Voyage of discovery

In search of the key to brand value

DAVID HASSALL

THERE are Ford people and Holden people.

Youíre either a BMW man or a Mercedes man. Lambo or Ferrari. Mazda or Honda.

Open-wheeler or sedan. Atmo or turbo. We all have our preferences and often we wear them as proudly as colours on a uniform.

Frankly Iíve never bought into the whole tribal loyalty thing, possibly because itís an indulgence you canít afford as a journalist Ė something I have been since I was a teenager, when such bonds are usually formed. I simultaneously fell in love with Monaros and GT-HOs, with Beechey and Moffat, with Geoghegan and Matich, with Sandown and Bathurst.

Iíve always loved diversity in cars, and motor racing and music styles, so the luxury of being one-eyed has largely been restricted to footy and a lifelong addiction to the usually less than mighty Dees.

Having said that, I confess to having indulged a guilty preference over the years for BMW and Ferrari, though the latter has been more than tested since Enzoís passing. And my family has shopped with essentially two marques Ė both Japanese Ė so I do understand brand loyalty.

But who exactly buys a Lexus? For many years I worked in a Jewish neighbourhood and they were plentiful, taking over as the brand of choice from Jaguar for wealthy businessmen and little old ladies who could barely see over the wheel. At least before the so-called chosen people decided that status was more important than shunning the shiny German badges adorning BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. Next youíll tell me that Americans are buying Japanese cars!

What the F-Sport

Our blue RC200t arrives in F-Sport spec, which adds $9000 to the $64K Luxury base model. The extra outlay brings 19-inch alloys, adaptive suspension, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, different steering wheel, sports seats with memory, LED headlights, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, limited slip diff and Acceleration Sound Control (artificial engine noise). Our car also gets a $3500 enhancement pack that adds a moonroof, lane-departure warning, auto high-beam and a smart key.

Conventional thinking among motoring enthusiasts, unimaginative and bigoted layabouts that they are, is that Lexi are bought only by fat nouveau riche businessmen. People who would watch The Real Housewives like it was a documentary if they werenít so busy ripping off us overworked salary slaves so they could afford the bling that adorns their cosmetically enhanced trophy wives.

Surely that canít be right, though. I recall being in awe of the original LS400, tempted by the ES300, excited by the IS200 and simply captivated by the towering ambition of the LFA and its howling V10.

These were cars built with conviction.

Surely there is a loyal following for such a passionate brand? Surely people donít just buy them because the service guys come around with a replacement car, or you get to drink free coffee at the dealership while tapping into free wifi?

Yet people still donít seem to know what to make of Lexus. So in starting out on this long-term test, Iím interested in learning more about what Lexus stands for as much as the merits of this particular car.

From the outset, other people are clearly attracted by the brand and the RC200tís sharp looks. The car feels very solid (as it should given its heft), but that feeling is undermined by the sound of the engine Ė a new turbocharged 2.0-litre four rather than the 3.5-litre V6 in the similarly priced RC350. It goes well enough, but you have to be in Sport for an, err, sporty experience.

Solid doors reveal a classy interior thatís well-appointed, with plenty of functions to explore and adjust, largely via the now infamous Lexus touchpad controller, which has a huge task to win me over. But it hasnít taken long to get comfortable in the well-shaped seats, which I reckon will be just as impressive on a long drive.

Ride quality is similarly impressive while the grip levels are so high that it might take some time to find the right environment and confidence to explore the RCís limits and discover if it understeers or oversteers; at the moment it just feels like the electronics are humouring me into thinking Iím in control while they actually drive the car. Time soon to delve into the menus.

So lots to look forward to. I might even discover the key to the Lexus aura.

Full disclosure

About a decade ago I worked for five years for the public relations company that handles Toyota, and therefore Lexus. So I wrote plenty of press releases about the brand Ė though not of the gushing variety you might associate with the term PR. Does that colour my view of the brand and this car? Of course not. But Iíd hate to think that anyone might consider that once earning a wage from an affiliated company might buy loyalty or colour my judgment.

LEXUS RC200T F-SPORT

Date acquired: April 2016 Price as tested: $76,500 This month: 1350km @ 11.1L/100km Overall: 1350km @ 11.1L/100km DP T O

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