It’s testimony to Lexus’s current design flair and bold surface language that many designers asked us of the RC, “is it a production preview?” But the answer to that question is an emphatic no, this is a production car – the coupe sister to the IS – and aligning Lexus with the German premium brands. RC is to IS, as A5 is to A4.
It clearly takes learning from the Germans too – there’s greater differentiation with this than between BMW’s 3- and 4-Series models and this is generally a good thing.
There’s some fascinating exterior surfacing that works extremely well in parts, less well in others and worse when its got a light box hung over it. But our biggest and most joyful discovery with this car was on the interior – where Lexus has finally ditched the hideous RTI mouse-controller, in favour of a touch pad interface to control the large, central screen. Like the disappearance of the ‘80s green, quartz clock it’s something all HMI designers – and we suspect many customers too – will rejoice in the passing of.
We clearly didn’t get the memo, because we were quite surprised to see the Macan in Tokyo, believing it was destined to be an LA only car. We’ll cover it in greater depth in our LA show report, but suffice to say that – Audi Q5 underpinnings or not – this is another modern Porsche which is very well resolved and ultimately easy to warm to.
The Q5 relationship is the main talking point and Porsche has, in the most part, done a good job of setting it apart from its Audi cousin. The Macan appears much lower, more squat and all together more sporting.
The most impressive aspect is the rear end, which has a properly Porsche-feeling rump and a much more steeply raked rear screen than the Audi. In fact, were it not for the similar window-line, you’d not necessarily relate the pair.
We were particularly impressed with the rear lamp design. The way that the LED strip defines the unit with no visual ‘lamp can’ – instead being set into a lacquered carbon-fibre unit – is impressive, and likely to be a very distinctive night-time graphic. The large detail chunk of carbon-fibre that runs across the lower surface of the two doors, we’re less sure about. For our money it works here, but we need to see it on a Macan whose body colour is not so similar to the detail that it almost blends in.
Inside it’s a familiar Porsche affair with three main dials in this case, the Vertu-phone look centre console buttons from the Panamera, and a fantastic steering wheel borrowed from the new 918, minus the buttons in its lower segment.
All told, it would be a fool who would bet against the Macan becoming the new darling of the small-SUV set. In this regard the Range Rover Evoque may have just lost its crown.
Following on from the widely admired Regina concept from 2011, the Suzuki Crosshiker takes its predecessor’s form language and applies it to a delightfully compact crossover.
The overall result is an exterior design by Katsuya Kotoda that strikes a well-judged balance between cute plumpness and mature refinement, with deftly refined surfacing, high quality detailing and overall proportions that are distinctive and in-step with current market trends. The way the turreted glasshouse sits within the lower body is particularly successful.
If anything its interior by Syunya Sakurai is even more impressive. Stripped-back in terms of button count and furniture its layers of suede-like surfaces wrap its occupants in a cosseting environment that is topped by the upright glasshouse that offers an outstanding view.
It’s great to see companies we in the west often pay little attention to serving up top-class design such as this.
Arguably, Mitsubishi’s design has lacked a consistent direction of late, but Masaki Matsuhara – who became styling director in October 2010 – is aiming to resolve that with a series of concepts expressing a new face and 360-degree identity.
Geneva hosted the GR concept and with it announced Mitsubishi’s new front face. Matsuhara confirmed that this look will morph into the next-generation production L200 pick-up in 2015 and for Tokyo he unveiled three more SUV concepts. The compact red-coloured exterior XR (above) represents a fresh and much bolder look which channels a little of the raked belt line of the Range Rover Evoque and the current Honda Civic’s rear-end light treatment to decent effect. Matsuhara says it will inform the next ASX production car (due circa 2016).
The GC concept was massive in every way, showcasing both Mitsubishi’s plug-in hybrid PHEV technology and featuring a super-high window line and hood plus a huge front-to-back horizontal touchscreen inside, accessible by all passengers and dubbed by Matsuhara the ‘tactical table’ due to its capacitive abilities and interactive nature. Clearly Shogun/Pajero-sized, the GC looks a little unresolved for production both inside and out, but as the replacement model is not due until about 2018 (despite the current model’s considerable age) there’s still time for development.
The third concept – the AR (above) – is perhaps the most intriguing, partly as it has no obvious existing production forebear. A Mitsubishi spokesperson confirmed that its ‘mini-Delica’ package – crossing SUV design cues within a compact MPV – was being touted for production, but which global regions would get the car and when, had not yet been nailed down. Despite the absence of an interior (like the XR) this car looked the best resolved of Mitsubishi’s Tokyo trio (through these eyes). Up close there’s an appealing diamond-style surfacing effect either side of the brand’s diamond-inspired front badge. The mixture of angled surfaces broken up by a series of geometric lines, brings to mind a similar effect employed on a pair of ladies’ heels in the current range of cutting-edge shoe brand United Nude (a collaboration between acclaimed architect Rem Koolhaas and an heir to the Clarks shoes empire). It’s a good look on a lady’s feet or indeed on the front of this concept car (below).
Out of an admittedly small straw poll of people CDN spoke to at the show, most consider Mitsubishi still has some way to go, and while the XR and AR represent progress, the concept models’ build quality was unconvincing and doesn’t help Mitsubishi’s design cause.
Nissan’s preview photos of its Blade Glider revealed before its official Tokyo show unveil piqued good interest at CDN Towers, and seeing the innovative three-seater in the flesh only enhanced our positive thoughts about the concept. Although the triangular package was largely dictated by its engineering and aero requirements, the car still manages to convey a certain exterior elegance, as Satoru Tai, design director for product design department and Creative Box VP told CDN: “The theory behind the shape defined a lot of things about its package but we didn’t want it to look too experimental, we wanted it to have a kind of beauty.”
