NAIAS 2018 | Episode 10 : LEXUS

The Asian manufacturers have clearly taken over the concept car mantel from the American domestics.  The Lexus LF-1 Limitless being one of several exciting concepts at the show emanating from the East.

Lexus call the LF-1 a flagship crossover and their design direction for the future.  We liked the smooth, sophisticated feel of vehicle as well as the dramatic shapes.  The Lexus “spindle” grille that we have loved to hate, has now grown to consume the whole front of the LF-1.  The lower corners reach out to the edges of the car below the dramatic front lights.  While the upper corners extend all the way along the hood cut line, merging into and forming the belt line.  We actually like this iteration.

The smooth bodyside has one complex area at the bottom of the rear door and sill to add some drama.  There is also an interesting element of brightwork that starts at the trailing edge of the upper hood line, sweeps across the A-Pillar, runs along the roof-line and finishes in a broad ‘spear’ that mirrors the rear quarter window shape in the C-Pillar.  The rear is dramatic too, with a divided roof spoiler, swoopy full width taillamps that stand off the rear quarters and large (brake cooling?) exhaust ducts in the lower corners.  The overall effect was outstanding.

The interior is also smooth and sleek, with a small focused cluster, but a large central infotainment display framed by dramatic curves in the instrument panel and centre console.  The side view camera displays add an interesting new look.

We still like the dramatic LC 500 and its great road presence, although the door-trim panels have us longing for rather LESS wood!  Speaking of door panels, take a look at the overwrought trim on the LS 500h displayed nearby.  Ugghhh!

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 10 : Lexus

Lexus has a considerable array of products these days, most of which are quite interestingly and attractively styled. The brand continues to move out from under the Mercedes shadow that characterized the early years. The brand spindle grille is still controversial, but in spite of steady growth in size, evolution of the texture seems to make it more acceptable – or maybe we are just getting used to it. The only version that we still do not like is the black textured version used on the NX and RX.

New at the show was the dramatic UX SUV concept – a pillarless four-door SUV coupe. The UX is a long way from production ready, but it is certainly better looking than the clumsy Mercedes and BMW equivalents. The front has a sinister look with lots of interesting LED’s. The bodyside is scalloped with dramatic wheelarches. The ‘show car only’ wheel/tyre design was striking and it was hard to see where the tyre stopped and the wheel began. The taillamps are cool with both a full-width element and an element that rose up the C-Pillar. The rear view cameras are sleek and mounted on twin pylons. The A-Pillars are concealed from the outside, but had a curious and impractical translucent interior trim that was hard to photograph. The skeletal seats are wild, adding to the drama. The UX was probably the best concept at the show.

The big Lexus LS 500 four-door has truly come of age. No longer a Mercedes clone, this car clearly has its own character and unique presence. The very strong front end is the key distinguishing point, but the body side has its own character too. The rear reminds us of the older 7 Series BMW’s with the “Bangle bustle”, but all in all a very nice large sedan.

The LC 500 coupe version is also a very nice execution with an interesting C-Pillar treatment, although we are seeing this “green house flow through “on several other cars including the Toyota C-HR and several Nissan products.

