Whether by accident or design (or some fortuitous combination of the two), Lexus marketing has been masterful at keeping advance buzz and Internet articles flowing on its smallest-ever concept car, the LF-Ch
. On 17 August, Lexus released its first teaser
, a single impressionistic rendering in a bright medium blue reminiscent of Spectra Blue Mica, Intensa Blue Pearl or Ultrasonic Blue Mica. Two weeks later, on 1 September, a second official rendering
emerged with a Lexus Europe press release
announcing the carmaker's plans for the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. This time, the rendering, which showed a left-rear-¾-view, was far more detailed, and the exterior color had morphed from blue to a metallic mustard reminiscent of the signature color for the "breadvan" Si hatchback version of the 7th-generation Honda Civic
or the Chrysler Pronto Cruizer concept
that previewed the PT Cruiser. Beyond this point, things start to get murky. There was talk that Lexus would provide further information and photos on Thursday 10 September, five days ahead of the LF-Ch's Frankfurt Press Conference unveiling. Yet, on 7 September, a single photograph of the front appeared on 4WheelsNews.com
(and was duly noted, the next day, on the my.IS Front Page
). The day after that, on 9 September Carscoop
posted ten photos of the LF-Ch, including the first interior shots. Then, a couple of hours later came an unexpected e-mail from Nancy Hubbell of Lexus Public Relations, which read, "We're shooting to have a press release and numerous photos for the LF-Ch available on the Lexus USA Newsroom at about 3:00 PM Pacific Time. This coincides with Lexus Europe's release of info at that time. Keep an eye out for it." So, whatever happened to September 10th? Nancy's e-mail, plus some math and a glance at the world's time zones
provide the answer: 3 PM Pacific Time on Wednesday is 12 Midnight Central European Time on Thursday 10 September, and they were about a half-hour late, so, indeed, the information came, as promised, on September 10th in Europe
So, what is Lexus telling us about the LF-Ch? The company provided both a U.S. Press Release, which appears in the Lexus USA Newsroom
and a European Press Release, which comes to us courtesy of my.IS member TRDFantasy's post on Club Lexus
and also appears on The Lexus Enthusiast
blog. Stay with us, and we'll walk you through Lexus' LF-Ch concept, building on those two press releases and the English-language LF-Ch brochure
that will be handed out at the Frankfurt Show.
The Designers Speak
It is quite notable that the concept version of what is touted as the most Euro-centric Lexus ever was not designed at Toyota's ED2 European Design Studio at Sophia Antipolis in southeastern France, but here in the U.S., at Toyota's Calty Design Research center in Newport Beach, California. Calty's president Kevin Hunter tells us that “The LF-Ch concept is the next evolution of the compact luxury vehicle. We were able to create a beautifully designed hybrid with a deep sense of mystery and intrigue.” Even more eloquent is Design Team Leader Tom Matsumoto, when he informs us that “For the new LF-Ch, we’ve taken our L-finesse design philosophy to the next level. We’ve created something with the highest possible quality and substance as you would expect from Lexus, but it’s younger, bolder, and more dynamic than any Lexus concept before it.”
That is no guarantee, though, that Calty also did the honors for the production Lexus CT 200h. Counterintuitive as it sounds, it is not unheard of for carmakers to design the more sedate production version of a vehicle first and then customize it and radicalize it into the concept they really wish the production car could've been, rather than start with the dream concept and dumb it down for production. Thus, it's within the realm of possibility that the production CT was designed first, in France or Japan, with Calty later assigned to turn it into something concept-worthy. Or Calty may have styled both the concept LF-Ch and production CT 200h variants. Hopefully, we'll know when the production Lexus CT bows next year.
The 3-bar brushed metal grille of the Lexus HS
turned out to be something of a predictor for a new Lexus trend of broad horizontal metal bars for the grilles of its hybrid sedans, and variants thereof will appear in the 2010 Lexus GS 450h
and LS 600h
sedans. The LF-Ch concept, however, foregoes this in favor of a raised front-and-center Lexus "Circle L" logo, highlighted in blue in the customary Lexus hybrid manner and a set-back, barely visible horizontal grille. The top and sides of the isosceles trapezoid-shaped
grille opening is framed by a conspicuous chrome Fu Manchu mustache
. Much of the rest of the nose, such as the bumper curvature contours below the grille opening, the horizontal lower grille and lower spoiler lip, the vertical bumper nostrils that harbor not only front brake-cooling air intakes but a stack of LED foglights and the shape of the headlight housings, also LED-filled, reference the latest concept iteration of Lexus' LF-A supercar
The side profile is quite dynamic and stylish, and, as the Lexus Europe press release describes it, a powerful evolution of Lexus’s L-finesse design philosophy with its steeply raked windshield; long, flowing and arching roofline that flows into the rear spoiler and a sharply truncated rear overhang; and a muscular, rising beltline with broad and high shoulders; plus Lexus' trademark clean sheer side surfaces. The wheels' triple 5-spoke design bears a passing resemblance to the 19-inch 15-spoke Chrome-finished accessory wheel available on the Lexus LS
. In true concept car fashion, the LF-Ch's wheels are 20-inchers, sitting on 225/35R20 tires housed in aggressively flared fenders. We'd be very
surprised if the production Lexus CT offered anything larger than 18" wheels from the factory, however, just as the tiny outside rearview mirrors are a common concept car cue that will be supplanted by more practical and much
The trademark Lexus lower rocker panel chrome spear with HYBRID nameplate is present and accounted for and in the LF-Ch is echoed by a chrome molding at the beltline at the lower edge of the side windows. The blacked-out B-pillars and the rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar window trim chrome molding à la
Nissan Pathfinder or contemporary Alfa Romeo 4-door models combine to give the sporty five-door concept the illusion of a sleek pillarless coupé. A cursory glance at the shape of the trailing edge of the greenhouse and the rear doors reveals yet another area where the production Lexus CT is bound to differ from the LF-Ch concept. As it currently stands, that shape, while sleek and attractive, leaves nowhere for the rear side windows to roll down. Unless Lexus opts for fixed rear side windows (an improbable notion), expect either a more upright leading edge to the C-pillar, a thicker black molding between the rear edge of the windows and the leading edge of the C-pillar or a fixed small rear-quarter glass pane within the door just ahead of the C-pillar (or, perhaps, a combination of these) to allow the rear side windows to roll down on the Lexus CT.
