Until very recently, if you were to walk into most any Lexus dealership your heart would not suddenly begin to beat faster due to excitement. For the most part, Lexus hasn’t delivered much of the same “wow” factor that competing brands such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW routinely provide, relying instead on precision design and peerless quality to entice customers. That’s been a winning formula for the brand thus far.
But changes for Toyota’s luxury marque are underfoot, beginning with sharper styling across most model lines and the brand’s first ever turbocharged engine. Although there isn’t a single manual transmission to be had, rumors that Lexus is developing a dual-clutch transmission for the RC F sports car persist.
The Top-of-the-Line Lexus LS
One of the most significant changes may soon appear at the marque’s apex. The Lexus LS was the first model introduced and is also the flagship for the brand. This full-size sedan is nearing the end of its fifth generation. A new model is in the planning stages and a huge hint of what that vehicle may look like was revealed at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show this fall. The LS competes with the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The auto show model was the Lexus LF-FC flagship concept, what the company describes as “a visionary new vehicle that offers a peek into the design and technology direction of the brand’s future flagship sedan.” The style is unlike anything Lexus has offered before, but the same can be said for its technology as it is a fuel cell car.
Sleek, Muscular Design
The concept’s design is as provocative as it is evocative. Its front fascia offers a familiar take on the current Lexus mesh grille design theme, but it adds such elements as dual LED accent lighting for a more threatening look. The hourglass design of the grille makes for a larger lower section, which is offset by distinctive embrasures.
That’s only the beginning of the design drama for the concept Lexus. Its profile is long, sleek and distinctly coupe-like. Strong shoulders, a flowing roofline, a rising beltline, distinctive character lines and body sculpting are present.
But it’s when you train your eyes on the rear section that you see just how out of the ordinary this sedan truly is. Indeed, it looks like a designer went overboard with a knife, creating the largest embrasures even seen on a rear fascia. These pockets are accented by upper and lower L-shaped wraparound lights with chrome embellishments splitting the two. The rear lighting design seems like an upscale version of the Toyota Mirai — a fuel cell vehicle now in production.
Room for Four
Inside, the cabin offers expansive room for four. That’s one less seat placement than the current LS, which is one of the roomiest models on the market. The cutting edge interior setting provides openness to ensure that the driver does not feel constrained in his bid to experience improved connectivity with the road. When viewed at eye level, the front seats appear to have a “floating” design, while the rear seats are designed for maximum comfort.
Today’s luxury models feature the latest and most innovative tech features, and Lexus Enform should be named among them. The LF-FC concept features what Lexus describes as an “advanced human machine interface” that’s controlled by hand gestures. Specifically, a small holographic image on the center console enables the interface to decipher your hand gestures, allowing you to manage the climate and audio systems.
Fuel Cell Powertrain
Beyond the sharp exterior lines and the futuristic interior, it’s what powers the LF-FC concept that may offer the most significant departure for any Lexus to date.
In particular, the LF-FC is a fuel cell concept, an electric vehicle with a hydrogen power source. Toyota Motor Corporation, a pioneer in all things gas-electric hybrid, is now pouring billions of dollars into developing hydrogen cars. The company is also working with other manufacturers and local governments to build out a fueling infrastructure, which is currently limited to about a dozen stations located primarily in Southern California.
The LF-FC makes use of a fuel cell powertrain system to turn the rear wheels. The concept is also outfitted with two in-wheel electric motors in the front, making this sedan all-wheel drive. In effect, the system supplies even torque distribution between the front and rear wheels to deliver effective steering and exceptional stability.
With any alternative fuel vehicle, weight distribution can be a challenge. Lexus may have solved the problem by placing the fuel-cell stack at the rear of the vehicle, the power control unit at the front, and by placing the hydrogen fuel tanks in a T-formation underneath to optimize front and rear weight distribution. That balance is a requirement for a sports sedan, which is what the LF-FC concept represents.
From Concept to Production?
Now the question that begs an answer is this one: Will Lexus build the LF-FC concept? Some analysts believe the styling elements — inside and out — have an excellent chance of being applied to the sixth-generation LS due out in about two years.
As far as the hydrogen powertrain, that makes for a more significant leap than what some people think is feasible right now, but certainly not for engineering reasons. In two years, California’s hydrogen fueling structure should be well on its way toward reaching 100 stations. As for the rest of the country, no national initiative is in place. Without the fueling stations, widespread availability of a fuel cell model does not make sense.
So look for the next generation LS to debut dressed in LF-FC garb with a conventional drivetrain available nationally. A hydrogen variant may be available in select markets, particularly in California. That’s the kind of change that should go a long way in raising the “wow” factor in Lexus showrooms.