NEWBURG, OR – Lexus is looking at shifting its GX SUV from a body-on-frame platform to a unibody architecture in its next iteration, a top official for the brand tells WardsAuto.
“There is a potential that at some point, when we replace the GX, we can have a car-based SUV,” Mark Templin, group vice president and general manager for Lexus in the U.S., says here during a recent ’13 ES 350 media event.
Lexus has been debating for years a 3-row, unibody, cross/utility vehicle, Templin notes. But the success of the 3-row, body-on-frame GX SUV tempered that talk, he says.
“We were so successful with the GX, nobody wanted to lose the GX.”
However, most of Lexus’ competitors offer 3-row CUVs, including Audi, Acura, Mercedes-Benz,and Infiniti, which just launched its new JX model in the U.S. this spring.
Ironically, Lexus had trademarked the name “JX” in the last decade, as a possible moniker for a larger CUV. Industry speculation suggested Lexus would use JX for a production 3-row CUV hinted at in two concepts, the LF-X at the 2003 Tokyo auto show and hybrid LF-Xh at the 2007 Tokyo show.
If Lexus switched the GX to a unibody platform, it would follow the path ofand , whose respective models, the Explorer and Pathfinder, went from body-on-frame to unibody platforms.
The new Pathfinder, due later this year, is a close cousin of the Infiniti JX.
Not wanting to slice into the Lexus RX’s share is another reason why the auto maker hasn’t pulled the trigger on a larger CUV, or compact luxury model that would compete with the Acura RDX,X3 or Audi Q5.
The RX is one of the luxury sector’s top-selling models, racking up 82,595 sales in 2011, WardsAuto data shows, 11,776 units behind the No.1 luxury model, the BMW 3-Series.
“The RX kind of covers a big swath of the marketplace,” Templin says. “We compete with a lot of those smaller CUVs on price point, so we look like a really good value.”
A 6-cyl. ’12 BMW X3 starts at $43,600, while the slightly larger ’13 RX begins at $39,310.
Templin contends the RX also has appealed to those who may shop bigger, 3-row competitors but “don’t necessarily have to have a third-row seat.”
Lexus also has multiple teams studying forced-induction engines, Templin says.
Turbocharged 4-cyl. engines are a burgeoning industry trend, melding power and efficiency.
However, Templin says Lexus is doing fine for now with its naturally aspirated V-6s, noting the 3.5L powerplant in the upcoming ES has higher horsepower and better fuel economy than some turbo I-4 competitors, including the 1.8L Mercedes-Benz C250.
The ’13 ES 350 is expected to achieve 268 hp when it goes on sale in August. Its fuel economy has not been announced.
The ’12 C250 makes 201 hp and has an estimated Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy of 21/31 mpg (11.2-7.6 L/100 km) city/highway.
Still, Templin says turbocharger reliability has come a long way, and they are desirable to younger buyers, a demographic every auto brand wants.
“There’s an older generation that remembers turbos as something being broken down, very expensive, (and that) had this turbo lag,” he says. “With young people, they sound cool.”
Templin praises the linearity of torque delivered by today’s turbos, but he notes they tend to carry a price premium compared with naturally aspirated engines.