A new Lexus compact crossover concept vehicle, the UX Concept, made its world debut at the 2016 Paris motor show, presenting Lexus’ vision for a compact SUV of the future. Designed by ED2, Lexus’ European design centre in the South of France, it marks a new step in the company’s design history.
“The biggest challenge for any designer is always to create something new and original, yet with relevance to both the customer and the brand. Overall, this is a product that gives another hint of the potential for Lexus’ design approach to satisfy those criteria; the expression of a progressive, strong, yet artistic and premium product which further enhances Lexus’ unique and challenging brand position.”
– Simon Humphries, President ED2
The UX Concept powerfully reinterprets Lexus’ design signatures and reflects the brand’s determination that each of its models should have a unique, stand-alone character with a strong concept behind it, represented by its powerful, inside-out design concept and deconstructed interior styling.
This strong design is combined with imaginative, forward-thinking technologies to provide occupants with a fully immersive experience. This sensation is generated by cockpit ergonomics that flow from the driver’s body, and innovative, three-dimensional HMI technology.
The vehicle also features the first design execution of a breakthrough seat technology, the Kinetic Seat, designed by Lexus in response to a re-evaluation of the principles of car seat occupancy.
The Lexus UX Concept draws on Lexus’ unparalleled expertise in the SUV market. Lexus pioneered the SUV in the 1990s with the RX and LX, combining off-road capabilities with premium luxury for the first time in the auto industry. In 2004, the RX 400h became the world’s first premium hybrid SUV and in 2014 the NX mid-size SUV demonstrated how ‘utility’ can be combined with a striking design.
The premium compact SUV segment is experiencing very high levels of growth, with young customers upgrading in a quest for distinctive styling, a versatile interior and engaging driving experience, and with premium model customers looking to downsize without compromising on comfort, driving position and space, it is destined to become the largest part of the SUV segment.
The UX Concept highlights Lexus’ intention to attract an ever-wider group of new, younger, always-connected urban customers – ‘Urbanites’ – to the brand for the first time.
RADICAL COMPACT CROSSOVER PACKAGING
“Our brief was to create a new genre of compact crossover, a vehicle that could progress the user experience and create something unique from a customer’s point of view. Inspiration came from many sources, but principally from the key phrases representing the character of the car: “robust yet agile” and “in-and-out styling concept”. This comes from one of the Lexus fundamentals, the ‘Yet’ philosophy. We were looking for inspiration representing the synergy of contrasting values, in architecture, fashion design or nature, with a view to fusing lightness and structural, artistic and emotional values.”
– Stefan Rasmussen, Exterior Designer, ED2
The UX Concept is a new kind of four-seat crossover which contrasts the almost brutal appearance and 4×4 presence of an off-roader with a low ground clearance and coupe-like driving position. This reinforces the promise of dynamic performance that’s embedded in the design’s compact packaging.
Unique ‘inside-out’ design concept
“The inside-out concept came from a lot of discussions within the team. We wanted to show the human-centric aspect of the concept in a visually as well as philosophically strong way. A strong symbiosis between the exterior and interior was felt to be important by all the designers involved. It was a key goal to create anticipation from the exterior, which could then have a visual link and expand into the interior.”
– Alexandre Gommier, Interior Designer ED2
A futuristic ‘inside-out’ concept lies at the heart of the design, creating a strong synergy between the exterior and interior styling. In top-view, this is most strongly represented by an X-shaped movement in the architecture from the cabin outwards and vice-versa.
At the front, the wings flow seamlessly into the cabin to form housings for e-mirror screens that display images from door-mounted, rear-facing cameras. The top of the dashboard sits lower than these screens to combine a deconstructed look with excellent forward visibility. At the rear the bodywork again flows into the cabin, where it forms the main structure of the rear seat headrests.
The X-shaped movement from the inside outwards is similarly reinforced by the 4×4 style emphasis of the powerful wings; aerodynamically efficient wheel arch cladding adds a further dimension to the design.
Visible inner skeleton
The ‘inside-out’ styling theme is further emphasised by the wheel arches, roof bars and door cameras. They are all finished in the same material and represent a form of continuous, bone structure; the inner skeleton of the vehicle coming into view as, for instance, the roof bar penetrates the cabin – creating the A-pillar structure – and re-emerges as the door camera mounting.
Highly sculptural, fluid design
“We worked extensively in clay as well as with digital methods, not to be the most efficient, but to be able to achieve the best quality of surfacing and design. Having a highly skilled Takumi clay modelling team on the project allowed us to explore many ways to create the beautiful surface interactions that are a key element in this design’s muscular yet elegant boldness.”
– Stefan Rasmussen, Exterior Designer, ED2
A further evolution of the Lexus spindle grille marks an important step forward, wherein the whole volume surrounding the grille, rather than simply the grille itself, creates the identity of the vehicle; it creates a more three-dimensional starting point which then informs the shape of the bodyshell.
These key external elements are linked together by highly sculptural, sensual surfacing, reminiscent of a classic sports car. This architecture is unique to Lexus, the strong horizontal dynamic of the design achieved through volume rather than merely character lines.
This horizontal quality of the design is further emphasised by the length of the bonnet, while the peak of the cabin is deliberately set far back to create a dynamic, characterful profile.
