Sublime to Ridiculous

Taking lessons in style and taste from Japan. 

(c) Lexus.com

Today’s Sunday sermon comes as something of a compare and contrast. Admittedly it also lays itself open to accusations of shooting fish in a barrel, but I’m prepared to take that risk. Here at Driven to Write, we have something of a soft spot for underdogs. However, some are more equal than others, and in the case of Lexus and in particular, the flagship LC 500, its continued lack of appeal to European eyes is mystifying.

In the year to June, the LC posted perhaps the greatest sales drop (58.5%) of any make or model across Europe. Which is proof, if proof were required that people’s taste is in their… well, perhaps you ought to complete that sentence for yourself.

Meanwhile, at the recent Los Angeles international motor show, Lexus announced the LC 500 Convertible, which had previously only been seen in concept form. What took them so long is a question I wouldn’t blame you for asking, especially once you cast your gaze upon the thing – because frankly it’s a stunner.

According to Lexus’ press release, a refreshingly competent piece of writing by comparison with its German opposition, Lexus engineers, as one might have expected, did their homework. Unsprung weight has been reduced in the front suspension to account for subtle changes in weight distribution over that of the coupé, while the rear suspension brace tower has been relocated. The brace itself is now made of die-cast aluminium to reduce weight.

(c) Lexus.com

Spring rates have also been revised to improve ride comfort. Beneath the bonnet, the 5.0 litre, direct injection V8, developing 471 bhp at 7,100 rpm and 398 lb/ft of torque, and mated to a 10-speed direct-shift automatic transmission is unchanged.

The alterations from coupé to convertible are striking insofar as they serve to make an already handsome design appear even more harmonious and better resolved than of yore – the LC joining the ranks of cars which take on another life entirely as drop-tops. To facilitate the conversion, changes were as one might expect, comprehensive. The most obvious being revisions to the boot area, where the profile is raised slightly and the rear spoiler has been broadened.

Now of course, styling is a subjective area, but in comparison to its competition, the LC 500 simply wipes the floor in terms of visual impact, surfacing, stance, and outright desirability – and that is before we get to matters of probable durability, finish, to say nothing of customer service. In the United States, they seem to understand this and there the LC sells in (one imagines) sustainable numbers. Here in Europe, their equivalents favour instead the chintz-palace S-Class Coupé, or the Capri-on-Steroids 8-Series. More fool them say I.

(c) Lexus.com

Now the above title did promise an element of the ridiculous, and who am I to deny you? This week, Mercedes formally announced the introduction of the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600, the production version of last year’s Ultimate Luxury concept – a vehicle so nakedly, distressingly ostentatious as to elicit anaphylactic shock in anyone unfortunate enough to behold it. And while we’re becoming inured to this parade of vulgar trinkets for the over-remunerated, that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s quite beneath contempt on just about any level one cares to mention.

(c) TTAC

Even more disheartening is this. Mercedes-Maybach’s Director of Product Management, Martin Hülder asserts that since its re-launch in 2014, over 45,000 Mercedes-Maybach branded S-Classes have been delivered worldwide. In fact, 2018 was its best ever year, with one in seven S-Class cars sold being of the be-Maybached variety. It will surprise almost nobody that a certain far-East command economy is where the bulk of these devices have ended up. Lucky them.

But not wishing to close on such a downbeat note, and because we haven’t heard that much from him of late, I proffer this nugget of insight from the stable genius of Carlsbad C.A. “The Mercedes-Maybach brand represents ‘Ultimate Luxury’ in its most contemporary, purest form”, says Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer at Daimler AG. “The brand’s style is embodied in sublime beauty, supreme aesthetics and elegance. In order to define the luxury of the future, we are taking the concept of Sensual Purity to the next level and transforming ourselves from a premium manufacturer to the world’s leading design brand.”