NAIAS 2016 | Part III : The Japanese brands

Naias 2016-3

Honda’s big announcement at the Detroit show was the new Ridgeline pick-up truck that continues to feature a monocoque construction rather than the body-on-frame construction of most others. The previous model was ungainly and awkward, but this latest version is a big improvement, although its clean lines and ‘crossover front-end’ are not at all rugged looking.  This new model has a number of interesting features like a two-way opening tailgate and hidden storage under the load floor.
Acura revealed the ILX, a stunning concept car in a beautiful shade of red. This quite large, pillar-less four door was as dramatic as it was beautiful.  Strong feature lines, bold shapes and many interesting details, make this a strong contender for the best concept at the show.  Bright trim pieces sweep up across the A-pillars onto the roof towards the centre of the car, flowing seamlessly into the formed rear window.  The high mounted stop lamp is like a spear extending over the backlite – quite unique.  The taillamp and exhaust outlet shapes and dramatic and complement each other on the Kamm tail.  The interior is equally strong with four bucket seats separated by a prominent center console, a rectangular steering wheel, a surprisingly small instrument cluster and the inevitable large central infotainment screen.  There is not much chance that this concept will make it into production, but this could signal a breakout for Acura design going forward – something they badly need!
Frankly, the Toyota display was rather boring and very similar to last year. The only vehicle that was new and interesting was the Kikai, which is a crazy cartoon of a car, but it is fun to see what happens when you let designers run free!
On a more serious note the Mirai (which means Future) is here! Toyota will sell 200 of its fuel cell vehicles in Southern California during 2016 at a price of $57,500.  Of course they are all spoken for already.  Toyota showed two special versions of the Mirai, one of which had an experimental flat panel roof antenna that will provide much improved communication with satellites.  The second was a gull wing two-door concept with cool chrome wheel covers.
The FCV plus (previously shown in Tokyo) is not intended for production, but it is a vision the future of fuel cell cars with electric motors at each wheel and wildly futuristic appearance inside and out.
Toyota’s youth brand, Scion showed a very interesting concept called C-HR. This small coupe actually had four doors, the rears being cunningly disguised to maintain the coupe appearance.  The car features big (21 inch) wheels, strongly emphasized wheel arches and very interesting front and rear lights – the rears appearing to float above the quarter panel.
Stop the presses! Toyota just announced that the Scion brand will be dropped in August of this year.  Apparently the slow sales of the brand can no longer be tolerated and the Scion products will be folded into the Toyota line-up where appropriate.
Lexus debuted two interesting cars at the show. First was the LF-FC, which is a large four-door concept with fuel cell power.  The proportions of the vehicle are excellent, with elegant lines, a strongly sculptured bodyside and dramatic lights front and rear.  Like the Acura ILX there are no door handles – great for the design, but perhaps not so practical….   The large air intakes, plus the sharply angled headlights and running lights further dramatize the now familiar and very prominent “spindle” grill.
The LC 500 could be seen as a more realistic and practical version on the exciting LFA coupe, but it is actually the realization of the LF-LC concept shown here in Detroit 4 years ago. It will be the flagship of the Lexus brand when introduced in 2017 with lots of power and a beautiful design.  Even the obnoxious spindle grille looks somehow better on this svelte design, framed as it is by the intricate front lights and air intakes. The rear lights are not so pleasing, with blank white lenses when unlit and elongated spears going in two random directions.  We love the exhausts, however, and the unusually strong feature lines embracing the exhaust outlets and the license plate that sweep towards the center of the vehicle.
The Nissan display was an exercise in contrast. On one side was the IDS concept, which is an autonomous, ‘zero emissions’ EV four door sedan; while on the other was the Titan Warrior pick up concept, the rock crushing opposite to the “tree-hugging” IDS.  Like many concepts these days, the IDS features a pillar-less suicide door set up.   The design is much more pleasing than the homely Leaf, but it may be a little too extreme for production.  The “buck-tooth” grille, as well as the front and rear lights, are evolved from the current Nissan look.  There are some new features, like an illuminated Nissan badge at the rear and a messaging system across the base of the windshield!  This would allow the driver to say things like “After you” to pedestrians or other drivers.  The potential messages have the imagination running wild!
The Warrior truck concept is well executed, with all the right macho elements. It further reinforces Nissan’s determination to gain more market share in this important US segment.  With its recently introduced new version of the Titan pick-up – which now comes with a V8 Cummins diesel engine – they could do just that.
The Infinity QX30 crossover had been shown as a concept a year or so ago and more recently announced for the US at the Los Angeles show. It is faithful to the original concept and should be nice addition to the Infinity Range.
Also revealed at the show, was the Q60, a two-door coupe version of the Q50 sedan. Again, it is very close to the concept unveiled at last year’s show and succeeded in being both elegant and sporty.
Rounding out the Japanese exhibitors, Subaru presented the Impreza Sedan Concept. In common with most of the Subaru line, the concept didn’t try to be outrageous or futuristic, but it was a clean well executed design, with some nice fresh touches that should work well for Subaru, assuming that something like this reaches production.

