THE economy is definitely on the upturn. The motor trade is reporting increased orders ahead of the start of the January sales season. And it is not just the bread-and-butter models that are in demand -- premium priced cars for business leaders are showing a dramatic rise in the early sales forecast charts.
Mercedes-Benz importer MDL says it has a 127 per cent increase in its order book, with Lexus claiming a 100 per cent increase. These are coming from a relatively low selling base but even the big sellers Audi and BMW are believed to have a between 30 and 60 per cent increase in advance orders compared with this time last year, which is remarkable.
The forecast for 2014 is for 85,000 new car sales -- up from 75,000 this year, but the buzz is that the captains of industry are showing their confidence with the high level of orders for executive and premium-grade models.
Lexus is coming on strong for the new year with a car priced to take on the high-selling BMW 520, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class diesel models. The challenge comes in the form of the GS300h, a petrol hybrid that is priced at €49,995, which will return 4.8L/100km (58.8mpg) and will under-cut the rival diesels on the list price, spec for spec, according to Lexus.
The new model comes with a 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor which gives it a total 222bhp output with loads of torque and a top speed of 192kmh and a sprint to 100km of just over 9 seconds. It will eventually be a replacement for the 3.5-litre GS450h at €59,995 when suppliers of this model run out.
The new arrival has taxes and list prices that are more in tune with the German rivals it wants to compete with. The big-engined GS450h was not at the races and its fate here has been sealed for some time but there are high hopes for the more competitive newcomer which even at entry level has a high specification and boasts C02 levels running between 110-119 g/km so it attracts only €190 in annual road tax.
In true Lexus style,the interior is tip-top for quality and on the road refinement, and cabin quietness and drive quality are excellent. But some drivers will find the e-CVT automatic transmission works better in the economy stakes around town but is less so under hard acceleration on the open road where decibel levels rise also. The exterior styling is conservative but the on-board equipment is above average. There is Wi-Fi connectivity for all occupants and up to 17 speakers for the Mark Levinson audio system on top levels of trim with a 12" multi-information screen available.
There is a comprehensive safety package which includes a Pre-crash Safety System with driver monitor, all-speed Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert to assist in backing into traffic, Lane Keep Assist, full-colour Head-Up Display and Night Navigation system.
Lexus expects sales to top the 100 mark next year with the main targets being the BMW 520d SE, the A6 2lTDI SE Auto, and the Mercedes- Benz E220 CDI auto. There are four dealerships -- two in Dublin, and Cork and Galway.