Ah Gorden, so nice to have you back. But do us a favour matey-boy and go study that Lexus. Study it well. And then maybe we’ll talk…

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

20 thoughts on “Sublime to Ridiculous”

  1. lexus is a brand without historical heritage, they can design what they want, it can be an advantage as a disadvantage, and they still have a model like the lexus ct 30 on the price list, inside it has buttons that would fit on a car of 10 years ago. and the exterior has lines in my opinion without any congruence. the Japanese should buy some design studios in italy that will soon have even less to do.

    1. Good morning, Eóin. The Mercedes-Maybach GLS600 is, of course, an abomination, but I’m afraid I can’t share your unbridled enthusiasm for the Lexus LC500 convertible. Certainly it looks stunning in those moodily lit photos above, but here’s a more realistic view:

      Its smoothness of line and relative lack of superfluous ornamentation is commendable, but there’s a fundamental problem with the way the body is “pinched” inward immediately aft of the doors, before broadening out again. This has the effect of making the rear end look enormous and it also appears to be sagging from the “pinch point” rearwards.

      The Jaguar F-type convertible, admittedly unencumbered by the need to accommodate a metal folding roof, is so much better resolved in this regard, IMHO:

    2. Car design doesn’t get much more Japanese than the Lexus LC500 in that the car’s overall appearance is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

      Some details – many details, in fact – are outstanding and crafted to an extent that would make Bentley designers blush. And then there are those awkward solutions to certain stylistic components that appear simply woefully amateurish (with the way the in which the a-pillar is supposed to – but doesn’t – flow into the front wing deserving special mention).

      Despite these significant shortcomings, I’d take the Lexus over the consistently horrible Mercedes SL every day of the week, come rain or shine.

    3. Hi Daniel,

      I don’t mind the pinched look starting after the door. If it’s done nicely, it can add a little something to the mix. Peugeot has been using that pinched look over the years and currently its designers are often talking about using it (see the latest 2008 and 208) to emphasise the svelte and feline side of the design. The 306 had that pinched middle and widening towards the back, I hated it in the beginning but came to appreciate it after a while.

    4. Now that I’ve seen Daniel’s picture the Lexus reminds me of the Porsche 944 Cabriolet

    5. Hi NRJ. It’s not the “pinch” in itself I find unsatisfactory. Quite the opposite, in fact and the Peugeot 306, a very well resolved design, used it very effectively, as does the Jaguar F-Type. In the case of the Lexus, I think it exaggerates the size of the already large tail, and the car appears to be kinked in the middle, at least in the photo I posted. Anyway, I’ve banged on long enough about this and accept that it may only be me who sees it!

      Incidentally, I know why you see a resemblance to the 944 Cabriolet. It’s the additional lines caused by clumsy looking capping over the Porsche’s rear wings, which was, I assume, an expedient way to convert the standard coupé bodyshell. This was a bit of a shocker, especially on an expensive car from a manufacturer with a reputation for excellence:

    6. Here is a crude outline of what I think the designers were attempting to achieve with the A-pillar, this notion thwarts expectations and mainstream practise, where the A-pillar is either seen as separate from the lower body, or (per more recent practice) carries a structural significance from which the overall structural integrity of the shape is assumed to derive from. But this is something else.

      By definition the intended “flow” then fails completely to translate to the convertible where the line is cut to a remnant, an incomplete idea, a non-sequiter.

      I find many other problems too at the rear, some already commented on. With a classical sculpture one could imagine say the absent nose of the Sphinx or the arm of Venus, but this puzzle isn’t classical sculpture. Gestalt cannot solve for the missing parts because the coupe is so daring, unique and unexpected that it doesn’t work when a large percentage is removed. I love the coupe with passion, but the convertible version just falls apart.

      I postulate that this design owes more to origami than to Occidental form language, perhaps imagine taking a scissors to an origami crane.

    7. Addendum to my above comments: my marked up coupe image illustrates the A-pillar as part of a sinuous river which flows between two banks.

