It scooped the EyesOn Design best concept car award and it’s fair to say that there’s been a lot of love for the Lexus LF-LC Concept here in Detroit. This is – according to its design team – the next step for the L-Finesse design language. And where previous Lexus concepts and production cars have been busy, sometimes ill-resolved pieces of design, the LF-LC is well resolved, beautifully surfaced and with contemporary details and graphics.
Only the DRG has raised eyebrows. But even here there is disagreement. Some in the CDN team think it overly aggressive, the grille a little too Audi-like and the lamps a little too busy. But others think that Lexus has refined the grille so it’s quite distinct and that the combined lamp and DRL signature is original.
What impresses most is how – particularly in the interior – the design is cohesive despite the busyness. The interior is almost worthy of Citroen concept – there’s a certain French flair on show as well as an opulent, rich material palette. It could be too much, but everything is controlled just so, and it works.
Overall, it’s impressive to see this from Lexus, and pleasing generally to be able to say that, considered together with what we saw in Tokyo, along with the Toyota NS4 and Honda NSX here, we now no longer need to consider Japanese car design as residing in the doldrums.
On the first press day of Detroit there was a small buzz about what might be lurking under the satin sheet on the Maserati stand. The large silhouette clearly indicated an SUV as did the small Kubang logo on the stand’s side (!) but there were rumours that this version might have a more resolved interior than the clearly ‘work in progress’ version shown at Frankfurt back in the autumn of 2011.
Unfortunately the upmarket Italian model with credible off-road Jeep underpinnings at Detroit turned out to be the exact same model. However, group head of design Lorenzo Ramaciotti did confirm to CDN that the car – due to go on sale late 2013 or early 2014 – was very close to its design freeze and that the car on display, “is already a lot closer to production than most of the concepts shown at Detroit”. Which is either good or bad news depending on your perspective…
Not to say there aren’t some good vehicles launching at the 2012 Detroit show but one of the best things revealed so far isn’t a car at all but the new Lincoln exhibition stand. A lattice ‘curtain’ of joined-up giant Lincoln logos defines the border of the space and is punctuated with floating boxes housing various sculptures and artworks to create a boutique store meets art gallery vibe.
Walk through the main entrance and the huge space opens out to reveal a single central raised circular podium where the MK-Z concept took pride of place (see separate story coming soon) while stairs to the left and right lead up to viewing galleries, chill-out spaces and refreshment areas. Underneath both are further glass-fronted car booths with current production cars and seating areas.
Subtle references to the Lincoln logo are repeated in a sophisticated way on the three-dimensional grey wool cladding on the side walls, but the best detail of the stand by far are a pair of expanding and contracting hanging sphere sculptures either side of the stairs. The work of Chuck Hoberman, the aluminum and steel structures are actuated by a single servo motor and expand from 4.5 ft to 15 ft in less than three seconds, controlled by computer and sequenced to fit in with the sound and music of the stand.
Already on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art, these sculptures and their showstand setting – designed by the London-based Imagination consultancy – make a fitting statement about the new sophistication Lincoln is seeking (see embedded video). Let’s hope the design of future Lincoln cars can raise their game to match.
It’s great to see so many concepts being unveiled in the Cobo hall this year. Compared to last year when we were practically ready to come home halfway through the first press day, it makes a refreshing trend. But we can’t help wondering if there’s a back story we’re missing here, because a good proportion of these concepts are missing one crucial aspect – an interior.
Honda/Acura for instance, whose designs we’ve criticised perhaps more than most over recent shows, are exhibiting some interesting and well-resolved designs here. Between the NSX, Accord Coupe and ILS, three in fact. Yet they’re all missing an interior. So are the pair of Chevrolet Coupes and the Nissan Pathfinder. Meanwhile, in a game of runaround that was worthy of some of our experiences in China, we couldn’t get access to the Dodge Dart interior, despite it – unlike the others – having an obviously finished cabin.
All of which seems a little strange, given the importance of the interior in the modern lexicon and the wealth of new tech tools at the designers’ disposal. Given that it clashes with CES this year, perhaps we’re suffering from the fact that most manufacturers were (logically) saving their big tech-based interior announcements for the show in Las Vegas. It’s just a shame that if that’s the case, it means we’re seeing so many half-designed cars.
