Let’s Look At Some Of The Details Of The New Lexus Design Language

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The 2023 Lexus RX was just exposed to the collective mass of humanity, and like all recent Lexuses (Lexi? Oh, wait. It’s just “Lexus.”) the design has left me a little confused, mildly unsettled, but not bored. So that’s a positive. We have real, actual, working designers on our writing team, so I’ll likely leave a full design review to them (also because I’m at the press event and it’s so late and I’m so very tired) but I just wanted to note a few design elements that Lexus is using prominently, and ponder them. These things are about to be absolutely everywhere on our roads soon, so we may as well come to grips with what they look like. Let’s get started.

I’m surrounded by a bunch of Lexuses at a Toyota press event at the company’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, so I figured I’d walk around and talk about the new RX’s design, as well as the design of the rest of the brand’s models. Because none of it is boring.

That Nose

The thing you likely noticed before anything else on the new RX is the very, very prominent nose of the car. The traditional Lexus Predator-mouth/spindle grille is here, but it has lost its border and now appears to be a floating school of elongated diamonds that flows out of the rest of the front end, and that part I do like.

The grille itself has a sort of mid-century screen feel to it, and I think it works, though the transition from positive-to-negative-space diamond elements that happens at the line of the logo I think could have been handled more smoothly.

But it’s above that where your eyes get drawn — to that massive, protruding bulge that does indeed resemble the schnoz of a blobfish, but if we want to be more charitable, we can also liken it to a shark:

I guess Lexus’s designers were going for aggression and force, but it looks squinty and grimacy. There’s also that massive, hard-to-ignore cutline of the hood that feels like something the designers were fighting against, as opposed to working with.

Look how massive that nose section is with the hood open:

It’s just a big object hanging right off the front of the car, and I’m just not sure if I like it, though I expect it does wonders for pedestrian impact regulations, especially in the off chance that it’s made out of a marshmallow.

Around the Corner

Here’s a detail I do like about the new RX:

See that? That’s the passenger-side cornering light! These are worthwhile safety tools, as they do help you to see around corners, which is why this lamp points at what’s close to a 45° angle out from the car. I always appreciate a good cornering lamp.

Side Marker Lamp Attention

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The new RX’s lighting designers gave some good attention to a lamp that rarely gets the love it deserves, the side marker lamp. This rear side marker is large and bold, with a wing-like outer shape that is reinforced with a sort of techno-feather pattern in the reflector itself, giving some nice texture and drama to the rear marker lamp.

After all, what’s the point of side marker lamps if not to bring more drama into the world?

Wheelarch Wonders

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The wheelarches on the 2023 Lexus RX are interesting, too, especially the rear ones, which feature those odd little arched flare/fin things that grow out of them, likely for aero reasons. They’re kind of cool, but they also make everything down there pretty busy.

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Not that the wheelarches needed much help in the busy department, since each is made up of three separate arcing shapes over that wheel, as you can see here. There’s a wide, flat intaglio arc shape, which then has a raised arc shape inside it, which in turn has another flat, wide arc over the wheel. There are at least three separate wheelarch shapes going on here, and I’m feeling like it’s a bit much. If the goal was to flare the fender out and then cut in with the arch, I’m not so sure it worked.

The Taillights

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Well, of course  we’re going to talk about the taillights, or, really, taillight, as Lexus seems to be embracing the lone, full-width heckblended lamp design. The overall design references avian wings at the ends, but the overall shape feels like some flexible material that was stretched to nearly its limit, getting thin in the middle as a result. That puts some interesting tension into the design, and lets the lights act like a binding agent that pins and folds the bodywork into shape.

Also, I think the indicators are amber, and are in the outer lower clear-lens section, with the reverse lamps inset towards the middle.

On other modern Lexus (plural, you see) there’s more daring taillighty experimentation. Look at this:

 

That’s very much a taillight-fin, as seen on the hard-to-Google Lexus UX. Bold stuff.

Where’s The Wiper?

