Wednesday, May 6, 2015

2016 Lexus RX

The radically styled 2016 Lexus RX recently introduced at the New York International Auto Show is part of larger calculated risk by Lexus to appeal to a broader range of buyers than its traditional base. Built on value, quality and service, the Lexus franchise has never claimed to beat the cutting edge of design. However, that's changing. The ever-more-prominent spindle-shaped grille and bolder character lines of the new RX underscore the importance that Toyota's upscale division is placing on striking styling.

The shift to edgier styling is a huge bet, Jeff Bracken, group vice president and head of Lexus, admits. And he further admits that a few longtime Lexus fans are uncomfortable with the change.

"It's been a double-edged sword," Bracken told us in an interview during the New York Auto Show. "I can tell you I have taken multiple calls from owners who have owned, six, seven and even eight Lexus vehicles, and they feel like we've gone too far. They're very passionate about it."

But the shift is a gamble Lexus is willing to take. Bracken believes the division must continue to evolve if it wants to grow, and that evolution is to bolder exterior design.

"We know [the new design philosophy] can be polarizing and we know we can upset our real traditional owners," Bracken noted, "but if we don't do that, we can't open the minds or attract folks to us who would have never considered us. The downside of losing some of our loyal followers will be way offset by people who look at us because of that design."

Lexus created and popularized the upscale crossover SUV segment with the RX. At a time when other brands were building entries based off traditional sport/utility vehicles or purpose-built platforms with hardcore off-road ability, Lexus took the unusual step of modifying a front-drive car platform to underpin a new, taller vehicle counting on the fact that people wanted the look, ride height and cargo capacity of an SUV, but weren't necessarily going to tackle the legendary Rubicon Trail in California's Sierra mountains. Offering the choice of front or all-wheel drive, the original RX proved to be a gamble that paid off and created a whole new segment of vehicles.