More than one Automobile staff member voted for the Lexus LC 500 as our 2018 Design of the Year—it is the most stylish production Lexus since Erwin Lui’s seminal wet-plaster-in-a-rubber-balloon LS 400 of 1991. The concept design was de-scribed in some detail in our June 2016 issue, but it’s well worth taking a closer look at the production model—so close to the concept car presented at the 2016 Detroit show that any differences don’t greatly matter—to see why it’s not quite Design of the Year material.
If there is one thing all good car-body designers know, it is that proportion is king. Just as real estate agents insist that the three most important aspects of any given property are “location, location, location,” so “proportion” easily occupies the first half dozen or so vital points of a car design. Then and only then come line, surface development, and detailing. Get all of those matters properly organized and properly treated, and you might well have an all-time winner. Some examples: Jean Bugatti’s Type 55 roadster, Gordon Buehrig’s Cord 810/12 sedans, Pininfarina’s (and Giovanni Savonuzzi’s) Cisitalia 202 coupe, Bob Bourke’s 1953 Studebaker coupe, Erwin Komenda’s Porsche 911, Albrecht Graf Goertz’s BMW 507, Malcolm Sayer’s Jaguar E-type, Bill Mitchell’s ’60s Buick Riviera, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s VW Golf, and Marcello Gandini’s Lamborghini Miura.
The LC, even if not in that league, truly deserves an honorable mention. It’s a good design. It hits the proportions aspect of greatness almost perfectly, but it falls down a bit in matters of intersecting lines, conflicting discrete details, and that unique and definitely not beautiful oversized grille. Its interior brings us zero innovation, creation, or forward-looking imagination. But it’s extremely well-executed and far more interesting than earlier Toyota-Lexus designs.
The large air scoops ahead of the rear wheels look aggressive but feature no heat exchangers inside, and they do not direct cooling air toward the rear brakes or the differential. They simply reduce aerodynamic turbulence inside the wheel wells. The 45-degree slashes up the rear fascia seem a bit much for no purpose other than framing the license plate, and they clearly relate to no other lines or forms on the body.
The mere fact the LC’s proportions are satisfying, and the distribution of its volumes and the overall feel of the design please so many, is not enough for iconic status. It does, however, give us reason to hope for even better models yet to come. This and big boss Akio Toyoda’s commitment to better design is highly positive.