The RX must really be ashamed of its wiper, because it’s hidden very well, under that upper spoiler. Much cleaner solution than the usual mounting at the rear window base.

And Finally Whatever The Hell Is Going On Here

On the Lexus RZ, there’s these very peculiar little horns or ears that grow out of the back of the roof where you’d expect a small wing or something. They’re really quite strange in person, though they do feel sort of vaguely futuristic, like they have some specialized function, maybe re-polarizing the air or some made-up Star Trek shit.

As I said before, modern Lexus design is not boring. I’m not sure I actually like it, though, because it’s also very busy and full of folds and flaps and orifices and wounds and creases and all of these things are just layered atop one another.

Look at that rear quarter on the car right above; you could compare it to Frank Ghery architecture or the result of a fender bender and I think you could be right on both counts.

I’m conflicted. But, I prefer that to being bored.

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57 Responses

  1. While execution varies, I’m really interested in the new “surface as a form” designs that are coming up (I made up that term just now). Like how the grill creates forms by breakup of a surface. Or how the body panels on the back of the McLaren Artura end to create a new form instead of blending into another panel or meeting trim. There are more examples I can’t remember but it seems to be a thing that is happening….

  2. I don’t know how true it is, but in the 1970’s I asked a friend, why are, what could be clean Japanese car designs always messed up with strange details? He said so that when seeing a partial view from a crowded city sidewalk you know what you are looking at. It made some sense to me from that perspective.

    Looking at this half a century later he is not provably wrong.
    As for the top of that grille I’m thinking flattened expanded metal, morphed industrial.

    1. Same. For some reason it put me in mind of waking up from a nap and opening your eyes, only to be treated to an extreme close-up of a goofy-looking mutt of a dog. “Hey! You’re awake now, right? Throw the ball, throw the ball throwtheball!”

  3. Rear roof teeth: similar to the Civic hatchback, my guess is it has to do with aero and creating vortices to mitigate turbulent air coming off the bulbous butt.

    Wheel arch hangnails: I don’t know if these have to do more with aero or tire-coverage regulations. I’m pretty sure many cars have tacked on ‘archlets’ at the rear tires because of regulation requiring a certain percentage tire diameter coverage given certain paramaters, blah blah blah. And the regulation requirement seems to be a bit at the odds of other design considerations for wheel / tire packages and how it ends up relating to the final body shape, so these little archlets show up on a lot of cars. Or maybe it’s aero. I really don’t know.

    Wheel arch neatness: there’s a specific subsection of wheel arches and no mention how the air skirt porting from the front bumper leads to a outlet slit that runs just forward of the front wheel arch? Only the new Ferrari SUV has attempted a similar ‘hidden’ vent incorporated into the front wheel arch. For shame for the oversight!

    1. So I went to a couple of the body and paint groups I hang out at and the responses were not very concise. Probably be a replacement and there’s a sensor behind the emblem so that adds to the cost. Some said $2-2500 others as much as 6 or 7 which is apparently what a new Camry front end repair can run.
      In the end it devolved into “Insurance covers it so who cares?”

      1. Kind of what I expected to hear – The big question is when will insurance companies start caring. We ended up with gigantic bumpers in 1973 because insurance lobbyists were upset at high repair costs on low speed collisions. There’s gotta be some angry insurance companies ready to push for change again.

  4. I agree that these are aggressive looking. The last version took awhile for me to get used to. But I’ll tell you who does like them for whatever reason and will probably like this version too and that’s my wife. And I bet that goes for a lot of the ladies out there. And that is probably what they want.

  5. I like the design, but Im waiting to hear how it drives. I’ve got a 2015 RX, and its certainly the most comfortable and reliable car I’ve owned. But its pretty boring to drive. I’d love to get the plug-in hybrid version of this – or the Cadillac Lyriq. Big decision.

  6. I suppose the purpose of the fins on the trailing edge of the roof is to “look fast.”

    It’s like someone pointed to the gestural, trailing lines that are often seen on automotive designers’ drawings and said, “But… what if we kept those?”