GENEVA 2015 : Springtime, Showtime – PART III

Part III | Lexus surprised all of us with the unveiling of the LF-SA concept coming from the designers at Toyota ED2 Sofia-Antipolis (based in the south of France) and managed by Lance Scott. This small urban car makes a very bold statement. Based on the Toyota IQ platform, it seems to be coming directly from the latest comic book!  It might be small, but it is heavily sculptured and the car looks rather ‘thick’ and ‘heavy’.


Specifications seem to dictate fun and luxury in a segment dominated in Europe by Twingo, VW Up and Smart…. The lines seem to be confused at first, but after a longer look, they are completely mastered. We know Laurent Bouzige, the exterior stylist of the project, very well, so his work is not strange for us; the lines have continuity and the highlights on the surfaces are a signature of his.  Strangely, there is not really a body feature line, but more a connection between the front and the backlight. The front is the most blatant. We do not like the grille on Lexus cars in general, but this one seems even more enormous, with excess relief and too much aggression – especially for a city car. The grille really is too much and this feature of the car disturbed most of our designer colleagues. In spite of all this, the concept is a success. Surface changes are extremely controlled. It is like a sculpture, a sculptured body. If we look carefully, the back is taught, like animal is ready to pounce! The wheel detail, with large blades extending over the tire is interesting, even it is only suitable for a concept car.
The interior comes from Jacomir Cech and is similarly imaginative, with tense curves crisscrossing the passenger compartment.  The addition of elliptic curves with new combinations of materials on the doors gives a light and spacious effect in this small volume. The interior includes many details: the driver’s seat is different from the rest of the interior – the seat is in blue leather/alcantara with beige stitching; the steering wheel repeats the grille theme and has spokes which have metal inserts with an interesting patina applied by a local artisan.  The rear view mirror is an LCD screen. The door panels and central console are made with a 3D printing process and realized in foam imitating a honeycomb stitch structure. They are very soft and comfortable.
The grey exterior and blue/ivory colors for the interior give the concept a luxury feeling not often found in the city car segment. Even though the design is outside normal convention, the graphic treatment works well. This Lexus LF-SA follows an expressive and emotional philosophy that is very unusual in the more rational world of European design thinking. Contrary at our initial impression, this concept is a success, and even if the aggressive grille seems contradictory for a car of this size, its luxury look should please the girls.
Nissan revealed the SWAY Concept. From some years Nissan in-house designers have worked to rebuild a style language for the mark. With patience and accuracy, with small touches, show car after show car, they have arrived at this very successful concept that will be the next generation Micra. Nissan seems to be moving away from the frequently copied Germany style. The SWAY is almost a monospace with strong worked surfaces and a pronounced “A line” down the profile. A small error for us is the exaggerated swelling at the base of the A-pillar that we feel is inelegant. The contrasting anodized look of the cant rails which are connected across the backlight and the black glass roof panel give the impression that the roof is suspended over the greenhouse. Subtlety here is helpful. Overhangs, front and rear, are minimized and the wheelbase is long.  There is space for 3 wheels between front and rear wheelarches where typically there would be just 2 and a half. Large wheel arches create an impression of real power. One small drawback: body surfaces seem to be a little too complex, causing reflections that hinder us from the reading the true form of the body side. But all of this should be corrected in the final version.


Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer that is less well known than the likes of Honda, Toyota and Nissan, but nevertheless has a large product range with its own personal style providing a great alternative for customers wishing to buy something different. In Geneva, Mazda revealed 3 new cars:
The CX3 is intended to take its place in the growth market of Crossover compacts. Exterior style follows the Mazda tradition with an expressive grille and a strong character line. Interior is modern with a visual effect similar to the one used by Mercedes.
The second Mazda introduction was the final version of the eagerly awaited new MX5 Coupe; the incontestable n°1 small sports car in the world for over 20 years!!! In order to continue satisfying its regular customers, the new MX5 body is a little more round than its predecessors, but a larger grille and slim headlights result in a more aggressive appearance. Nice work has been done with the light running along the bodyside. Reflections change with the angle you view the car giving life to the form. The “nose” is lower than the previous version and the light climbs in order to reach its peak at the level of the front wheelarch. The light comes down again towards the back, including over the rear wheelarch. This is all accomplished with a fluid movement along the body. Truly, it is a sculpture in motion.  An interesting small detail: the rear lights are simple and round, enhancing the sporty look, they will remind you of some Italian sports cars.  Most important for us is still the retractable roof. This is a very nice feature at the MX5 price point, especially in comparison with other competitive products. We look forward to the pleasure of driving this new toy.


To be continued…





NAIAS 2015 : AMERICA IS BACK ! – Part V [end]

Acura made the biggest splash among the Japanese brands with the long awaited production version of the Acura NSX.  The car is stunning, as well as being a technological tour de force.  Interestingly, the production design was completed in the US by a team led by Michelle Christensen, the engineering/development was done in the US and the manufacturing will be conducted in a new ‘craft centre’ at the Honda plant in Ohio.  Full marks to Honda for allowing the vehicle to be developed outside Japan and in its major market.  The final version is faithful to the concept model, even though the packaging went through several iterations to accommodate various different powertrain permutations and the dimensions grew in both length and width.  The end result is suitably dramatic from all angles — if only we could drive one.
During the press days Honda displayed their fuel cell concept, presumably to match the one also found on the Toyota stand.  Neither car is particularly attractive, but they are distinctive and standing out is certainly an appropriate goal for a vehicle powered by this future technology.  Now all we need is a hydrogen infrastructure……..
Honda also demonstrated their racing prowess with a display featuring the Honda powered 2014 Indy 500 winner and the 1965 Mexican GP winning F1 car.  We look forward to the return of Honda to F1 this season.
Toyota displayed the FT-1 concept car again — this time with gunmetal grey metallic paint.  Frankly it looked a lot better than with last year’s red paint job.  The big introduction for Toyota in Detroit was the new mid-sized Tacoma truck.  No big design breakthroughs here so let’s move on to Lexus.  The signature “bobbin” grilles are getting bigger and bigger, but they are still hard to love.  If you can get past the grilles, there are some decent looking products available from this brand — the GSF 4-door and the RCF coupe being two great examples.  The ground hugging GT3 racing version of the RCF coupe painted in bright white made a dramatic statement and a strong declaration of intent.
Nissan’s big news was also on the truck side of the business with the introduction of an all-new Titan full-sized pick-up.  Neither Nissan nor Toyota have been as successful in the large truck market as they expected, but this is probably another step in the right direction for Nissan, especially with a brand new V8 Cummins diesel available under the hood.
The Infiniti Q60 concept was one of the most interesting designs at the show.  The Q60 is 2-door coupe (yes, really!) with strong and interesting design cues from front to rear.  The front end is dramatic, with sinister ‘hooded’ headlamps, a bold grille with a large illuminated emblem and two large lower air intakes with integrated fog lamps terminating in bold character lines sweeping up towards the headlamps.  The side view is equally strong with big wheels, deep sculptured panels and an interesting quarter window termination.  The theme continues in the rear with bold shapes around the exhausts an integrated decklid spoiler and taillamps that echo the “hooded eyes” of the front.  Let’s hope they build this one!
It is good to see the success of Jaguar/Land Rover under Tata management.  Jaguar introduced the XE sedan (a BMW 3-Series fighter) at the show to complete their range of handsome sedans.  The XE has the appearance of being a little bigger than the BMW, but in our opinion it is the best looking of the three cars.  Land Rover came to the show with the latest version of the Discovery and some new diesel powered models.


