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Detroit 2018: Lexus LF-1 Limitless – a future clue?

16 January 2018 | by Chris Maillard

The eye-catching Lexus crossover at the centre of the brand’s Detroit stand has a classic concept look to it at first sight, with its rose-gold/copper exterior and its twinkly fibre-optic interior trim lighting. But once you get a little closer, there’s a surprisingly finished look to the thing; almost as though with a few of the more showy bits subtracted it could slot into the next model line-up. 

It’s quite publicly admitted that this car could closely inform the future design language of Lexus, and its concentration on Japanese design themes is interesting – a parallel to that of its neighbours Nissan under Alfonso Albaisa, who has made no secret of his admiration for the culture and traditions of the marque’s homeland.

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Chief Designer Ben Chang and Senior Creative Designer Aaron Park, interior specialists who worked on the project alongside Toyota rising star Ian Cartabiano (until very recently at Calty on the US West Coast, now off to head up Europe’s ED2 studio) gave us a quick tour. Starting, of course, with the interior.

“The main thinking behind the interior,” said Aaron, “ is to showcase the architectural brace – it’s holding the whole IP and tying everything down, but it also provides a cockpit kind of environment, and showcases the technological marvels that we’ve built in, like the side mirrors that are built into the middle. It’s a seamless way to get the rear view – you don't have to move your head to left and right; it’s right there in front of you.

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“The high-tech takumi style was something we wanted to show off – it’s a Japanese concept of craftsmanship and tradition. For instance, the dark wood elements on the doors have sparkling fibre-optics built in, which will change according to which driving mode you’re in; if you’re in Sport mode the pattern moves faster.”

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“The wooden elements were a lot of work to get done,” admitted Ben.“ The wood was machine-drilled, then we embedded the fibre-optic elements individually, then it was cut to size, and then sanded. A lot of work, but we wanted to showcase the takumi craftsmanship.”

“We also wanted to make it seamless, with no clutter at all,” added Aaron. “The doorhandles are built in, and the control elements are integrated into the leather, so not to distract from the brace, which continues through to the rear, because we wanted to make sure that the rear passengers didn’t feel left out. They have screens and a control centre too.

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“Another signature part, this time on the exterior, is the split spoiler at the rear. The cool thing about the split is that it makes it feel that the glass roof extends all the way down to give a real feeling of space. We wanted to make sure that every occupant experiences the same kind of flavour. That was a challenge, to make each occupant of this car equally important.”

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At the front, the distinctive if somewhat divisive ‘spindle’ grille of the recent Lexus range has been incorporated in a very new way. It features no chrome, and is much more sculpted than the production models. It’s an interesting statement.

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“The spindle grille is an important element on this car,” explained Aaron. “It’s much more of an architectural element, really tied into the  body, and it separates the panels while the headlights are integrated. It goes all the way down the sides of the car and ties it all together. There’s a lot of harmony going on. It’s a real evolution of what our spindle grille could be.

“On the body side, our concept was ‘molten katana’ – a katana is a sword, and it’s very sharp, and molten means that there’s a little bit of movement, a more organic form.  Again, there is something of a link to the LC’s form.

“We wanted to make it feel like a drivers’ car – it’s got the sort of lines you’d see on a high-performance saloon; it has that profile but raised a little.”

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“The LC500 is also here on the stand,” chimed in Ben, “and this car has a strong relationship with it; this crossover is closer to the LC’s sexy image than some of our other cars. We also have SUVs with a rugged, muscular look, but we wanted to meld the LC’s look, its sharp surfacing style, with the crossover style. That will inform the next generation, we hope.

“It's every designer’s dream to see their project on the road, but this is basically a beautiful design exercise which could signal the next design language at Lexus.”

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Detroit 2018