Lexus sees turbos as a must-have

The Lexus NX 200t compact crossover is the only Lexus model that pairs a turbo with all-wheel drive

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Lexus dipped its toe into turbocharged waters for 2015. Just a year later, it’s cannonballing into the deep end.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s fancy division started with the NX 200t compact crossover for 2015; for 2016 Lexus is rapidly expanding turbos to the base trim of its IS, GS and RC car families. The move is largely driven by tightening fuel economy and emissions standards.

But “turbocharged” is also becoming a key luxury buzzword.

“What ‘turbo’ says to the typical consumer is you’re modern,” Brian Bolain, Lexus marketing manager, told Automotive News at a press event here for the turbocharged lineup. “People hear ‘turbo,’ and even for someone who doesn’t know or couldn’t explain how it works, they know it’s something good and they know they want one.”

This is crucial given that the German brands that serve as luxury benchmarks — Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi — don’t sell anything but turbocharged engines.

“When the consumer is doing their side-by-side comparison online, it gives you parity,” Bolain said of adding turbos.

The turbocharged engine in each Lexus model is nearly the same: a 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder that makes 235 or 241 hp and 258 pounds-feet of torque. In the cars, it’s hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission; for the NX, Lexus paired it with a six-speed automatic. The crossover is also the only Lexus model that pairs a turbo with all-wheel drive; all the turbocharged cars are rear-wheel drive only.

The four models that offer the turbo use it as their base engine. In the GS 200t sedan and RC 200t coupe, that means Lexus can offer a lower starting price than it could with the six-cylinder models.

All four Lexus models with the turbo engine are on sale for 2016.

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