With the worldwide economy in freefall, and Lexus’ corporate parent reporting its first annual financial losses in decades, Lexus’ F division has a shaky, uncertain future. Thankfully, the LFA supercar is still, as of this writing, proceeding towards a rumored unveiling at either the Frankfurt or Tokyo Auto Shows this coming autumn. But, with the IS F’s production reduced to a trickle, and F versions of the GS and LS sedans most likely held back to their parent models’ next generations (4th-gen GS and 5th-gen LS) if not cancelled outright, Lexus IS F Chief Engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi and his rogue group of engineers at first went into panic mode, fearing that, beyond the IS F and LFA, their raison d’être could, simply, cease to exist. But, often, out of fear and adversity come the most imaginative and creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems.
Lexus’ hybrid future amped up to the max
Lexus’ hybrid models released to date (RX 400h, RX 450h, GS 450h and LS 600h) have been geared towards the performance end of the spectrum, with emphasis on increased acceleration versus their non-hybrid counterparts (especially in the sedans) and highway fuel economy that barely varies (and, occasionally, even suffers a tad due to the increased weight of the battery packs) on the hybrids versus their gasoline-only counterparts.
With the upcoming launch of Lexus’ first dedicated hybrid, the HS 250h, the carmaker turned that equation on its head, with an increased focus on fuel economy and efficiency that served the Toyota-branded hybrids (especially the Prius) so well. Yet, with the world’s largest car company evidently staking its immediate future on hybrid gasoline/electric powertrains, Yaguchi-san and his team saw a golden opportunity to “have your cake and eat it, too” and create the HS F, the world’s first dedicated performance hybrid sports sedan.
The Blade cuts a swath for the HS F to follow
Stuffing a larger engine with more cylinders into a given car is a very old recipe for increasing power. To create the Lexus IS F, Yukihiko Yaguchi used this time-tested formula by stuffing the 2UR-GSE 5-liter V8 from the LS 600hL (minus the hybrid batteries, of course) into the V6-centric Lexus IS. Looking downmarket to the Toyota brand’s Japanese Domestic Market offerings, we find the intriguing Toyota Blade. This is a Toyota Corolla-derived 5-door hatchback that is itself a gussied-up and rebadged version of the Toyota Auris that is Toyota’s “Corolla” for Europe. For the North American-centric, consider the Blade a fancier Matrix with different interior and exterior styling.
The Blade’s relevance to this discussion is its top-of-the-line Master and Master G variants, which are powered by the 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 engine from the current Lexus RX and ES. And if this engine can fit into a Corolla derivative, it’ll surely fit into the larger Lexus HS 250h platform.
HS 250h + RX 450h AWD powertrain = HS F?
Lexus has already engineered a hybrid, front-wheel-drive centric powertrain derived from the 2GR-FE V6 for the new 2010 RX 450h. The 2GR-FXE, as Toyota/Lexus refers to it, boasts a total (gasoline engine + electric motors) power output of 295 hp. If that’s deemed insufficient, the dual (direct + port) injection 2GR-FSE 3.5-liter V6 from the GS 450h, with its total (gasoline engine + electric motors) power output of 340 hp, can find its way into the HS F.
If the latter route is the way Lexus goes (or, for that matter, if Lexus wants the HS F to have serious sports sedan credibility), then Yaguchi-san and his crew will have to perform some serious magic on the RX 450h’s P313 Electronically Controlled continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT). After all, a CVT is the last thing anyone thinks of when discussing a sporting, enthusiast-friendly transmission. Don’t forget, though, that these are the men responsible for the world’s fastest-shifting torque-converter automatic transmission, so, if anyone is up for this challenge, they are.
With this sort of power, all-wheel-drive is a must in order to avoid ungodly levels of torque steer, optimize handling, and even to improve the surely front-biased weight distribution of the HS 250h even before its gasoline engine transplant to the larger V6. And a glance at <A HREF=” http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/lexus/document/2010_RX_450h_Preliminary_Specs__and__Features.pdf?ncid=12493”>the 2010 Lexus RX 450h’s spec sheet</A> reveals a quite reasonable 132-lb weight penalty for all-wheel-drive vs front-wheel-drive.
Upgraded brakes, a firmer sports suspension that includes lowering springs, larger wheels on summer performance tires (we vote for Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s), a more aggressive body kit and bumpers, plus the IS F’s signature silver carbon fiber trim inside would all be de rigueur for the world’s first dedicated performance hybrid sports sedan.
When do we get to see this pipe dream? A year from today, on April 1, 2010…