Friday, January 27, 2012

Lexus Goes for Baroque

Among the many technical advances over the years related to automobiles has been the capability of stamping sheet steel into increasingly elaborate shapes. Effects that are common today were only remotely possible, say, 60 years ago, and then only for car bodies created by hand at coachbuilding shops such as those thriving in Italy.

Once it is possible to do something, it also becomes possible to over-do it. Such is the case for the Lexus CT Hybrid, a luxury take on the Toyota gas-electric hybrid Prius (Lexus, in case you aren't aware, is a part of the Toyota empire). For more information about the car, here is the official Web site.

From what I glean from the automobile press, Lexus management has been concerned about styling in recent years. Early Lexuses featured smooth, rather bland styling and the brand quickly achieved success thanks to its luxury touches and excellent build-quality, not to mention the then-legendary Toyota reliability. Lexus styling remained bland for a long time while failing to include enough design cues to give the make strong visual identity as compared to rivals Cadillac, Mercedes and BMW.

This styling failure finally began catching up, so in recent years we have seen new Lexus cars sporting more aggressive looks, though nothing yet has emerged that strongly states "Lexus!" when one spies one on the street. The current sedan front end theme, for instance, has a grille with a V'd look and there's a sports model with inward-facing double-Vs on either side of the grille (think >--<). (Hmm. Perhaps those Vs are actually variations on the pinched L-for-Lexus logo found on different parts of its cars. Whatever.)

When Lexus introduced its luxury compact hybrid, as a cure for blandness the poor car got seriously Baroque sheet metal treatment. Baroque enough that the result is a confusing mishmash of curves, angles and planes. Dare we take a look?

It's the rear of the car that bothers me the most.

Working from top to bottom, we find dog-leg curve-reversals for the rear side-windows and for the wrap-around parts of the back window ensemble. Nothing wrong with this in theory, but on the Lexus the two reversals are not well linked and therefore clash. Plus, there an odd little crease from the inflection point of the side window curves running to and then along the lip of the back window's overhanging roofline terminus. This feature is cramped and fussy.

The rear face below the windows is little more than an incoherent set of smallish surfaces forming projections, recesses, lips, voids and Lord knows what other visual chaos. It reminds me of the visual clutter found on early post-World War 2 Japanese cars. The solution to this mess would be a large, controlling form supported by details related to function (the opening for the trunk-lid/5th door, for instance) and visual linkage to shapes and design elements on the adjoining sides.

Finally, there is that bulbous-yet-creased part of the rear bumper's plastic sheathing at the rear corners of the car. At the top is a faint echo of the shape of the wheel well opening that is broken into a drop conforming to the main surface of the bumper sheathing's impact plane. Admittedly a car's corners presents tricky situations for stylist to deal with, but the Lexus staff should have been able to come up with a better resolution. They didn't because, I suspect, they were expected to do some wild and crazy things as part of the scheme to jazz up Lexus styling.

And as for creating a strong styling theme for Lexus? Back to that drawing board, gang.


dearieme said...

A car whose backside you could barely resist kicking: in which it resembles many of its drivers, I dare say.

Peter said...

It looks like a Hyundai or other less-expensive car. Nothing about its styling says "expensive."