The LF-Sh is gorgeous. For a company whose reputation is based on it being derivative of the worlds best, that says something:Lexus is getting serious about creating its own style and design.
Naysayers may point to the LF-Shs flared hips and shoulders, its upraised tail, and say it is a regurgitation of Chris Bangles flame surfacing treatment that now adorns BMWs. Perhaps. But even a moderately discerning eye will glean this as an improvement to Lexus products, one being defined in-house as incorporating the L-finesse theme. (Dont ask a Lexus person what L-finesse means. If you do, you will hear design gibberish coupled with ethereal speak that will make your head hurt.)
An aside: Isnt it interesting that both Mercedes-Benz and Lexus have followed down the concave-convex-concave surface treatment in their creations? Does this vindicate Bangle, whose once avant-garde design was eviscerated with the launch of the stout 7 Series?
Back to the LF-Sh, winner of AutoWeeks Most Significant award at the Tokyo show. The car is significant not just because it represents a shot across the bow of traditional European carmakers flagships (mere months after Mercedes launches its new S-Class) from the worlds wealthiest car company, but because of the power behind it: a hybrid V8. Throw in its homage to Bangle, and it all adds up to big things from Toyotas luxury division.
Without taking a protractor to the concept car on the show stand, few of the LF-shs numbers and dimensions are available to assuage technical junkies. But what is not being said may be just as important.
The show car is fitted with a V8 hybrid system that delivers unprecedented acceleration while attaining impressive fuel economy. To grizzled veterans, this proves LF-Sh is more than a concept; this drivetrain has been undergoing serious validation tests for a while. Would Lexus launch its car with a V8 hybrid only? No way, so there is undoubtedly an entry V8 to go along with it. Todays LS boasts 278 hp and 312 lb-ft of torque from its 90-degree V8; look for the new model to deliver at least 300 horses (probably more), with the hybrid making near 400 hp.
Information in the press kit states the LF-Sh is fitted with all-wheel drive that faithfully transmits this power to the road. Hmmm, now here is something else that will separate a Lexus flagship from its BMW and Mercedes counterparts, a drive system such as that employed by Audi that Lexus has learned works well.
Kazuo Okamoto, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Corp. for strategic product development, is open about the show car. The first-generation [LS] was very difficult to create, Okamoto says. The second and third-generation cars played off the basic platform and were improvements on that, he admits. With this fourth-generation, Okamoto says, I would like to give some shock to the other manufacturers.
Bold words from an ordinarily humble car company, which can mean only one thing: Look out, guys.
Conventionally, I think our design was a little weak, Okamoto continues. Now we are putting emphasis on design. It has more aggressiveness, a sharpness.
You can be certain a new attention to design is not the only way in which the high-line Japanese automaker will surprise and delight its customers.
All-wheel-drive dynamics, advanced wet-road electronic control systems, and a focus on an enveloping interior environment will welcome owners when the next LS bows (rumors are that will be 2006). Additionally, a long-wheelbase model has been confirmed by outside sources; look for a stretch between three and five inches fitted with the hybrid powerplant.
We want to have Lexus as a prestige brand rather than a luxury brand, Okamoto says. We have to think about Lexus as a global effort.
And thats something else for other carmakers to think about.