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Why does this Lexus cost $554,000 here?
FAST cars don't usually make you think of food, but gourmet comestibles, exotic fragrances and designer threads are exactly what Lexus wants you to be thinking of when you look at its newest model, the LC.
Launched in Singapore on Aug 2 at a Lexus pop-up store outside Wisma Atria on Orchard Road, the LC was designed to break new ground for the Toyota-owned Japanese luxury brand.
For much of its early existence, Lexus traditionally focused on luxury sedans, with an emphasis on utter refinement. Then at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota president Akio Toyoda publicly announced an initiative to make his company's products "fun to drive again".
Within months, Lexus surprised everyone with the LF-LC, a concept car with wild styling - completely at odds with its maker's staid image.
"Everyone said this was a car Lexus wouldn't build," the LC's chief engineer Koji Sato told The Business Times. "But we did."
Lexus said the grand touring luxury coupe has glamorous rivals such as the BMW 6 Series, the Maserati GranTurismo and the Porsche 911.
And unlike the large executive sedans that Lexus built its brand on, the LC isn't for chauffeurs.
Mr Sato explained that design and handling performance were the key areas his engineering team focused on, even at the expense of other aspects. It's an approach that is at odds with the Japanese method of trying to be the best in all departments.
"To date, Lexus cars have tried to get a high score in all areas, resulting in cars that are very well-balanced but not very interesting," he said candidly. "Rather than covering up the negative points, we focused on expanding the good points to create a stronger character."
That sort of candour is practically unheard of from a senior Japanese car engineer, but it is a deep reflection of the change in mindset at Toyota and Lexus. Creating cars with more character is now "the Lexus way", said Mr Sato.
But for all its novelty, the LC still possesses plenty of classic Lexus characteristics, including plush accoutrements and, most important of all, cutting-edge technology.
For example, it has unique transmission technology. The LC 500 has a 10-speed automatic transmission - a first in the luxury automobile realm - while the LC 500h has not one, but two separate gearboxes.
It has a four-speed automatic gearbox linked to the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) from its hybrid drive system to eliminate the "rubber-band" feel of vagueness common in CVTs.
While both LC 500 and LC 500h are considered fast, they're not especially quick or powerful compared to European high-performance competitors.
That's no coincidence, said Mr Sato. While brands such as Porsche and Maserati were used as references, they were not benchmarks, and Lexus has a much wider perspective in mind when selling luxury.
"With the Lexus LC, we want to create a unique 'taste' that focuses on emotional driving - a car that fits our customers' lifestyle, which will ultimately shift the brand direction towards a luxury lifestyle brand."
That might sound vague, but it's a goal that has resulted in spin-off projects.
Lexus unveiled a 42-foot Sportyacht Concept in January this year. And a futuristic Lexus Skyjet appeared in Luc Besson's recent movie Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets.
In Singapore, Lexus has an ongoing collaboration with the Michelin Guide Singapore, as the book's Official Car Partner. That dovetails nicely with the sort of lifestyle Mr Sato envisions for drivers of his latest creation.
"There was an LC customer from Japan who told me he just bought the car, and at the same time wanted to get a new jacket to match it and then take his wife to a three-star Michelin restaurant," he said. "The drive to the restaurant, I imagine, must have been a great one. That's what we are targeting: To support our customers' lives with great cars."
The Lexus LC is designed to be a lifestyle accessory as much as it is a car - something that can be expected with the S$554,000 (including COE) price tag.
It may be a fast car, but the Lexus LC is something you drive if your life includes plenty of slow food.