All in all the Detroit show was good this year.  The atmosphere was upbeat and confident with some stunning designs to grab our attention.  The 4 cars that stood out for us were the Ford GT, the Acura NSX, the Buick Avenir and the Infiniti Q60.
Now it is on to Geneva.


The wildest and most exciting car at the show was undoubtedly the Toyota FT-1 concept — which stands for ‘Future Toyota – Number 1’.  Designed at the CALTY studio in California, the FT-1 certainly lives up to Akio Toyoda’s new ethos “No more boring cars”.  Its Formula One style nose, splitter, rear diffuser and ‘rain light’ scream “speed”.  The huge 21 – inch wheels, sleek sculptured body, exposed engine under a clear panel in the hood and giant deployable rear spoiler yell “more speed”.  Then when you open the door and see the minimalist interior with heads up display and Formula One style steering wheel, you just want to jump in and drive!
In contrast, the Toyota FCV fuel cell concept car was downright ugly.  Its gaping ‘mouth’ and huge ‘gills’ at the front create a face only a mother could love.  The strong bodyside feature line originating at the rocker just behind the front wheel, climbing up over the top of the rear wheel and terminating in the taillamp does little to minimize the high belt and awkward proportions.  No CALTY Design here……….    The FCV concept was gone by the time the show opened to the public.  It was replaced on the very large turntable by a very small, tilting, three-wheel, mini vehicle.  Maybe the ugly concept car wasn’t so bad after all?
New from Lexus was the RC 350, another 2-door coupe to join the fray.  It is attractive from the rear and rear three quarter views, but the front end is way over the top for our taste.  The Lexus “bobbin” grill has grown to maximum proportions with three different insert textures, plenty of brightwork and two small round (fog ?) lamps integrated into the bright trim below the bumper area.  It is all just too much.  To make matters worse there is a feature line that starts alongside the headlamp and wanders up over the wheel flare to the base of the A-Pillar.  It does not help.
The performance version of this coupe, the RC F, helps things a little with a less complex grill — but it remains huge and unattractive.  Some scoops and other performance ‘add-ons’ also help, but I think we will “pass” on this one.
As a possible entry in the luxury compact SUV club, Lexus displayed the LF NX concept.  Unfortunately this one does not work for us either.  The huge Lexus grill is, well, huge.  The body has extreme sculpturing, it sits too high on wheels and the rear end has over-sized elaborate tailamps, plus a diffuser fit for Le Mans.  It was all too much and I would rather not talk about it any more!
The best thing on the Lexus exhibit was an LFA on a simulated rolling road with the associated sound track of the car going through the gears.  Music to the ears!

IAA 2013 | Lexus LF-NX Concept

In the previous articles we talked about simplicity being a new trend, now we have to talk about this strange concept on the Lexus display: the Lexus LF-NX concept. From the outside we have barely seen such a complicated form before. The car stands in the “L-Finesse” design language seen on many Lexus before, but pushed to its maximum (…don’t tell us they can go further…). The huge grille at the front is a signature that we will see more and more from Lexus. The DRLs are separated from the headlamps and a vertical opening separates the bumper from the wing — or fender if you prefer. There are a lot of changes on the surfaces and planes somewhat like a stealth fighter…  but this is not a stealth car, you would surely see it coming. It reminds us of the Lamborghini Egoista concept at certain angles.
On the other hand, the interior looks more controlled. Some metal surfacing highlighted by blue instrument lighting give this concept a futuristic look. The black and orange leather makes it look luxurious too. The designers have also worked on the user experience with touch-sensitive electrostatic switches and touchpad interface. Well, the Toyota/Lexus designers did not choose the direction of simplicity with this design, but somehow it works…