23 April 2004

The styling of the next-generation Lexus IS200 will draw its inspiration from this ultra stylish LF-C concept, revealed at last week’s New York Motor Show.

Longer and wider than today’s IS200, the new Lexus compact executive saloon will be a key part in the Japanese company’s plan to double UK sales and triple European sales by the end of the decade.

‘We have huge potential in the UK,’ said Lexus GB director Karl Schlicht. ‘And there’s a range of new models coming to help us achieve this.’

The LF-C will be shown at next month’s British Motor Show. According to Kevin Hunter, design chief of Calty Design Research, Toyota’s Californian studio, the LF-C concept gives a strong hint towards the new IS. ‘But like any concept, it’s a bit stretched here and a bit exaggerated there,’ he said.

The 4.5m-long LF-C is just 1mm shorter than an Audi A4, but is 84mm wider and sits on a lengthy (for the class) 2790mm wheelbase. Its squat look is emphasised by 20-inch (front) and 21-inch (rear) wheels, shod with 30-section tyres.

With tight overhangs and a windscreen set well back from the front axle line, it has classic, sporty proportions, but is clad with striking, modern sheet metal. The rising belt line also helps to create the aggressive ‘wedge’ shape.

The concept is powered by a V8, but production IS200s will use next-generation V6 petrols driving the rear wheels – as in today’s model. For the European market, a 150bhp 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel will be available for the first time, a clear boost for sales. ‘Our diesel issue will finally be sorted,’ said Schlicht.

Although the IS200 will be a four-door saloon, the concept previews a two-door coupé, probably to be badged SC200, to fit below the existing, bigger, folding hard-top SC430. ‘Our research shows that a four-door and two-door are the body variants most likely to be popular,’ said Schlicht.

Lexus has yet to decide whether to engineer the SC200 as a hard-top coupé with a soft-top variant or, only as a folding metal hardtop like the LF-C.

The LF-C’s two-piece roof has a unique design in which each piece hinges independently, allowing four separate roof configurations: coupé, cabriolet, targa and speedster. The powered hood sits flush with the bodywork when open.

Today’s five-door IS Sport Cross estate is likely to be canned in favour of a sporty crossover SUV to battle the Land Rover Freelander and forthcoming Saab 9-3X. Likely to be badged RX200, it will draw styling influence from the LF-X concept.

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