The result is certainly an Uma Thurman kind of unconventional beauty but we can imagine it cutting quite a dash among left-field city dwellers (and those further afield with good A-road access) who might desire a small electric supercar with a dab of eco conscience. Although clearly informed by the Delta Wing racing car that guested at the 2012 Le Mans 24-hour event, Tai was quick to say the Blade Glider’s design was intended to convey a less go-faster aesthetic, especially on the interior: “At first we imagined a racing cockpit but then realised that given its energy-saving brief we wanted a less aggressive and more peaceful feel. This car doesn’t attack anything, it’s about a coasting feeling… gliding in fact.”
Accordingly, the interior is shaped around the centrally-positioned driver with two passengers sitting behind on each side, but utilises softer shapes and lightweight graphic motifs like see-through honeycomb flooring. Most exciting of all perhaps, is that Nissan is touting the car as a potential production car with some good range potential, as director of motorsport innovation Ben Bowlby stated: “The Blade Glider has exceptional handling and if you halve the drag it should be able to go considerably further than current EVs.”
Maybe VW’s XL1 could soon have a rival? Here’s hoping.
We don’t really have to explain why we weren’t too enamoured by this latest fuel cell concept do we? And, no we have no idea why penguins are involved.
We like nice surprises at CDN and Nissan provided not one but two at the 2013 Tokyo show. The IDx Freeflow and Nismo concepts arrived on stage on the morning of Wednesday 20th without a preview (and instead of a rumoured Z concept). Representing the yin and yang of motoring, and also Nissan’s diverse range too, the concepts shared the same unusual sawn-off three-box silhouette and broad proportions, but with very different exterior and interior treatment in the details.
The Nismo took a thoroughly modern take on regular motorsport design cues, while the Freeflow opted for a more laid back ‘go-slower’ civilian approach with a highly original ‘lounge vibe’ cabin featuring Japanese selvedge denim seat upholstery and thick leather wrapping the centre transmission tunnel and IP.
Satoru Tai, design director for Nissan’s product design department and Creative Box VP told CDN that the exterior shape was inspired by Group B rally cars and the 510 Bluebird from Nissan’s back catalogue, but also from the input of some handpicked youngsters from outside of the company who were brought in to inject some youthful opinion into the process. Seeking to better understand potential future car buyers (many of whom are uninterested in current cars), the 30 or so so-called ‘digital natives’ – those born after 1990 – were highly involved in the planning of the concepts, not just focus-grouped late in the development.
Nissan’s chief creative officer Shiro Nakamura said the co-creation project went suitably well to consider future collaborations. “A broader input is good. We have our own strong vision but this process intersected nicely with our strategy. Ultimately it’s still our design execution but the digital natives were very useful in the planning stage. Being open-minded is the most important point we learned from this exploratory project. We could do more in the future.”
Either way, the IDx twins were two of the stars of the show for us, admired by all the journalists and designers we spoke to at the exhibition and a refreshing change from the kei cars and supercars Tokyo is so known for.
Daihatsu might be a vaguely defined brand from a production design perspective but it has a strong record of concepts at the Tokyo show that punch well above their weight. Both its Deca Deca and FC Deck were shown in similar incarnations at the 2011 Tokyo show but the new versions had enough difference in them to wow many onlookers. The 2013 Deca Deca displayed a similar exterior proportion but this time with a more Tonka Toy-chunky interior aesthetic and a two-bench seating layout, internal adjustable roof rails and an open-trough IP, the latter two features presumably designed to stash the sort of semi-rugged paraphernalia a kei car road trip might entail.
The FC Deck could have won the Tokyo show’s ‘Most futuristic’ award, with its helmet-like cab featuring Knight Rider K.I.T.T lighting effects and a super simple boldly-ridged rear loadspace with a fuel cell stack underneath. Like its massive gull-winged 2011 FC ShowCase forebear, it looked like nothing else at the expo.
The third significant Daihatsu model on display was a welcome concept prefacing the return of the diminutive two-seat folding hard-top roadster Copen franchise (now spelled with a K). Revealed with on-stand hostesses demonstrating its detachable exterior panels and bumpers for colour-changing potential, we hope the production version will arrive soon. No designer was obviously around on the stand to explain further, but on this occasion we’re happy to live with a bit of mystery for now.
Full marks to Toyota for giving its JPN Taxi Concept prime showstand real estate alongside its other headline concepts – if there’s one thing we like almost as much as a charming Kei car, it’s a new spin on the classic taxicab.
This one owes a lot to London’s iconic black cab in terms of proportions (and wheel design), but its details are as Japanese as they come: bluff, upright nose adorned with a pixel-like grille graphic that looks as if it should light up, Rappongi skyscraper-style (sadly, it doesn’t); flat hood; fender-mounted mirrors, upturned and fetchingly integrated into the indicator surrounds.
The interior is refreshingly simple too, with a three-screen HMI, flexible folding seats and the obligatory Perspex seat guard for the driver. The Nissan Cedric will always have a place in our hearts, but we’d happily wait an extra few minutes for one of these to show up next time we visit Tokyo.
Michelin has its tweel and now there’s Bridgestone’s (slightly less snappily named) “Airless tyre”. Using the same principle as the Michelin, it jettisons air, creating a non-pneumatic tyre which the blue design “celebrates”. The future of the wheel?