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Lexus LM leads the chauffeur-driven luxury minivan market

Lexus LM leads the chauffeur-driven luxury minivan market



The trend has been building momentum for years, but Toyota is making it official with the Lexus LM. The king of chauffeur-driven luxury minivans is here. LM stands for “Luxury Mover” and it made its official debut at Auto Shanghai 2023.

For the past decade these VIP vans have been slowly replacing town cars in Asia as the go-to conveyances of the wealthy. After all, why would you deign to stoop down and contort yourself into the door opening of a traditional sedan when you could simply step right through the cavernous sliding portal of a van? 

The trend began with the Nissan Elgrand, introduced in Japan in 1997, but kicked into high gear when Toyota entered the ring with the Alphard in 2002. With dueling high-end vans, options such as rear privacy glass, 18-speaker sound systems, refrigerators, glassware cabinets, dual reclining rear captain’s chairs (with no middle row) and ottomans began to emerge. Unlike conversion vans that shared platforms with delivery and work vehicles, these had front-wheel-drive (or front-biased AWD) layouts and four-wheel independent suspensions, maximizing rear cabin space and comfort. Even Buick has gotten in on the act.

The craze quickly spread around Asia and in 2019 the first-generation Lexus LM, based on the third-gen Toyota Alphard, debuted in Shanghai for sale in China, India and southeast Asia. Ironically it was never sold where the class originated, in Japan. 

That won’t be the case for the new LM, which will go on sale in more than 60 countries, including Japan and several in Europe. Also, while a Toyota-badged version is presumably coming, the Lexus LM is the first variant to debut, signaling its importance as more than just a spindle grille.

The LM will come in 6-, 7- and 4-seat layouts with a “Rear Climate Concierge” that allows passengers to control rear dual-zone temperature, seat position, sunshades and lighting and program them in up to four memory settings. The controls are managed via two detachable tablets. Occupants can choose from 64 different illumination color options, while a 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system provides the soundtrack.

As one might expect of such a vehicle, it was designed to prioritize rear-seat comfort. The LM boasts two different types of shock absorbing materials in the seats. An adaptive suspension system called “AVS Suspension with Frequency-Sensitive Piston Valve” uses a frequency-sensitive piston in the shock absorbers to reduce vibrations. The system integrates the throttle and brake control to minimize posture changes during acceleration and deceleration.

The partition between driver and passengers has privacy glass on the upper third, houses a 48-inch screen in the middle third, and offers a refrigerator and storage spaces in the lower third. The screen has a split mode that displays separate content for left and right passengers, content that can be projected via a smartphone or tablet. 

Lexus says it consulted with private jet manufacturers to learn what passengers expected. A five-layer headliner was designed with sound reflection in mind in order to better hold a conversation. The four-seater version has airline-style seats that can recline to fully horizontal. A ” Warmth-Sensing Infrared Matrix Sensor” monitors the temperature of the occupants’ face, chest, thighs and lower legs and adjusts the climate to suit. 

With such passenger-centric focus, the powertrain is almost an afterthought. For what it’s worth, there will be two. The more common one will be a 2.5-liter hybrid system shared with the NX 350h and RX 350h. A China-exclusive model gets a turbo 2.4-liter hybrid mated to an eAxle system that powers the rear wheels electronically to reduce torque reapportionment jolts. 

There are no plans to bring the Lexus LM to the U.S., which is rather unfortunate because the closest equivalent we have is a fuel-thirsty Escalade. America is still van-phobic, but perhaps like sporty roadsters and Ford Transit-style cargo haulers, a luxury minivan will eventually make its way stateside. 

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