to the overall car sales: 63% of the total. The RX represents about 49% of the crossover total.

So for 2022 the brand has made some modifications, such as making its Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 as standard equipment (among its elements: Pre-Collision System (PCS) that uses enhanced sensors; it includes Frontal Collision Warning (FCW), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Pedestrian Detection and Bicyclist Detection, and Intersection Turning Assist (under certain conditions it will recognize an oncoming vehicle when performing a left-hand turn, or a pedestrian when performing left and right-hand turns; it activates PCS if needed)).

They’ve modified the instrument panel design, doing such things as moving the center screens (standard 8-inch and optional 12.3-inch) forward 4.3 inches for easier accessibility.

On the outside there are new grille patterns. There are new wheels.

They’ve modified the ride and handling characteristics thanks to things like the use of a new rear suspension member brace. They’ve updated the braking system. . .and even enlarged the size of the brake pedal.

They’re even offering an FSPORT accessory and handling package for the hybrid version of the ES.

Lexus is putting a lot into the ES.

Look at those numbers for last year.

And consider this: in 2020 there wasn’t a single Cadillac model—not a car, not a crossover, that had sales of 43,292. The closest is the XT5 crossover, at 35,223.

Yes, the right sedan can matter.

The Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept Revealed

What took them so long?

By Gary S. Vasilash

It was called the “Lexus Concept Reveal Show,” and the purpose of the show, such as it was,* was to introduce the LF-Z Electrified.

The show was about the car—a design that has the now-familiar Lexus sheet metal angularity but type-wise something of a cross between a four-door sedan and an SUV, which arguably makes it a bona-fide “crossover”—that is to come out in some form (concepts don’t always turn into production vehicles) by 2025 as part of “20 new vehicle models including BEVs, PHEVs, HEVs, and other electric vehicles.”

Well, it sort of has a spindle grille: the Lexus LF-Z Electrified. (Image: Lexus)

Heretofore the focus at Toyota—of which, of course, Lexus is a part—has been on hybrids.

And it was ahead of the rest of its competitors back in 2005 when it launched the RX 400h, a hybrid.

An interesting thing about that: Lexus was ahead with the straight-up RX, which has become a phenomenal success for the brand, out performing not only anything else in its lineup, but vehicles from its competitors. And the hybrid version was something that others didn’t have because they, to a certain extent, thought that diesel engines were the future.

Yet Lexus was there with that hybrid, then made hybrid variants of everything from its performance cars to its compact utilities.

But its full-EV–especially in the blinding-light of Tesla–was nowhere.

The details of the LF-Z Electrified are sketchy. As in “DIRECT4,” a “four-wheel driving force control technology” that sounds as if it is an approach to torque vectoring (the various wheels are controlled such that the appropriate amount of torque is distributed to each depending on conditions). It rides on a specific battery-electric vehicle (BEV) platform.

The battery is placed longitudinally and helps provide a low center of gravity, but what kind of battery it is or how big aren’t revealed.

The interior is said to be minimalist, using a new design concept, “Tazuna,” which is the Japanese word for rein, as in a rider reining in a horse. (Mazda has long used Jinba Ittai in the development of its vehicles: the combination of a rider and horse as one.)

Lexus has to come big with electric vehicles. Audi is rolling out with models right now, Mercedes is ratcheting up its output, BMW has a suite of electrified vehicles and has announced its own BEVs, and even Cadillac is going all in.

Given that Lexus was already providing electrified vehicles back in 2005 makes me wonder what’s been taking it so long.

*While this was about a car, it should not be mistaken for an “auto show,” one of those events held in a municipal convention center or fairgrounds with miles of aisles of displays of new vehicles, an event that was in the process of diminishing in importance before the pandemic. It almost seems as if those shows, where things like concepts were routinely introduced, may be giving way to things of a tightly controlled and digital nature.

2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury: The Charm of the Smaller

The Lexus CT200h became available in the U.S. market in 2011. It was a global vehicle, one that was a hybrid-only vehicle, albeit not the first Lexus to be such: there was the HS 250h that had gone on sale in 2009 in the U.S. The HS didn’t work out so well in the U.S. market, having been pulled in 2012. Arguably, the issue was that the HS 250h was pretty much just a compact four-door that was Lexus-nice, but not enough. The CT200h had a better run in the U.S. market—going until 2017—and it continues to have a level of appeal as it was a compact hatchback, making it somewhat special (the CT200h wasn’t the first Lexus hatchback: there was the IS hatch, which had a run from 2002 to 2005, but it wasn’t a hybrid).

The Lexus CT 200h hybrid: A charming hybrid circa 10 years ago. (Images: Lexus)

The CT200h came to mind—not the more similarly named HS 250h—when I drove the UX 250h, a compact crossover. The charm of the CT carries over to the UX.

Realize that Lexus offers the RX as a hybrid, as well as the NX. So it is big, smaller and compact with the addition of the UX. The other two are more SUV-like than the UX. It strikes me as a, well, compact hatchback. Yes, it is designed more like a crossover than an SUV, but if you squint. . .there’s the CT200h.

And like the other two, the UX is available as a gasoline-only-powered vehicle. The hybrid version brings AWD with it.

The vehicle is powered by a hybrid system that consists of a 2.0-liter inline four that is supplemented by a two-motor generator hybrid transmission—one motor serves as a generator to provide electricity that goes to the vehicle’s nickel-metal hybrid battery system (yes, NiMH) and to control engine speed while the other motor provides power to the wheels as well as performs regenerative braking. The total system horsepower is 181, which is suitable for an AWD vehicle with a 3,605-pound curb weight: You’re not going to be breaking any speed records and may not even be the first to go when the light turns green, but you’re also going to get an estimated fuel economy of 41 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 39 mpg combined, which Lexus says makes it the most fuel-efficient crossover without a plug. (Who would have thought that Lexus would be the leader in fuel efficiency while providing a vehicle that is anything but frugal in its interior execution and amenities? This simply speaks to the proficiency that Lexus has in executing vehicles.)

Lexus UX 250h hybrid: Charm circa right now.

The vehicle “seats five.” With a moonroof the passenger volume is 88.5 cubic feet; it is 90.4 cubic feet sans. Trust me: you don’t want to be the fifth person in the vehicle regardless of the roof. The SAE cargo volume is 17.1 cubic feet: remember—this is a compact crossover, so you’re not going to be moving any fridges in it unless it is sized for a dorm room.

But the real thing about the UX is its charm. Which is something that isn’t often characteristic of vehicles nowadays. The 2020 UX 250h Luxury trim has a starting MSRP of $39,900, which makes it the most-affordable Lexus hybrid by a few hundred bucks: the NX 300h AWD starts at $40,160, and while it is a bit bigger, there is something about the UX 250h that makes it special.

Like the CT200h.