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.
Apparently, the ‘4’ in Toyota’s NS4 concept doesn’t stand as an unsubtle reference to what the next (fourth) generation Prius might look like, but rather, according to the car’s project leader Tomohiko Shishido, merely denotes that the car has four doors. Further demystifying its acronym, Shishido-san says the car’s full name is ‘New Splendid 4-door’ which is, no question, a splendid name.
Its point is to show a lower, longer and wider future Toyota plug-in hybrid sedan available for purchase circa 2015/16. At 4650mm long it stretches out 190mm more than the current mk3 Prius, is 25mm wider (1770mm) and 100mm lower (1370mm). This creates a visually pleasing set proportions and ones that Toyota’s head of design Tokuo Fukuichi says will also improve aerodynamics and, alongside a 30mm lower centre of gravity, create a better handling car aimed at sportier performance. The hood’s wraparound front styling is quite promising as is the unusual rear end – with echoes of the 2011 Tokyo show FCV-R fuel cell concept – and what Fukuichi-san is calling ‘catamaran style’.
The interior was far from fantastic but was complete – unlike many 2012 Detroit concepts – and featured an interesting inner mesh design on the seating. Overall, even with, or perhaps because of, its lipstick pink metallic exterior, the NS4 remains pretty splendid and a hopeful sign of things to come from the Japanese giant.
Lincoln’s MKZ concept is not just another show car but a pre-production teaser that will be revealed in showroom-ready form within four months according to Ford Group design boss J Mays. The mid-sized sedan gives a very good impression of how Lincoln wants to revitalize its look and feel and sat well within the stunning new Lincoln auto show exhibition stand (see previous separate post). Key to the new design is a new more angular take on the Lincoln grille with horizontal rather than vertical bars within it and slimmer front lights. The sides are simply rendered with one gently arcing feature line, a narrow DLO and a high waist. Inside the effectively four-seat cabin with a partially floating centre stack, features a signature Lincoln cream and taupe/gray colour scheme but with what interior design leader Soo Kang calls, “very calm surfacing” plus great luxury details like the neatly graduated perforation on the seats and leather steering wheel wrap.
The platform is shared with the new Ford Fusion also revealed at Detroit but while the MKZ shares the same wheelbase as the Fusion, it’s a little longer. It’s role is comparable to the Ford Evos concept shown four months before the Fusion too: namely to prepare and excite the public to a new design direction, although Ford Group’s North American passenger car design director Moray Callum says “the MKZ is actually even closer to its production version than the Evos was to the Fusion.”
Those wanting to verify that assertion will only have to wait until early April when the production car is slated to launch at the 2012 New York auto show. Here’s hoping…
Video of one of the 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.
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.
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.