The new Lexus LS can be ordered with an F Sport Package.(Photo: Itsuo Inouye, AP)
When it comes to fulfilling performance enthusiasts' dreams, luxury
automakers think they have found a way to offer all the panache -
without all the cash.
They are invoking the names of their
hallowed performance models when it comes to "sport packages" that can
be tacked on to regular models for a few thousands dollars more.
Call it performance light.
the past, those automakers have carefully guarded the name and image of
the performance line. Now, they are sharing a little of the glory.
Lexus has only one true performance sedan - an "F" model - built off
its lineup: the IS F compact sedan with a big V-8 engine.
new LS full-size sedan that just went on sale at $72,885, including
shipping, can be ordered with an F Sport Package available for another
$10,000. The result is a car that's not a true F model but which has
some of the elements of one.
Adding the hallowed F performance
name to packages that include fairly mundane options, such as flashier
alloy wheels or chrome shift knobs, isn't without risk. Throw around the
F name too much and Lexus risks alienating its hard-core performance
buyers, who might think the brand has become too watered down.
BMW and the others have spent years lavishing attention and dollars on
burnishing their sporty labels. Those full-fledged performance sedans
often come with steep price tags that make them appeal to
image-conscious and often spendthrift moguls and rappers.
easy to see why the real-deal performance models are out of reach of a
lot of customers. With a $14,000 price difference between a standard 3
Series sedan and the hot M3, BMW says its M vehicles only make up about
2.9% of sales volume.
Hence the pressure to add performance at a lower price. Examples:
In Europe, BMW has begun introducing models that stop short of the
traditional M Series sedans, both in performance and price. They are
called "M performance" and "they are not the traditional M core model,"
says BMW spokesman Matthew Russell. They carry an M designation, but
with the regular name of the model attached. The 135i, for instance,
becomes the M135i. No official word yet on whether they are U.S. bound.
-- Lexus. F
Sport models have special trim, wheels, shifter knobs and other
touches. There can be distinctions under their skin, as well: The RX 350
F Sport crossover, for instance, has paddle shifters and an eight-speed
transmission that the conventional version lacks.
The German luxury brand prides itself on its S sport models. But while
the Q5 and Q7 SUVs don't come in an S model version, both can be ordered
with the lesser "S Line" package. On the big $47,695 Q7, the $1,500 S
Line package includes larger wheels, sport suspension, summer tires and a
three-spoke steering wheel with a paddle shifter. There's even a
tasteful "S Line" badge on the fenders.
Not all luxury automakers
are anxious to lend a hint of the name of their top performance cars to
their mainstream lineups. Mercedes-Benz officials are begging off. And
General Motors' Cadillac doesn't want to play, either, when it comes to
its V-Series performance line.
"Our feeling has been to grow the
V-Series in a full sense, rather than partial," spokesman David Caldwell
says. "So far, we have not opted to move it down by creating another
sub-brand or line underneath it."