- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

Has it really been 11 years since Lexus first burst on the scene? This automaker still seems like a newcomer, although by the end of 2000, Lexus had sold 1 million cars in the United States.
Elbowing aside its high-end competitors from the onset in 1989 with sales of 16,302, the company's innovative features, top quality and timeless styling have made news every year since. And 2001 is no exception.
A look back at Lexus' short history shows the company made its appearance on U.S. shores by debuting just two sedans: LS 400 and ES 250. They were an instant success, and by the end of that year, the LS 400 was rated "Best of What's New" by Popular Science magazine. A year later, other magazines notably Car and Driver, Automobile, and Consumer Digest gave the cars "Best" ratings. J.D. Power took a look in 1990 and gave Lexus vehicles "Best Overall" in various categories, continuing its awards every year since.
Encouraged, Lexus produced more models in 1991, the SC 400 and SC 300 luxury sport coupes, and replaced the ES 250 with the more powerful ES 300. Within two years, Lexus had become the No. 1 selling luxury import, ahead of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Then came the GS 300, a sedan for the less-than-wealthy, but still offering plenty of horsepower and better-than-average interior design and features.
By 1995, the second-generation LS 400 was ready, and sales reached 87,419. Kudos kept coming, and sales kept increasing, prompting U.S. trade representatives to threaten 100 percent tariffs on selected Japanese luxury vehicles in an attempt to settle long-standing trade disputes.
Lexus observed as the sport utility vehicle trend was growing. Could an automaker of elegant sedans and coupes produce an off-road vehicle that its owners would want to get dirty? Gambling that the SUV market would continue to increase into the next century, Lexus produced the LX 450. Billed as the world's most luxurious SUV, the 1996 LX 450 was a smash hit. So was the smaller, midrange RX 300 sport ute introduced two years later. The 2001 model is the LX 470, and it can take eight on safari.
In 2000, Lexus became the first import luxury brand to sell more than 20,000 vehicles in one month. By March 2001, the Lexus stable included eight models of sedans, coupes and SUVs. Ready to appear this spring is the SC 430, 2+2 retractable hardtop convertible with a 300-horsepower V-8 under the hood.
Aside from building quality automobiles, the company can point to innovation, sophisticated technology and increased performance as the reasons top-end buyers flock to Lexus. For 2001, an option called the Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system on the flagship LS 430 collects data from 630 scanning points around the vehicle and automatically reduces speed to an appropriate following distance, helping the driver maintain a set interval from the vehicle traveling in front.
An Intuitive Parking Assist system has sonar range finders in the front and rear bumpers to warn drivers of objects up to 3 feet away. How about a suspension that can be tailored to your personality? If you're aggressive, passionate and precise, pick the Euro-tuned sport suspension; for those who are sensitive, intelligent and supportive, there's the Adaptive Variable Air Suspension; and for those who are stable, confident and authoritative, Lexus provides its standard speed-sensitive suspension with variable power-assist steering.
The opulent LX 470 has a DVD system and a navigation screen that doubles as a movie screen. Off-road, the vehicle's pneumatic height-adjustment control comes into play. The driver can raise the SUV with a control switch and light that will indicate current suspension height and recommend optimal leveling as the terrain gets steeper or flatter.
The all-new entry-level IS 300 is a European-style sports sedan with a Formula 1 race car shifter and controls on the steering wheel for quicker response than reaching for a center stick. What's new on the GS 300 midrange sedan? Water-repellent glass on the side doors, an electronic compass and the option of a touch-screen navigation with DVD-based map data. Prices on Lexus cars and SUVs range from $30,805 to $54,205.
MOTOR MATTERS


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