We’re just grateful that two cars in particular – the Lexus Lf-LC and Smart for-US – show that for some manufacturers at least, showing a ‘true’ concept means one that comes with an interior that’s just as capable of grabbing the headlines as an exterior.
Unlike the larger XTS which we reviewed last month, Cadillac’s new 3-Series sized ATS appears to measure up to the premium D-segment class standard. Whereas the XTS is hurt by its proportions and package, the emphatically rear-wheel drive ATS matches the 3-Series almost millimeter for millimeter, and is none the worse for it. Detroit 2012 has been a show which has reminded us that, if you get the proportions right, then you’re halfway towards creating an appealing piece of car design – and the ATS is perhaps the best example of that.
It’s quiet and calm, and hardly innovative, but then breaking away from the norm in this segment’s hardly ever proven a recipe for success. The proportions are good, surfaces are well resolved and some of the material treatment – such as the chrome DLO surround – feels appropriately expensive and premium. Inside, there’s Cadillac’s new CUE user interfaces, which (while struggling to function fully in the reception black hole that is Cobo hall) is an impressive UI. We particularly like the haptic feedback and speedyness with which the system responds. What it’s like on the move is another matter and one we can’t currently call.
While we’d still be surprised to see this Cadillac keep Europe’s premium brands awake at night, in the US, this car raises the bar in the second-rung of premium brands occupied by the likes of Infiniti, Lexus and Lincoln. It’s not a car that will stop you in its tracks, but the more time you spend looking at it, you understand that it’s been imbibed with a sense of design depth and quality that’s not without appeal.
The exterior design of the LF-LC is impressive, but it’s the interior that – in many ways – stands out more. It manages to combine a nod to the LFA, with materials and forms that are new to Lexus. And while there is a lot going on, it just about hangs together as a cohesive whole.
It’s always interesting catching designers checking out other brands’ products and so bumping into the ever-affable Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group’s design chief on the Lexus stand I was keen to know what he thought of the LF-LC concept.
“It’s wild, certainly not the Lexus we’ve known before” he said. “But when the Japanese go wild they are totally in control. Unlike others who can go too far. Of course you can always question whether it needs all the jewellery, but the craftsmanship is very good.”
We’re inclined to agree with his sentiments – yes the lamp graphics in particular are complex in extremis but as an overall piece of design it’s surely the most impressive piece of design the brand has shown in a very long time.
One of the stars of last year’s Detroit show was the Kia KV7 minivan so it was disappointing that the only thing the company had to show this year was an Optima modified by West Coast Customs. It is inspired by basketball star, Blake Griffin, and features orange basketball-leather inspired paint and wooden flooring. Don’t think this one will make our car of the show shortlist.
It’s a cliche to say that the original Honda NSX (Acura NSX in North America) was the first truly modern, useable supercar. Back in 1989, a 276bhp, mid-engined supercar from Japan and constructed of aluminium was big news but 23 years and these stats are far less impressive. You can find 276bhp in front-wheel drive hot hatches these days, and of course many car makers now use aluminium in their structures, most notably Audi.
In fact, it was an Audi – the R8 – that first came to mind when we viewed the NSX Concept. From the front three-quarters it all feels very R8, particularly as your eye falls on the DRG, then into the surface that forms the front fender and wheelarch. But the more you look at this car, the more it grows on you.
You can see the intentions of the Honda/Acura design team. It’s far from perfect, but then perhaps the world of the modern supercar has become a little anesthetized, some character is welcome. You can almost see, looking at the surfaces, the freedom that the Acura design team and clay modellers have been allowed. There’s some stuff that you’d never find on a German design, but it’s all the better for it. And when we say we can see aspects of the R8′s aesthetic, that’s not necessarily a criticism. Let’s not forget that, without the orgininal NSX, the R8 (and its modern peers) might never have come to exist in the form that they do.
Above all, the Acura NSX Concept looks compact, lightweight and lithe. It has believeable supercar proportions, but in a world of bloated designs, it’s refreshingly small, low and not even unnecessarily wide. We hope that Acura’s designers won’t mind us saying that, given some of the brand’s recent efforts, it’s a mighty relief to be writing that.