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The return of the high breed

WHEN MITSUKOSHI, a Japanese retailer with a rich history dating back to 1673, opened shop late last year at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, it afforded Filipinos ready access to an aggregation of brands from the Land of the Rising Sun. But beyond fashion, food, and sundry of products and services, Mitsukoshi now also highlights a luxury mobility marque within its walls.

That brand, of course, is Lexus.

While keeping a solitary dedicated dealership a stone’s throw away, the luxury division of Toyota has now opened what its executives are calling a semi-permanent “brand space.” Simply dubbed Lexus at Mitsukoshi BGC, the 374.52-sq.m. establishment houses everything Lexus — including space for a maximum of three vehicles and shelves for exclusive branded merchandise.

“It’s basically another touchpoint for us,” said Lexus Philippines Brand Manager Jade Sison, who added that it’s also a ready events venue — a perfect site for collaborations with “like-minded brands.” The execution of Lexus at Mitsukoshi is similar to its counterpart in Japan.

However, there are very distinctly Filipino (by way of Cebu) touches in the space said to “further (embody) the seamless combination of the Philippines and Japan.” This is expressed in design touches such as the so-called “Nest Box” overhead and in key locations, which also feature local fiber, and Capiz shells, rattan, and other materials employed in other areas. Columns are wrapped in natural wood.

What visitors and Lexus fans get is a warm, inviting space which also lends itself to meetings and face-to-face interactions. A Rocket machine provides excellent espresso-based drinks.

Significantly, the facility is also touted as the “home of Lexus Electrified” vehicles, “showcasing the brand’s heritage, sensibilities, and design inspirations that symbolize the new Lexus DNA of craftsmanship, and cutting-edge technology.”

Speaking of electrified, there’s no better poster boy for Lexus in the Philippines right now than the all-new, fifth-generation RX. Known to have pioneered the luxury SUV segment in the world when it debuted in 1998, the RX again found itself at the head of the pack when, in 2005, the RX 400h became the industry’s first hybrid luxury SUV.

In the Philippines, the RX will only have electrified variants: RX 350h Executive (P5.058 million), RX 350h Premier (P6.188 million), and RX 500h F Sport (P6.668 million). The bigger picture is something we’ve reported about in “Velocity” — the electrification of their models brings Toyota and Lexus closer to big boss Akio Toyoda’s vision of carbon neutrality. Between the two brands, Lexus is understandably more aggressively championing electrification — as it has throughout the years when it brought (and sold) hybrids here in significant numbers when nobody else was in the space.

Thus, it’s quite interesting to note that just decades ago, the RX was literally fighting to be born. “Honestly, within our company, we weren’t all that convinced (that the RX) was a great idea… Fortunately, the smarter product planners won that argument, and it became very quickly our biggest-selling model,” said Lexus College of Lexus USA Product Education Manager Paul Willamsen with a smile during an interview at the sidelines of last year’s exclusive media drive in the United States of the then yet-to-be launched all-new RX.

This new generation represents a massive evolutionary leap for the model — with innovations in technology, performance, driver assistive systems, and design. Speaking of design, Toyota/Lexus big boss Akio Toyoda himself directed engineers and designers to think of that next big step for the RX. One of those big steps is a so-called Lexus Spindle Body design, which sees the familiar (and sometimes polarizing) Spindle Grille more fluidly blend into the body design.

Versus the outgoing model, the all-new RX measures the same from fore to aft (4,890mm) but boasts a longer wheelbase (+60mm to 2,850mm) – leading to shorter overhangs. It also grows in width by 25mm to 1,920mm and gets squatter by 10mm (1,695mm).

Through a planted stance and “sleeker front-to-rear posture,” Lexus wanted to evoke heightened driving performance in the RX — which it wields in spades, based on our aforementioned testing in 2022. The signature black rear pillar (or floating roof) has been given a more three-dimensional in appearance, and the vehicle has been fitted with large 21-inch wheels.

On its front end, the RX gets triple LED headlights and L-shaped daytime running lights; on the rear is an LED light strip, and a spelled out “LEXUS” badge on the tailgate, which further distinguishes this RX as the most recent iteration.

Lexus designers used what they call a Tazuna cockpit concept “to provide a more focused environment for the driver.” Tazuna is the Japanese word for using reins to control a horse, and in the RX “direct yet intuitive control” is expressed in information sources such as the multimedia screen, multi-information display, single-dial meter, centralized gauges, and head-up display — strategically grouped so that content can be read with minimal eye and head movement. The designers also sought to create a “minimalist, yet intuitive and thoughtful interior space.”

This obviously works in tandem with the Lexus Driving Signature, which is deployed to “provide superior comfort and linear, direct responsiveness, giving all drivers control and confidence at all times.” The all-new RX rides on the Lexus GA-K platform, whose rear has been “completely redesigned to extend the wheelbase and accommodate additional cross members and suspension braces that increase rigidity. This increased rigidity has allowed the suspension to be more accurately tuned, improving both performance and comfort.”

For now, the RX will only come with five seats. In a past Q&A session with Lexus RX Chief Engineer Takaaki Ohno, “Velocity” was told, “When we were developing the vehicle, the size of the current model that you see today was considered very important. And that was a starting point (gleaned) through massive feedback from all of our customers. And so, given that, we had to determine what the best setup was to achieve our performance and design-related goals.” He added, “Within that we determined that two-row seating would be the best way to achieve that. So, for now, we proceeded development with only two rows.”

Those opting for the RX 500h F Sport trim will see a different execution of the grille, skirts, and front and rear bumpers. This is also considered to be a “performance-focused turbocharged hybrid,” and comes with Direct4 drive force control. “Lexus has successfully shifted the focus from optimum efficiency to produce a model with a genuine performance edge, raising the RX’s appeal with customers who want high-end electrified performance,” said Lexus Philippines in a release.

The Executive variant, on the other hand, gets a cruelty-free, leather-like interior seat material that does not use animal products — said to have been created in response to a growing demand from vegan and other eco-conscious consumers. On the RX 350h Executive and RX 350h Premier, power delivery is governed by E-Four AWD — the innovative all-wheel-drive system of the brand, which employs a motor at the rear axle for “near-instantaneous” drive force application in low-grip or acceleration scenarios.

Powering the RX 350h, which is positioned as an efficient alternative to lower-displacement diesel and petrol powertrains, is a new 2.5-liter inline-four gas engine which is said to offer better fuel economy, along with reduced weight.

The RX 500h F Sport is fitted with a turbocharged 2.4-liter gas engine and six-speed transmission, integrated front motor and power control unit, hybrid battery and a compact 103ps rear e-axle. Its total system output is 371ps and 550Nm of torque — with a sprightly standstill-to-100kph time of 6.2 seconds.

Lexus said that the all-new RX “benefits from next-level active safety and driver assistance systems featured in the latest generation of Lexus Safety System+ with upgraded functions and increased scope for accident risk detection and prevention. The improvements include further expansion of the Pre-Collision System’s ability to detect motorcycles and other objects in the car’s path.” Even the Adaptive Cruise Control has been upgraded to quickly recognize vehicles cutting in front. With the Lane Trace Assist, the RX can follow a “more natural line” through curves in the road.

“It’s a completely new car — with all-new body shell, all-new platform, and all-new suspension. So it’s thoroughly revised, at the same time very much in character for an RX. You know, the RX has a tremendously loyal fan base, and we wanted to be certain we didn’t disappoint them in any way. It has improved in many ways, and yet, for any longtime RX owner, we think they’ll feel quite comfortable in it,” Mr. Williamsen had said.

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