A little over 2 weeks after Toyota filed a trio of UX trademarks – presumably for the Lexus brand – another new crossover/SUV-centric trademark surfaced in Europe: RX 350 L. As with UX, the news first appeared on AutoGuide and then expanded upon in far greater detail by the Lexus Enthusiast blog. Three days after that 11 March 2016 European RX 350 L filing, a U.S. counterpart appeared, under Serial Number 86938786. More significantly, it was joined by RX 450h L, also filed on 14 March 2016 under U.S. Serial Number 86938685 for the obligatory “automobiles and structural parts thereof”.
The meaning of those trademarks are pretty much a no-brainer: a longer, stretched version of the newest 4th-generation (AL20) Lexus RX, presumably to accommodate a third row of seats. The minor controversy here revolves around whether or not the multiple camoed RX test mules sighted recently (such as the one atop our story) are really stretched or not (they sure don’t look like it). For reference, the newest Lexus RX sits on the same 109.8″ (2789mm) wheelbase as its nearest Toyota counterpart, the Highlander, and the Lexus is, in fact, 1.4″ (36mm) longer than the Highlander, yet the latter is perfectly capable of holding a reasonably-sized third seat in both gasoline-only and hybrid variants. Perhaps claims of the difficulty of adding a third row to the RX were a bit overblown? Or is the fact that the RX is 1.2″ (30mm) narrower and 0.4″ (10mm) lower than the Highlander a bigger issue? We doubt it… At any rate, the L does imply a longer wheelbase and overall length. Should we expect something on the order of the Toyota Camry-to-Avalon 1.7″ (45mm) wheelbase stretch? Or something more significant, along the lines of the Lexus LS to LS L 4.8″ (122mm) lengthening?
It seems like only yesterday, but back in late 2002, Lexus’ decision to offer 3 distinct luxury SUV/crossover model lines seemed like overkill to some. Over a decade later, the worldwide explosion of interest and sales have seen this segment sliced, diced and shredded into so many sizes, niches and permutations that Lexus’ current 4 offerings fall short of the options offered by BMW, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz, to name but 3 examples. Some Lexus enthusiasts fear that the RX L may be an existential threat to the GX line. Other pundits disagree (as do we). We have a different question to ponder: what effect, if any, would an RX L have on a potential TX crossover/SUV line? To clarify, Toyota filed a TX trademark back in October 2009, one that is still considered live, or active. What might the ultimate fate of that trademark be? A quartet of possibilities comes to mind.
The TX trademark dies
If Lexus deems that an RX L crossover and traditional body-on-frame SUV GX and LX lines are sufficient to meet the demand for luxury 3-row seating vehicles with at least optional all-wheel-drive capability, then TX may eventually join VX and JX in the graveyard of unused “X” trademarks. If, however, Lexus and its clientele perceive a gap where a 6th crossover/SUV might fit in (after the 4 current NX, RX, GX, LX and a potential baby UX), then we must consider 3 other possibilities.
TX as FWD platform, super-stretched and rebodied RX
The current Toyota K (large front-wheel-drive) platform certainly has room to grow beyond the 109.8″(2789mm) wheelbase of the current Lexus RX/Toyota Highlander and even beyond the latest Lexus ES/Toyota Avalon’s 111″ (2820mm) span, for the longest iteration of this platform – the Toyota Sienna minivan – rides on a 119.3″ (3030 mm) wheelbase and is just over the 5-meter overall length that kicks in increased large-car taxation schemes in some markets. A Lexus TX loosely related to the Toyota Sienna (but with conventional swing-open rear doors) could even, if done right and made roomy and comfortable enough, respond to Asian pleas for a Lexus minivan while providing enough crossover style that wouldn’t alienate North Americans and their unfair stigmatization of minivans as “mommy-mobiles”. A tough balancing act, we know, but perhaps the inventor of the luxury crossover can pull it off.
Building the TX as a derivative of the K FWD platform has a couple of advantages: it would be the most space-efficient of all the alternatives and would allow for its manufacture at either of the North American Lexus facilities (Cambridge, Ontario, Canada alongside the RX or Georgetown, Kentucky, USA alongside the ES).
TX on GA-L platform as Lexus’ first RWD-centric crossover
Currently, and throughout Lexus’ history, their “X” models have fallen into one of two categories: body-on-frame, truck platform-based sports utility vehicles with hardcore off-road abilities (GX and LX) and front-wheel-drive unibody car-based crossovers (NX and RX) that are essentially high-riding cars with improved foul-weather capabilities if equipped with optional all-wheel-drive. TX could create a third category: a crossover based on a rear-wheel-drive car platform.
The current Lexus LS sits on the S platform (sometimes referred to as “old N”), while the latest IS, GS and RC use the “new N” platform (although RC is really a hodgepodge of an “old N” IS C convertible midsection with a “new N” GS front and a “new N” IS sedan rear). The just-revealed LC coupes, however, bring with them an all-new GA-L (Global Architecture-Luxury) Inertia Spec rear-wheel-drive architecture most notable for its front-mid-engine placement. The V6 hybrid LC 500h is truly front-mid-engined (the front edge of the engine is flush with the front axle) as shown in the cutaway above, but the V8 LC 500 appears to fudge this claim a bit (as seen in the image below).
If, as rumored, the front-mid-engined GA-L Inertia Spec platform eventually makes its way to the LS, GS, IS and RC lines, they will couple potentially class-leading chassis dynamics and handling (the Aston Martin Rapide and previous-generation Maserati Quattroporte are the only front-mid-engine 4-door cars that we’re aware of) with less-than-optimal space utilization or inordinately-long overall vehicle length because of the engine placement. A longitudinally-front-mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive-centric crossover platform would certainly make the Lexus TX at least a worthy rival to the X3 and up BMWs and the GLC/GLE/GLS Mercedes if not leapfrog them into sportier Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport and Maserati Levante territory.
And if you think that notions of a RWD-platform crossover are new for Lexus, we remind you of 2003’s HPX (later renamed LF-X) concept.
TX as a sibling for the next Toyota Sequoia
What if Lexus decides to ignore any of the other possibilities and go head-to-head against the Cadillac Escalade juggernaut, the withering Lincoln Navigator and, arguably, the Audi Q7, Mercedes GLS and the original Range Rover instead? The current Toyota Sequoia is certainly aging, receiving few changes of note since its 2008 model year debut. But with rumors of its demise dating back to 2010 and the Sequoia failing to receive the Tundra’s major 2014 model year mid-life refresh, consider the very existence of a 3rd-generation Sequoia an iffy proposition, let alone that of a Lexus TX spinoff.
One thing to be said in its favor, though: a Lexus TX derived from the Toyota Tundra and Sequoia could well be built in a section of Toyota’s San Antonio, Texas truck plant, making the TX badge very apropos…