What If? Is a series on the concept cars that never quite made it to production from Toyota, Lexus, and Scion. We give as much information as possible on the vehicle and the reasons why it would have, or wouldn't have worked in real life. The question is...would you have wanted this concept?
The Lexus GS is dead. After nearly 30 years and four generations of the classy midsize luxury sedan, Lexus decided to pull the plug and invest in their more popular SUV offerings. The GS, also known as the Toyota Aristo in Japan, was designed by Italdesign's Giorgetto Giugiaro? Yes, the man behind the original Maserati Ghibli, De Tomaso Mangusta, Lotus Esprit (which uses AE86 hatchback taillights), Volkswagen Golf, DeLorean DMC, and many others. Known for his influential designs that pushed for timeless modernity, Giugiaro was hired by Toyota to create a sleek sedan to slot in between the ES and LS models offered by the then-burgeoning Lexus brand.
The Giuigiaro-designed Lexus GS300 debuted in late 1991, featuring a smooth wedge-like design that he was known for. It was a beautiful car for its time, much different than the sometimes over-complicated designs from other Japanese luxury car manufacturers. Lexus would see plenty of success with subsequent generations as the quality of the materials used matched the looks and exceeded the expectations for their price point. The Lexus GS300 was such a potent platform, Italdesign even used it for the concept we're about to discuss now, the Landau.
The Italdesign Landau premiered in 1994, designed in the city it was named after Landau, Germany; this concept wore the Lexus badge but followed a different ethos. Italdesign removed almost two feet from the Lexus GS it's based on, to create a luxury sport compact hatchback, an idea that eventually became a reality with cars like the Mercedes Benz A-class and BMW 1-Series. It was also very bulbous, the Landau is shaped like an oval and has small oval-shaped projector headlights separated by a slim grille just under a Lexus badge, and rear taillights that look similar to those found on the MK5 Volkswagen GTI. The rear no longer features a trunk like the Lexus GS, but a hatchback with glass that can also be opened separately. With the roof raised by two inches, it not only increased interior space but gave the Landau a shooting brake profile. The convertible doors are sandwiched between a very slim A-pillar and C-shaped C-pillar that flows into the hatch, all of this including other exterior trim pieces were lined with chrome.
The Landau was built upon the Toyota Aristo 4.0Zi-Four (UZS143) which was a Japanese market-only version of the Lexus GS, with a 1UZFE V8 and AWD system. With decreased exterior dimensions comes a potentially lighter curb weight, it would've made for a quick hatch if it ever reached production. Since it shared so much with the Lexus GS, the interior was exactly the same, featuring plush leather and all of the bells and whistles found in a typical mid-90's luxury car. Since the front and rear fascia were the only parts changed, interior space was the same which is comfortable for a midsize car and the aforementioned raised roof gave would-be passengers extra headroom. Rear occupants benefitted from a moonroof that was placed further back, although the Lexus GS had a cavernous trunk, the hatchback could carry plenty while maintaining a smaller footprint.
The styling of the Italdesign Landau was understated and was reminiscent of the look of the various European hatchbacks being sold at the time from brands like Fiat, Puegot, and Volkswagen. The idea behind this concept was to create a luxury car that took up less space but was as capable as its competitors. The Landau is a city car in every sense, more so one that would be comfortable on the streets of any major European city where cars like this would eventually be found. Although the Landau has charming looks, it doesn't resemble any other Lexus car from the era and would have been a major departure from the brand. Italdesign created a concept that eventually evolved into the kind of cars sold in large quantities today, but why did this creation never see the light of day?
The Japanese economy crashed in 1991, this would shake up many automotive manufacturers from Japan and perhaps turn Toyota into a company mostly interested in making safe moves. Lexus was at the time, an American brand that spruced up certain Toyota models that would be the perfect candidates for a true luxury car; the Landau wasn't a fit. In the 1990s, luxury cars were all fairly large and the sedan was king of the segment. Hatchbacks in America rarely sold well and a high-end luxury hatchback would've made little sense to the average person walking into a Lexus dealership. A vehicle like the Landau would've been smaller than a Lexus ES length-wise, it would've predated the Lexus IS300, but remember safety first and the car closest to its size and segment would've been the high-volume selling BMW 3-series. It didn't make financial sense to introduce a vehicle this size to the Lexus lineup yet, and less because of the almost wagon-like profile that was slowly losing market share to larger, cheaper vehicles from American brands. In terms of styling, the Landau doesn't look anything like a Lexus product, it actually resembles a grown-up version of the Mazda MX-3. It would have been a sleeper with roughly 260 horsepower driving all four wheels but when it comes to handling, the GS platform is better suited to comfort and less for all-out performance. Ultimately, the Italdesign Landau was ahead of its time in conceptualizing a do-it-all vehicle that also has it all, but when catering to the largest car-buying customer base in North America, a hatchback just didn't cut it at this level.
What would we have thought of the Italdesign Landau had it been released as a Lexus? One name that could've worked is the Lexus CS, the above vehicle could've been the CS400 AWD and a 2JZGE-equipped model would've been dubbed the CS300. Years later the debut of the CT200 would've called back to the one-generation-only CS that was beloved by the few who purchased them. The front fascia would've had to change into something more in-line with the rest of the Lexus lineup but as it was designed, I'm sure it would have ridden the wave of interest most cars from the 90s have seen. Pricing would've been greater than the ES and that coupled with the distinct packaging could've meant low production numbers that would lead to ridiculous pricing on the used car market. Of course, the GS isn't a great handling car from the factory when it comes to being a sports car, but a car like this might have also seen action with enthusiasts using the aftermarket to fix the shortcomings of the "CS" and turning it into a drift car. Large Toyota sedans are popular with the drift scene and something that looks distinct like the Landau, has the chassis of a GS, and the ability to fit an inline-6 or V8 would've made for the perfect platform. Sadly, we didn't get the chance to experience the Landau, it could've been really good but now we're left asking the question...what if?