Where are Toyota and Lexus heading?

About a month ago, I spent a solid week with a 2018 Toyota Tundra Premium. It was a nice enough truck, but nice enough doesn’t seem to cut it right now. Ford is selling more of its F-150 than ever before, Ram just updated the… well, Ram, and Chevrolet has a fresh Silverado and Sierra on deck.
That’s not to say it was a bad truck. Quite the contrary, the 1/2-ton Tundra offers a nice interior space and a pair of V8 engines from which to choose. The 4.6-liter base engine produces 310 horsepower while the 5.7-liter (which is the one you should buy) cranks out 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque.
Still… the Tundra is starting to fall behind. But I can’t say the same about the rest of the family.

Is a six-speed automatic transmission considered dated now? That’s the gearbox bolted in place with the Tundra. It certainly gets the towing job done, because a properly equipped Tundra can tow up to 10,200 pounds. But Ford, Chevy, and Ram are playing with eight, nine, and ten-speed transmissions. They make for a smoother driving experience, offer better fuel economy, and don’t hurt the inherent TRUCK-ness of it all.
On the other side of the Toyota family, the automaker is dialing in some “sport”. Akio Toyoda wants his cars to be more engaging, and the rest of the company is making sure that happens. Have you seen the new Camry? I don’t want one, but I can’t say I’m not compelled to seriously eyeball a 300-horsepower family sedan. More recently, I drove the new Corolla hatchback (for an Autobytel video review appearing soon on their channel). The chassis is great and the car drove wonderfully. 
I’m eager to see some of the renewed enthusiasm for driving engagement filter its way into the full-size Toyota trucks. Of course, that enthusiasm is still alive and well with the Tacoma. For 2019, Toyota are upping the TRD Pro ante by including Fox Shocks and some more beefy off-road hardware. Still, that pickup has the worst seating position in any new vehicle. It’s a blast to drive if you can ignore that part for a short time.

This increased focused on driving enjoyment is also filtering to the Lexus side of the product tree. Like the aforementioned Tundra, a Lexus LS 500 recently occupied the sole spot in my garage. The styling here isn’t for everyone but I do believe the Predator mouth is improving each time they refine it. In fact, I think it works quite well on the Lexus LC 500.
As the LS is the four-door flagship flying under the Lexus banner, it has to present many of the ideals the brand wishes to push forth. The styling is stand out, which is good or bad, the interior is truly luxurious, and the driving dynamics are greatly improved.
I can report that all of the above is true. And Lexus managed to do this while ditching the old 4.6-liter V8 engine.
Under the hood you’ll find a twin-turbocharged V6, which produces a mighty 416 horsepower. It doesn’t sound as good as the older V8, but it pulls harder while serving up a smaller footprint in the engine bay and better refined efficiency. Oh, it also serves up 442 pound-feet of torque.
As for the chassis itself, the new LS rides on the Lexus GA-L platform and this is the stiffest platform that the automaker has ever produced. That can translate to both increased sportiness through the ability to properly tune an adjustable suspension, and an increased sense of luxury through even greater NVH.
Lexus isn’t looking to take on the big 3 from Germany here, with respect to the sporting nature. It knows that BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz are always going to stay a step ahead on the performance front. Luxury-wise, however, Lexus always competes. And now the cars have closed the dynamics gap relevant to their respective direct competition.
I look forward to the Lexus engineering filtering its way further down that aforementioned family tree. Toyota cars are already showing far greater aspects of enjoyable driving, through improved platforms and a more care given to suspension, steering, and ride quality control. With proper affection for automotive enthusiasm shared throughout more and more of the lineup.
Now Toyota just needs the trucks to catch up, and maybe that 13% share of the US market inches closer to Ford’s 14% and GM’s 17%.

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5 responses to “Where are Toyota and Lexus heading?”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    Quite a different situation in Australia, where Toyota has 18.5% of sales for the first half of 2018, almost double second place Mazda. Holden is in 6th place with 5.4%, Ford is slightly better with 6%, behind Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
    The top 3 selling vehicles here are pickups (Hilux, Ranger, Triton) then 3 small cars (Corolla, Hyundai i30, Mazda 3).

  2. Sjalabais Avatar

    Maybe I am a simple mind, but isn’t Toyota’s mechanical strategy to see what works at other players, then do the same? Customers would tend to agree that a 432 gear gearbox surviving for 400k miles is better than a 433 gear gearbox that says farewell at 100k miles.

  3. Zentropy Avatar

    I’m not nearly so enthusiastic about Toyota. The Tundra is a grizzled, aged thing, but at least it hasn’t been beaten with the ugly stick that has obviously abused the rest of the Toyota/Lexus lineup.
    The current Camry is ALMOST attractive– from the rear, you think, “Hey, this might be ok”. And then you walk around and see that ridiculous grille. No thank you. At least the Accord can be homely without trying so hard. The LC 500 isn’t so much attractive as it is interesting, not unlike the SC 430 that preceded it. And not unlike a cicada, which is interesting to look at, but admittedly ugly as hell.
    I agree with Sjalabais– Toyota is technologically conservative, not doing anything out of the norm until someone else does it first. They are milquetoast on mechanicals and Dali on styling. Lipstick on a pig, applied to automobiles.

    1. Eric Rucker Avatar

      To be entirely fair, they’re revamping their mechanicals right now.
      Sure, outside of the LS 500, and the European market 1.2T, they’ve been leery of turbocharging things, and that hurts low-end torque. But, 40-41% thermal efficiency on many of these new naturally aspirated engines? That’s diesel territory, and looking at the BSFC graphs, the 40% efficient Otto cycle engines seem to behave like diesels at partial load, too (through Atkinsonization (late intake valve closing), instead of closing a throttle, I think).
      Basically, in the face of the whole industry going for “downsize and turbocharge”, they’ve gone for “upsize and Atkinsonize”, which is very much a different approach, but it seems to be working.

  4. WinstonSmith84 Avatar

    I’m not big on Toyota’s styling, but these are the last keeper trucks on the market. The others cater to people who buy a new one every year and let other taxpayers pick up their depreciation through IRS Section 179 deductions.