As Germany’s full-sized luxury GTs lurch further into decadence and creative atrophy, we appraise (and praise) a Lexus.
Heritage has become something of a double edged sword for carmakers nowadays. On one hand, it acts as emotional anchor for a marque’s visual identity, and employed with sensitivity and skill, lends a tremendous richness to what marketers might choose to describe as the ‘brand narrative’.
On the other hand however, the anchor analogy can also have a regressive influence, dragging the marque backwards, preventing designers from updating or reinventing a set of visual cues which may over time have lost relevance.
It’s as yet unclear to what extent BMW’s masters have elected to jettison their design heritage, but recent ‘model actions’ have lent some compelling hints in this direction. Looking at the new 8-Series’ wholesale acquisition of stereotypical GT styling cues, a cynic might be tempted to suspect BMW’s designers have been down to their local Cues ‘R Us superstore and piled their shopping trolley with as much as it would bear.
As custodians of the marque, BMW has of course every right to do with it as they see fit. However, with a heritage spanning over half a century, it requires a deft touch to successfully dismantle it. But more to the point, it also requires something meaningful to put in its place.
Lexus on the other hand, suffers no such baggage. Created thirty years ago from a Toyota skunkworks programme, the most credible Japanese luxury car brand extant has no visual heritage to draw upon, allowing them considerable creative freedom. That they initially chose visual conformity was perhaps a consequence of an innate caution, given the quantum leap they were taking in 1988.
That they have since chosen a vastly more confrontational visual language is equally understandable, especially in light of the rather staid reputation they since acquired. It’s hardly a contentious statement to suggest that the latest Lexus design theme has been something of a visual affront. Perhaps the best one can say is that it carries the courage of its convictions.
At worst, it’s repellent, but not all cars bearing the L-Finesse roundel are cut from the same cloth. Take the 2017 LC coupé, Lexus’ current flagship. A full-sized luxury GT and the upcoming Achter’s natural rival. Based closely upon a 2014 concept from Toyota’s Californian design studio, the close-coupled 2+2, is aimed at coupés like the Mercedes SL / S-Class Coupé and Maserati GranTurismo.
Large GTs such as these provide a suitably generous canvas for designers to render their styling themes full expression, yet of late, creditable designs in this arena have been puzzlingly sparse. Yet I would contend that the LC is the most visually impressive exponent of the latterday GT breed, embodying Lexus’ current design themes, but embodying them in perhaps its most coherent manner.
That is not to suggest that it is beautiful – you may well contend that it is ugly – but regardless of one’s view of it as an aesthetic object, the LC is supremely well executed. Characterised by relatively unadorned forms, interrupted by abrupt transitions and striking graphics, the Lexus is jarring, but these transitions are so well handled that combined with its short overhangs, superbly judged stance and tightly controlled proportions, the big (and rather portly) LC carries off an athleticism that BMW attempted and has abjectly failed to achieve.
What the LC offers and what its more storied rivals cannot, is a genuine sense of modernity. A car where heritage is irrelevant and where, instead of shamelessly appropriating from the grand turismo styling handbook, Lexus’ design team have furrowed their own stylistic path and created, I would argue (and will probably be flayed alive for doing so), the design-literate’s choice in this rarefied class.
One might argue that it’s a pity Lexus’ designers didn’t see fit to rein in some of the more needless detail design, particularly around the head and tail lamps, but I choose to see them instead as flourishes, in the manner perhaps of an ostentatious signature.
I’m interested less in how it compares on a dynamic or practical level to its European rivals – contemporary reports cite fine handling and performance (at least if the 5.0 litre V8 is specified). On the demerit side, confusing infotainment, a poor ride and a lack of interior space in its beautifully crafted interior are disappointments, but as an ownership proposition, it’s difficult to imagine it being a painful experience.
Bold, bracingly visceral in its visual audacity, yet somehow the LC doesn’t repel. Viewed purely as a piece of automotive sculpture, the Lexus is a blessed relief, visual nourishment in a landscape growing ever more barren and bereft of genuine advance. I could not bear to look upon a new 8-Series, let alone sit in one (and I rather doubt BMW will be offering). The LC however, I could stare at for hours and still find something new to enjoy.
Perhaps BMW is correct to cast aside its history. However it’s clear they lack the vision to successfully break with the past. Making a scholarly examination of this car’s design might however represent a good start.
©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.
With thanks to Kris Kubrick for selected images.