It comes two decades after Lexus debuted the RX at the same motor show, in Detroit - a vehicle it claims is still the segment’s top seller despite nearly 50 new competitors lobbing since then (it’s #5 in Australia).
Lexus claims the LF-1 Limitless envisages fully autonomous driving - an area where the Toyota Group demonstrated its prowess last week at CES - and says the production model could be powered by fuel cells, a plug-in hybrid powertrain, or be fully electric.
In fact, tucked within the press release is a line claiming that by about 2025, every Lexus in the world will be either a dedicated electrified model or have an electrified option.
You may recall parent company Toyota’s wider plan announced in December, to have electrified powertrains across its range by 2025, and to sell more than 5.5 million such vehicles annually by 2030, including one million with zero carbon-dioxide emissions.
Lexus also boldly calls the LF-1 Limitless “a new genre of luxury vehicle”, though concepts such as the Mercedes-Benz EQ, Genesis GV80 and Audi Q8, plus the production Tesla Model X, leave one a little skeptical of this bold claim, right?
Regardless, it’s hard to argue that this Lexus concept is likely to polarise fewer people than other recent effort such as the Concept UX small SUV. This is one sleek and handsome crossover that showcases what the company's future holds.
Credit goes to the design team at Toyota’s CALTY site in California for the job. The company calls the elegant look “molten katana” – fusing the shape of liquid molten metal with the sharp edges of a traditional Japanese sword, called a katana. Cool!
CALTY Design Research president Kevin Hunter said: “This is our vision for a new kind of flagship vehicle that embraces crossover capability without giving up the performance and luxury delivered by today’s top sedans”.
The LF-1’s exaggerated dash-to-axle ratio (long bonnet, short front overhang) gives it a distinctive profile, abetted by the 22-inch wheels under big fenders. The sunken cabin also allows a low roofline, belying the elevated ride height.
Like all current Lexus models, the ‘spindle’ grille is a core element to the overall design. This massive iteration features a three-dimensional design with colours developed in-house.
Ridges radiating away from the central emblem suggest “magnetism guiding metal filings into shape”, Lexus reckons, adding that there is no chrome as the LF-1 instead uses LED lighting around the grille that greets you on arrival. Not very ‘traditional’ USA.
Continuing the design-speak, the LF-1’s profile has “a clearly defined flow from front to rear starting with the fender line that extends from the bonnet all the way to the bottom of the D pillar.
“That line contrasts with the more complex surfaces below it like the wide, crisply creased front fender that transitions to the smooth, deeply scalloped front door. From there, the bodywork slowly builds back out again to envelop the rear wheel, giving the LF-1 a contoured shape evocative of classic muscle cars,” Lexus added.
Classic muscle car shape? Hmmm.
At the rear, the openings at each corner might look like exhaust pipes, but they’re actually vents for the air coming past the rear wheels. The shoulders above those wheels provide sturdy mounts for the sculptural tail lights that extend outwards.
Above the lights is the big expanse of glass that extends over the rear seats to offer an uninterrupted view of the scenery thanks to that nifty split spoiler on each side.
Inside, the cabin embraces another expression derived from Japanese tradition: omotenashi, or hospitality.
Analogue knobs and buttons have been removed in favour of motion-activated controls and a minimalist display directly ahead. The front passenger space is far more open, with even fewer controls and a wide unobstructed dashboard.
Those in back get the same seats as those in front, with ample legroom and display screens for adjusting the climate control or entertainment options.
The metallic interior trim is finished in the same tinted titanium colour as the exterior, but with a satin finish for what is dubbed a warmer feel. Accents around the instrument panel and on the steering wheel further enhance the cockpit feel for the driver.
“Additional metallic accents throughout the interior contrast with the dark Cocoa Bean leather trim and seats covered in Chiffon White perforated leather,” a verbose Lexus adds.
Hitting the start button initiates a dramatic lighting sequence that differs depending on which of the several available driving modes is engaged. For a more subtle effect, the wooden door trim has tiny perforations that allow indirect light from miniature LEDs to shine in a variety of colours that complement the more direct overhead lights.
Driving-wise, the LF-1’s Chauffeur mode apparently allows for hands-free operation thanks to the vehicle’s by-wire steering, braking, acceleration, lights and signals.
For traditional driving, all powertrain controls are on the steering wheel to keep the driver focused on the road. Paddles mounted to the steering wheel control the transmission in manual mode for sporty driving, while buttons on the lower section of the steering wheel engage standard drive mode options like park and reverse.
There is also a ‘four-dimensional navigation’ system that can suggest fuel stops, rest breaks and restaurants, and even offer to make hotel reservations. Like Google’s Waze app on ‘roids.
Navigation and route information are displayed on the in-dash monitor, the rear seat entertainment screens, or wirelessly connected to passengers’ tablets and smartphones.
Touch-responsive haptic controls provide an interface with the 4D navigation system and the comfort/entertainment systems. A touch-tracer pad embedded in the leather-covered centre console supports character recognition for data entry.
An additional haptic controller in the rear-seat centre console allows passengers to make their own comfort and entertainment choices. We hope it works in less polarising fashion than Lexus’ current touchpad system on its road cars.
Lexus LF-1 Limitless specifications