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Lexus, Toyota, Lexus, Toyota, Ferrari and Pebble Beach In This Month's Letter from Europe


Letter from Europe
by Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief  

The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic.  I have been catching up with the latest offerings from  Toyota/Lexus family. A family that seems to be growing rapidly according to the recent news relating to a 100 million dollar investment in Highlander production. We have one and consequently I am not surprised. Zaps up to Tahoe week in week out without missing a beat. Two adults, three children, zero hassle. 25 mpg.

2014 Toyota 4Runner (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Toyota 4Runner
I started the  Toyota family test with the 4Runner, a brute of a machine which comes with a 4 liter engine providing 270 horses and 278 lb.-ft torque. To be honest it wasn’t love at first sight. There is nothing wrong with the 4Runner it’s just that my requirements are different. 

Living in genteel Marin County not a million miles from the Golden Gate Bridge I don’t need a locking rear diff, multi terrain  select, crawl control or hill start assist. No. The 4Runner is for places such as North Dakota where it would be perfect for the fracking fraternity. For the record the average  fuel consumption is 18 miles per gallon which gets a 4 on a scale of 1-10 from the authorities. It costs approx. 40 thousand dollars which seems reasonable for one tough truck.

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2015 Toyota RAV4
The RAV4 was much more my cup of tea.

  The company improved it over the years beyond recognition. New colors, new interior and a much improved fuel consumption. On the way to Tahoe climbing to over 6000 feet it amazed me by getting over 30 miles per gallon and on the way down it was 35! The 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine’s 176 horsepower proved totally sufficient. 

Next time maybe we’ll take my wife’s tried and trusted Prius, it will make an interesting comparison.  Interestingly enough she preferred both the steering and the brakes of her car. Three years, 30 thousand miles and no problems.

On the other hand the amount of gear we’ve managed to put into the back  of the  RAV4 with the rear seats folded was truly amazing. 6 speed automatic, 4 wheel independent suspension, electronic power steering 4 wheel disc brakes-it was all there. The sticker price of 29 thousand dollars, with extras 32 . A fine product in a very competitive field .  

Lexus IS 350  (select to view enlarged photo)
Lexus IS 350
But the most fun I’ve had during the last few weeks was at the wheel of the Lexus IS 350 2 door convertible. I will go into the details later but just imagine the scene. Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance with well over tens of thousands of people, most of them  arriving in cars. And I mean fancy, very expensive cars. Hundreds of Ferrari’s, Lambos, Mercedes, Bentley, you name it. And where did most of them park? Miles away!

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There is  only one entrance to Pebble and it is guarded by very large policemen over the Concours weekend. Arguments were frequent but futile. You were waived on  whether you liked it or not. Until I arrived in the 2014 IS 350 in matador (!) red it very much looked the part and when I got to the afore mentioned policemen the entrance opened a bit like the Red Sea .

For the uninitiated let me let you in on a secret. Lexus are the official car of the Pebble Beach Resort all year round. In fact golfers staying at the Lodge can take some of the cars for a spin round the famed 17 mile drive. So leaving all the exotica behind and gently drifting along to the nearest-very helpful-valet was a huge thrill.

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I am about to offend all my Ferrari friends but at one  quarter of the price of a California T-the least expensive car from Maranello-I can think of thousands of people who would be very happy with the IS 350 quite apart from the monetary consideration. Well, actually let’s not forget the monetary consideration. 50 thou as opposed to 200..the difference will buy you lots of college fees, holidays, maybe even a small cottage somewhere. And-here comes the heresy-unless you are a wealthy Ferrari aficionado the Lexus will do most of what the CaliforniaT can do. Two plus two seats, 308 horsepower, 6 speed gearbox, rear wheel drive (!) and of course with the F Sport package you get tons more goodies such as 18” alloys, a very nice leather steering wheel and a stunning navigation system/premium audio 12 speakers but more than anything else F Sport suspension.

 For the record the IS sells for approx...$55 thousand dollars-with extras, 47 without- and on the highway-if you are careful-will do the best part of 30 to the gallon.  And let me be devil’s advocate, especially as Ferrari can sell all the cars they produce, should anything ever go wrong with the Lexus there is a Toyota/Lexus dealer in just about every town.

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Of course it does not quite have the cache, the Grand Prix glamour but all I can tell you is that we had a Labor Day parade here in Belvedere. As you can see from the photo the IS was full of happy folks. I’ve talked to the owner, she said that after owning several Mercedes cars she is delighted with her current car.

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Finally I come to the RX 350- what a great SUV. To be honest I’ve never taken too much notice of it until now. A cursory glance in the tennis club car park revealed several of them. Turned out even one of my doubles partner has one and he loves it. Having driven it for a few days I now know why. The silence is amazing as is the comfort. The 350 engine could  do with a bit more oomph, especially when fully laden. The interior is great although I do have to agree with my colleagues who have suggested that the Remote Touch system is too sensitive. It was probably designed by a geek who works for Apple is his spare time.

It is no BMW when it comes to handling, I think Lexus people are a little bit more sedate, more laid back, in less of a hurry. It is smooth and luxurious. I have noticed how well second hand RX 350s hold their values.  If you look at the demographics you’ll know why. As I am no spring chicken when I had to hand back the keys I did say to myself-it would have been nice to keep it.

I am just off to Europe to the World Premiere of Jaguar’s new XE and will be reporting for The Auto Channel as the saying goes-hot off the  press.