By Design: Lexus LC 500

Well, it’s certainly different

Honorable exception of the plaster-filled-balloon-shaped SC 400 coupe aside, I've found every Lexus apart from the LFA supercar essentially unattractive. There were many awkward, overwrought, and easily forgettable sedans and coupes and a lot of bulky SUVs. But pure quality of manufacture and bland perfection of middle-class, un-sporty road manners made the brand an American best-seller. With this LC 500, though, Lexus got me. I still see many imperfections and peculiarities, but they don't matter. I like it.

It's a car that reminds me of Ellen Barkin, one of my favorite actresses. Not a raving beauty, not outrageously sexy, but nonetheless possessed of enormous allure and outstandingly capable in her assigned roles (see "Switch" for confirmation).

Based on Akio Toyoda-san's commitment to world-class dynamics for Lexus henceforward, this surprisingly alluring coupe, I think we can safely assume, will be exceptional on the road—fast, comfortable, trouble-free, and completely satisfying to own. The huge spindle grille is still over the top for me, but the fact it's bright, shiny, surrounded by chrome borders, and unapologetically in-your-face redeems its excessiveness. The message is clear: "I'm here. Get used to it." Putting the L badge on the upward-facing portion of the three-dimensional grille helps reduce the visual massiveness, and the cleanliness of the painted fender and hood surfaces mitigates the grille's excess.

The stance of the Lexus LC 500 is enormously enhanced by the subtle shaping of the bottom of the body. Gentle profile curves peak at the front and rear wheel centers, with the transition point between the front and rear fender bottoms occurring just below the rear of the doors. Which is just as well because the tops of all four fenders are fairly flat with a hard, perfectly horizontal line above the rear wheels. It's the antithesis of, say, Jaguar's emphasis on muscular haunches at the rear. This represents a new aesthetic sensibility, and it seems to work, as I was not the only old-school designer at the Detroit show to react positively to the LC 500. Hats off to Lexus chief designer Tadao Mori, who concocted this collection of shocking-to-classicists, nontraditional forms and features in such a way as to make the composition agreeable to many.

On the other hand, the lavish interior is not new in any way. Its stylistic roots go far back in automotive history: great swathes of fine leather, more metal than plastic in the minor controls, and the usual synthetic carpeting that may not be as noble as wool but is far more durable and fire-resistant and much easier to clean. The passenger's handhold rising off the tunnel is a nice contrast to the transmission selector lever on the driver's side.

A last conceit in the design: There may well be a giant L-for-Lexus in the badge, but all four corners of the car carry lamp assemblies marking out a stylized chrome T-for-Toyota.

1. Similar to the front end, the side of the fender ends well forward of the point of greatest length at the centerline of the body.

2. This sharp rising line describes a body-color trapezoid encompassing another trapezoid for license plates, twisted surfaces chamfering the tail of the car. Odd but OK.

3. The giant T-shaped chrome surround for the taillights includes the side marker and incidentally acts as a mnemonic for Toyota.

4. This strange intersection of black, red, and chrome elements recalls the Four-Color Theorem.

5. The hard horizontal line that starts at the taillight bezel dies off before the door skin.

6. Highlight sags off the door skin to meet the beginning of the horizontal crease on the fender and body side.

7. Fairly large radius of surface change gathers light but does not provide any directionality to the side view.

8. From this angle, it is easy to see how severely the front end cuts inward in plan view. The plane immediately ahead of the wheelwell ends in a graceful point, and the section flanking the grille carries the headlamps to the narrowest section of the grille.

9. The cutline at the bottom of the door runs through to the wheel opening, providing a horizontal datum.

10. Huge exhaust outlets suggest great power, which the 467-hp V-8 provides.

11. This sharp point in the painted side surface has nothing to do with the shape of the rear quarter window and simply looks odd from many points of view.

12. There is a nice directional thrust to the lamp assembly.

13. The peak coming off the edge of the grille flows elegantly into the A-pillar, which unfortunately looks weak with its thinnest section at the bottom and a heavy blob of color at the top.

14. In dead profile, this peak looks quite dramatic, but you really don't see it that way very often.

15. The base of the grille frame is a protruding lip, which is recapitulated in a painted rib around the entire bottom front corner.

16. This grille gives a clear impression of an electric shaver, recalling the very first Toyota Coronas to come to the U.S. back in the '60s, which did the same, less flamboyantly.

17. The inlet itself is well-shaped and is positioned to properly cool the brakes, necessary for heavier, fast cars.

18. The descending chrome leg that helps form the lamp assembly T-shape also lends a sense of framing to the corner air inlets.

19. The rims are pretty convoluted. It's too bad they're not expressed as a full circle.

20. The sculpting of the sill panel is a bit convoluted, too, leading the eye—and presumably some air—into the body side scoop.

21. This scoop is functional and well integrated into the profile, the body flaring outward to the wheel opening from its base below the door cut.

22. This piping between sections of leather, seen also on the transmission selector, is a nice touch.

23. These Boris Karloff knobs are actually quite practical, and they're evocative of his 1931 film, "Frankenstein."

24. This gap between leather elements is difficult to understand. But the whole looks to be very comfortable—a must for Lexus.

25. This substantial construct for a passenger's handhold is a little surprising. It is inserted into a transverse shelf, notched for the purpose.

26. The grip itself looks to be a bit wider and a bit less open than would be ideal for most hands.

 

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