Lance Scott, general design manager at ED2, Lexus’s Nice-based European design studio, is waxing lyrical about the brand’s latest concept car. “We focused on creating an intelligent urban vehicle,” he says, excitement notable. “A compact package that expresses a new user experience and a focus on driving pleasure.”
Scott is standing with a small team of designers in a cavernous, brightly lit ED2 showroom, and in front of him is a full-scale prototype of the Lexus LF-SA, the brand’s first small-scale luxury vehicle. The experience he’s talking about is one of excitement and thrill. Dismayed that, among urbanites, escapism is often reserved for the weekends, Scott and his team designed a vehicle that would bring adventure to the everyday lives of city drivers.
“We made a car that allows the user to enjoy the driving experience but ensures their safety on the road in any conditions,” Scott explains. LF-SA drivers, he says, will feel protected and confident behind the wheel – whether they’re navigating through busy city streets or exploring farther afield.
The LF-SA was showcased at the Geneva International Auto Show earlier this year, and the release was timely. Lexus, which has been discussing a vehicle of this ilk for the past decade, realized that now was the time to bring the urban adventure concept to light. “This car’s quite a radical step,” Scott says. “It’s a statement of intent of the future. Small cars are very important, especially in the European market. We wanted to rethink what the small car of the future would be.”
In design and styling, the LF-SA takes its cues from a design philosophy common to all Lexus products. It features a spindle grille – a now recognizable brand feature – and various signature L motifs, notably in the lights. But still, the vehicle stands apart from other cars in the range. “This is not simply a downsized version of an existing Lexus product,” says Laurent Bouzige, who designed the LF-SA’s exterior form. “We thought afresh about what a small Lexus should look like and how it should be used. In the end, we created a safe and compact vehicle unique in driver experience and design.”
The LF-SA’s exterior is unique. The vehicle appears condensed, but its surfacing is amped up, sometimes audaciously, to ensure that the driver within feels secure while maneuvering on busy city streets. Protective cladding and an edgy beltline between the front hood and the rear window make the car seem dynamic but safe, bringing to mind the exterior of a hard-wearing cocoon. The LF-SA is small, sure, but it is far from petite or demure. It looks and drives big.
Similar considerations for safety and experience are obvious within the cabin. Here, the driver’s position has been prioritized; he or she sits in command at the center of the vehicle’s architecture. Elements in the cabin – the steering wheel, for example – slide forward and back electrically, so they can be adjusted to accommodate the driver rather than the other way around. And passengers are given space, too, enveloped by arching panels that provide a roominess that is surprising given the vehicle’s modest size. This car is compact, but everywhere there are suggestions of expansion.
The LF-SA is tentatively slated for release, but not for a decade or so. By then, Scott believes, the everyday driving experience will be different. “Society in the future will be profiting from advances in Internet and IT technology,” he says. “However, in a future of overwhelming information flow, smart tech, and virtual values, the human mind will need an analog, personal touch.” For this reason, many of the details in the LF-SA will appeal to the human senses – think genuine, timeless materials woven into the architecture of the car by skilled craftspeople. And with the onset of telepresence and the reduced need in the necessity for urban travel, the driving experience will be considered more of a personal, adventurous leisure activity – one to savor and enjoy. In the future, few cars will be as appropriate for that experience as this one.