  7. Oh Torch, knowing your, uh, “thing” for taillights, I knew you would miss the spelled out “L E X U S” redesign, although I am sure you covered it elsewhere.
    Interestingly, or not, I bought a 2019 Lexus ES for the chrome goodness on the front and rear of the car, since it reminded me of the unloved 1959 models (an auspicious year for me). I’m glad I did so I don’t have to deal with whatever this is.

  8. Lexus design is the same as current politics:
    Keep giving them worse and worse to see how far down they’ll let us go.
    We don’t need big-ass grills so let’s give them fake big-ass grills.
    We don’t need tons of vents so let’s give them tons of fake vents.
    We’re using huge wheels so we don’t need arches and flairs to make wheel openings look bigger so let’s give them multiple arches and flairs.
    And we keep buying them…

  9. I think it would be very interesting to have Adrian do a review of some of these designs from a pedestrian safety/injury perspective. What thought has been given to the matter, or is this just all styling wankery?

    1. The latter.

      All cars have to pass pedestrian impact/safety regs. So whatever you see, you can assume it’s as safe as legislation dictates. This has resulted in higher noses/hoods because the bodywork has to be a certain distance away from hard points underneath. However some manufacturers manage this better than others.

      Lexus never had their own strong identity like other luxury brands (because they didn’t have years of heritage). They started off copying other OEMs and tarting up Toyotas so they’ve had to come up with something of their own. Now they’re distinctive but far from good looking, but a Lexus doesn’t sell on it’s appearance per se – they sell on reliability, dealer experience, build quality. But, they do have a unique identity which is important for customers, even if the looks are challenging.
      What’s interesting is in the UK (which is a far less value obsessed market than the US, and much more snobbish and fashion focused) Lexus are nowhere.

  10. No gigantic logo presiding between the taillights! I hope it is a sign of this finally going out of fashion. Mercedes and BMW can stay. Everybody else, please follow suit.

  11. Why don’t they just give us the damn Lexus LM. It seats like 12 and half people, and it’s donor vehicle (the Alphard) was already designed to look like Optimus Prime walking out of a steamy chrome sauna. If the marketing team is worth half a shit, they would know to simply market it as a crossover and don’t mention MPV or mini-van in the name, it will sell like hotcakes. They could even take inspiration from the ol’ Microbus and slap a 9″ lexus badge right smack dab in the center of the shark’s maw. US UNCOUTH ‘MERCIANS WOULD BUY IT.

  12. Imagine how many more of these they’d sell if they didn’t look so shitty.

    My natural upsell is a Lexus, because my Toyota has been pretty much incredible during my ownership. But I won’t go there.

    I mean, sure, the more modest version of spindle grilles have grown on me a little, and simply don’t look good instead of looking offensively ugly.

    I know people who have bought Porsche and Audi SUVs, and one who bought a Jaguar F-Pace, in large part because of the spindle grille.

    It’s like they’re trying to commit suicide by design, but can’t succeed at it because their cars are so mechanically sound. And now they’ve upped their efforts.

  13. Lexus design feels a bit like, If what you’re saying makes no sense, you’re not making it any clearer by shouting. Also I do wonder if those small wings/lips on the rear wheel arches are due to regulations and not aero. Quite a few cars have them, and they all look like an afterthought. Worst is probably the Mercedes EQC.

  14. I look at those strange little nubs coming off the back of the roof and I can only draw one comparison:

    Those stubby little proto-fins that started to appear on American cars around 1954-55. By the end of that decade, those little stylistic body extensions had ballooned into the very prominent fins epitomized by cars like the DeSoto and the Cadillac DeVille.

    You heard it here first. In five years all SUV’s will have giant roof fins that would make Batman proud.

  15. The edges of the front grille look like the long-hair trimmer on an electric razor.
    I actively fight against getting old and cranky but I find that to be a losing battle with most car designs in the past 5 years or so and for Lexus in particular you can go back to whenever the spindle face was introduced.

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