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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
I hope this gaping-mouth grille kick is done with before too long. Looks like it was dreamed up by a bunch of 14-year-olds.
The new spindle-beak makes me think of Acura models from ten years ago – but not in a good way.
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.
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?”
Those are speed lines!
What happens is sometimes in our sketches we don’t totally clean up the line work, so the sketch looks looser and has a bit more life and drama to it.
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.
I wonder if they are going to put one LED per side in the tail lights or splurge for two per side.
That’s the nicest truck’ish front I’ve ever seen on a non-truck.
All I can see is the Thompson and Thompson Tintin character. Big nose, squinty eyes with the rest of the face covered by a giant mustache.
Man I hate it. I would love to pick up a used Lexus for their reliability, etc, but they are so damn ugly.
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…
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?
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.
If they flattened the nose so it slopes up to the hood after the grille ends it wouldn’t look half bad… I’m not quite sure what they were thinking.
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.