      And pondering the 944 example, which like a beheaded Citroën XM merely fails, there are some sacred designs of stunning beauty which absolutely cannot be beheld following decapitation without inducing a deep sense of sadness if not outright disgust. This DeTomaso Mangusta, for example IMO is criminal.

      http://www.carstyling.ru/Static/SIMG/420_0_I_MC_jpg_W/resources/studio/66ghia_detomaso_mangusta_spyder_3.jpg?261225FB2B211D1F89222C7BBCF65A1E

      http://www.carstyling.ru/Static/SIMG/420_0_I_MC_jpg_W/resources/studio/66ghia_detomaso_mangusta_spyder_1.jpg?85FF98E211140CD98A51E1FF6353DF0A

    8. SM, I meant (as a GT, sans queen).

      An expedient XM cabriolet does (or did) exist, no surprises here.

  2. I’m wondering how much LC 500’s are sold. Can’t be many, at least over here, I’ve only seen it once in person. I have a soft spot for the LC 500 coupe. It’s the only car I can think of right now that has a big grille that somehow doesn’t look entirely out of place.

    I have to agree with Daniel here on the convertible, though. I prefer the coupe by a large margin. I’m also in complete agreement with Christopher here about the car’s overall appearance being somewhat less that the sum of it parts. I might even use those words in future reference. Hope you don’t mind me doing so, Christopher. Also I agree about some details being wonderful and some other details at the complete opposite end of the scale. It’s a weird mix this car.

    Also Lexus’ infotainment system must be one of the worst out there. My only experience with it is on IS and ES models that two of my friends are driving and they don’t like it either. Not sure how this influences sale figures, but in my surroundings the infotainment system is one of the few, if not the only thing, non-car people talk about on the subject of cars.

  3. As I mentioned in my earlier article Nut Job, I am fan of the coupé and now also this beauty. I’m also with Christopher in that I’d have one of these over anything with a Star on it’s big front. Daniel, I disagree with you. That “pinch “ point gives it (to me) strength along with grace that I think the F type doesn’t have. But what would I know? Perhaps both variants will make decent, off the wall second hand purchases? As Eóin alludes to, you’d be driving an underdog for sure. I’m happy with that.

    1. Good afternoon, Andrew.

      “But what would I know?” Certainly as much, and probably a lot more than me on all matters automotive! Looks are subjective, of course, but I can’t “unsee” my initial impression that the LF has bent upwards at that pinch point because of the weight of its enormous a**e pivoting around the rear axle. It’s probably just me, though, and it looks worse from that high rear three-quarter angle because the sill flares out as well as down aft of the pinch point, exaggerating the effect. Side on, it’s less noticeable.

      Speaking of secondhand purchases, F-Type prices, even Jaguar Approved examples, make painful reading for anyone who bought one new for cash. With hindsight, I’m even more relieved that I flipped mine (for a loss!) three years ago.

  4. Nice one, Daniel for that fillip. Not so nice for loosing cash on a favourite (at the time) car though, ouch!
    As for the main picture, Lexus USA are offering a one off Inspiration Series at the Barret-Jackson auction in Arizona on 17th January 2020. The colour is structural blue and will have extras fitted that normal LC’s won’t have. The highest bidder wins and all proceeds will go to charity, apparently. Will I need sunglasses or a fleece?

  5. “… from the stable genius of Carlsbad C.A. ”

    it’s “Carlsbad, CA” actually

    1. Sam: here´s a good one which I discovered in Grenoble:
      https://www.diffordsguide.com/beer-wine-spirits/6052/ln-mattei-cap-corse-rouge
      I´ve tried Noilly Prat rouge too. Dolin red still wins in the taste and value for money stakes. The peculiar thing with NP rouge is that you can´t really sense the maturation (most vermouths aren´t aged). The LN Mattei is distinctive without being wierd. It also has a cracking label design. Noilly Prat´s is a bit fussy.

    2. @ Richard: lovely. It looks suitably old school, like something my grand-parents would have been enjoying while on holidays in the 1950’s.

      @ Christopher: I can’t help it, I was born like this.

    3. Since I was travelling cattle class I had no chance to take back a bottle. Someone sells it here in Denmark. There´s only me drinking vermouth at home so it takes a while to get through the backlog. Still, the bottle is worth having for the graphics alone.

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