Even the UX Concept’s body colour has been designed to emphasise the car’s shape. In the absence of character lines, the multi-layered depth of the new Immersive Amethyst paintwork serves to highlight volume changes, giving definition to the sculpture and expressing the car as a volume, rather than simply a line-oriented design.
Innovative design signature details
The ‘inside-out‘ concept is not only reflected in the overall design architecture, but also in numerous details throughout the vehicle, many of which represent a more challenging interpretation of Lexus design signatures.
The L-shaped daytime running lights, traditionally located below the main headlamp structures, have been positioned so that they pierce them. The rear lamp design has a strong three-dimensional treatment and is integrated in the rear spoiler. Together the front and rear lamps create a strong horizontal axis through the vehicle body.
Carrying the daytime running light principle further, light fibres which span the air vents in the extremities of the front bumper relate in form to the grille pattern. The grille’s mesh pattern itself spreads radially outwards from the Lexus emblem and is picked up by the adjacent light fibres, emphasising the car’s width and giving it an even stronger road presence.
Even the tyres – unique to the UX Concept – blur the boundaries of materials technology. A high-tech laser carving process is used to give the tyre design two distinct aspects. The tread pattern has a sports direction, maximising road contact to achieve dynamic grip, while the side wall projects a crossover feel with seamless integration with the wheel design. A section of the wheel continues into the rubber, so that the spokes form a visual joint between different sections of the tyre. The result is a reading of the wheel and tyre as one piece, rather than separate elements.
Unique, see-through A-pillar
A unique, see-through A-pillar is another example of how the boundaries between the exterior and interior are blurred. While a fully transparent polycarbonate A-pillar is feasible, the UX Concept uses polycarbonate fins attached to an aluminium member.
Two perceptions of luxury in a single cabin
The cabin offers two different perceptions of luxury within a single space, reflecting the contrasting external treatments of the front and rear wings.
The front section of the cabin represents agile sophistication and driver engagement; the rear, styled as a welcoming, soft lounge sofa that wraps around into the rear-hinged rear doors, provides the comfort and spaciousness of a robust SUV.
The front and rear are linked by a central axis console unit, designed with a floating effect and extending the full length of the cabin, and by the transparency of the front seat design. The differences between the two parts of the cabin are further reinforced by the interior colour scheme: the front is dark, to communicate a premium, driver-focused environment, while the rear is light and much brighter, to create an attractive and welcoming space.
The second key principle employed in designing the Lexus UX Concept is ‘deconstruction’. This is most powerfully represented in the front of the cabin where, in place of a conventional dashboard, sharp, angular forms overlap and flow past each other to generate a strong interplay of shadows and contrasts, making it difficult to discern where they begin or end and reinforcing the mystery of the ‘inside-out’ approach.
This particularly Japanese approach to design suggests that, to create a fixed point, you simply have to indicate its notional position with converging lines; the brain fills the gaps to create the point in the mind. Such ‘indirect expression’ – the premise that you don’t actually need to be able to see something to understand that it is there – lies at the heart of Lexus’ L-finesse design philosophy.
Within this unique, deconstructed interior, a strong ‘Seat in Control’ principle remains a Lexus brand signature. Furthermore, the area around the front passenger has been deliberately given less priority in the space hierarchy, in order to emphasise the driver’s control of the environment.
Breakthrough seat technology
The UX Concept’s seats are inspired by a new Lexus seat technology, the Kinetic Seat Concept. The aim is to further enhance the driver experience and the feeling of cabin spaciousness and transparency. The Kinetic Seat Concept is explained in detail in an earlier media release.
IMAGINATIVE 3D TECHNOLOGY
In a development of Lexus’ dual-zone instrumentation approach, all the UX Concept’s on-board HMI technology has been designed to provide an innovative three-dimensional driver experience, well-suited to progressive customers who live and work in an increasingly connected environment.
The strong 3D feel of the instrumentation is a further example of the radical deconstruction techniques used in the UX Concept, as witnessed in the in and out flow of the meters – near for air conditioning, far for navigation – making the cabin space feel larger.
For example, the upper display is projected in such a way that it appears to sit in the far distance, under the bonnet, making for easy viewing when driving. The driver’s instrument binnacle houses a transparent globe, which floats like a hologram, displaying a combination of analogue and digital information in a user interface that is functional, yet unexpected.
A faceted crystal structure is located in the centre console, providing a hologram-style display of air conditioning and infotainment information, clearly visible to both driver and front seat passenger.
Latest advances in electrical technology
The Lexus UX Concept also displays some of the latest advances in electrical technology, using electrochromatic windows and replacing conventional door mirrors with much slimmer e-mirror camera housings.
Left and right side e-mirror images are displayed on internal screens, integrated in a way that is not simply a design detail, but which informs the entire ‘inside-out’ deconstructed architecture of the dashboard.
All the switchgear is electrostatic and housed beneath transparent covers. The front seat passenger experiences the instrument panel in a different way to the driver, using a separate centre display track pad control built into the door armrest panel.
Finally, the fin motif of the A-pillar is repeated in a new audio experience targeting younger Lexus customers – a demountable sound bar built into the side of the dashboard.
A new approach to driving ergonomics
In a new departure for Lexus’s HMI concept, the cockpit area’s ergonomic design flows from the driver’s body, via the seat, up to the steering wheel, rather than from a traditional dashboard layout.
Combined with the innovative three-dimensional HMI technology, this approach creates a uniquely immersive driving experience.