Lexus For 1999
By Carey Russ
The Lexus line has seen plenty of activity in the past few years. If 1999 seems quiet, look more closely. Although there is nothing absolutely new, all Lexus vehicles have important changes this year.
All Lexus engines now feature continuously variable valve timing for improved performance. This means a new powerplant for the ES300. The RX300 and LX470 sport-utilities made their debut in mid-1998, and now head into their first full year of production. The latest LS400 and the GS300 and GS400 sports sedans were new last year, so little changed for 1999.
The Lexus ES300 may look the same as it did last year, but don't be fooled into thinking that it is unchanged. It has a new engine, and a host of new safety and convenience features that make it very much a junior edition of the LS400.
Although the new V6 displaces the same 3.0 liters as did the previous engine, it now has the Lexus "VVT-i" electronically- controlled variable valve timing system and other enhancements for more power and lower exhaust emissions. It now meets California Transitional Low Emission Vehicle (TLEV) standards. The 1999 ES300 has a new electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
Electronic traction control is now standard, as are one-touch down and up front windows. The same skid control system as is used on the GS and LS sedans is available, an unusual feature in the ES300's class.
The newest version of the Lexus of sport-utilities made its debut in the middle of 1998 with new style and V8 power. Only the transmission and transfer case carry over from the old six-cylinder LX450. It is mostly unchanged for 1999, except for an optional Nakamichi premium audio system.
The LX470's muscle comes from its 4.7-liter V8. Eighty percent of its maximum 320 lb.-ft. of torque is available as low as 1,100 rpm, for fast acceleration or good towing ability. A new, more rigid chassis and independent front suspension improve its ride and handling. On- and off-road comfort and abilities also benefit from adjustable ride height and computerized adaptive shock absorber damping. Its antilock braking system remains active even in four- wheel-drive low range.
The 1999 LX470 has all of the comfort and luxury features expected in a Lexus.
The RX300 points to the future of the sport-utility vehicle. Designed primarily for on-road, all-weather use, it offers the looks, ground clearance and all-season ability that people want in an upscale SUV and the comfort and handling of a car.
Like some of the smaller sport-utilities, but no other large ones, the RX300 has a car-like unibody chassis structure for passenger-car levels of rigidity and quiet. It is available with front-wheel drive or all- wheel drive. Relatively light weight and a fully-independent suspension give the RX300 performance and ride qualities more like those of a car than a truck. A 220-hp 3.0-liter all-aluminum twin-cam V6 provides power.
The flagship of the Lexus line had a major makeover last year. The popular wood-and-leather steering wheel and shift knob, previously optional, are now standard equipment.
GS300 / GS400
The sports-luxury "Lexus with an attitude" GS sedans were new for 1998, and continue unchanged this year.
SC300 / SC400
The Lexus coupes have interior changes including perforated leather seat inserts and a standard 6-CD changer. The six-cylinder SC300 now has the same brakes as the V8-powered SC400.