Our initial my.IS Front Page story on the LF-Ch concept
mused about the white "< " shape in the C-pillar behind the greenhouse and whether it simply denoted some "L-Finesse" sculpturing or if it indicated a wraparound rear window reminiscent of the SEAT Toledo?
I dreaded the latter prospect, but that's exactly what it turned out to be. Yet, Lexus designers proved the old "the devil is in the details" adage to be quite true, for the combination of a low greenhouse and the beautifully-integrated spoiler lip over the rear window makes this feature miles more attractive in the Lexus than in the SEAT. The rear bumper is a beguiling combination of curves and angled creases, with a dual-outlet centrally-mounted exhaust quite reminiscent of a Porsche Boxster S. The LED-laden taillights have a 3rd-gen Lexus RX-meets-LFA vibe to them and, if the photo rendering is correct, the 2nd-generation Scion xB's asymmetrical single back-up light
may well be echoed in the LF-Ch, albeit on the right rather than on the left-side vertical bumper nostrils that, like those in the front bumper, seemingly help the brakes stay cool.
A quick glance at the LF-Ch specifications released by Lexus Europe reveals that it sits on a 2600mm (102.3") wheelbase, just like the Euro-centric Toyota Auris (and our Corolla and Matrix). Yet, if comments that the Lexus LF-Ch is about 80% or so close to predicting the production Lexus CT are accurate, it appears that there will be vastly more differentiation from the Toyota Auris than, say, Lexus ES vs Toyota Camry or even Lexus HS vs Toyota Avensis. Other key dimensions are an overall length of 4300mm (169.3"), overall width of 1790mm (70.5") and overall height of 1400mm (55.1"). This puts the Lexus LF-Ch at an inch or two lower and wider than the Toyota Auris and Matrix 5-door hatchbacks, and a couple of inches shorter
than the latter. That may, of course, vary for the production Lexus CT.
Many a contemporary concept car that is a predictor for a future production model maintains a modicum of production viability in its exterior design but really cuts loose and gets carried away with interiors that look more like props from the set of a space travel-themed sci-fi flick than an everyday drivable automobile. For evidence of this, look no further than Lexus' own LF-C
(no "h", "C" stands for convertible, not compact) concept that predicted the Lexus IS C. Surprisingly, though, the LF-Ch's interior shows walks the fine line between the plausible and the fanciful, with enough of each to please fans of either tendency.
Prior to the release of these LF-Ch images, there had been some speculation that it would have a full-length glass roof à la
Lexus ES or Scion tC. The exterior renderings clearly show a metal, body-color roof, yet the interior shots reveal what appears to be a large glass roof. What gives? It turns out that's not a moonroof but a blue headliner light that borders the roof (actually, the ceiling) and contrasts with the yellow exterior. When turned on, an ambient lighting pattern appears in the headliner, creating the feel of a sophisticated lounge. Sounds to us like a Lexus riff on the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé's optional $12,100 Starlight Headliner
The steering wheel is an artful 3-spoked blend of dark blue leather, cool polished aluminium and a touch of carbon fiber complete with metal paddle shifters that add the crowning touch to the Lexus HS 250h-inspired 4-mode (Normal, Eco, EV and Sport) Hybrid System. The left horizontal steering wheel spoke houses the hybrid system mode selector switch, while the right horizontal spoke contains a Bluetooth button. Evident as one glances through the steering wheel is an instrument binnacle housing large twin dials embellished with a turbine motif. A short reach down, at the leading edge of the center console is the computer mouse-like Lexus Remote Touch controller with user-adjustable haptic feedback, also currently found on the 2010 HS 250h and RX models, which allows the driver or front passenger to operate the navigation, audio and climate systems.
The rest of the interior, including the asymmetric dashboard, door panels and seating also makes extensive use of semi-aniline leather, polished aluminium, grained black wood and soft-touch materials to create a contemporary, even avant-garde, luxuriously handcrafted and soothing environment. Most intriguing is the contrast between the dark blue leather and what appears to be a lighter blue-gray moiré-patterned/textured material on the seats that also extends into the dashboard. Is it carbon-fiber? Fabric like on the old Nissan 300ZX
? Unusually-finished leather? The surprises and oohs and aahs continue as we turn to the backs of the front seats. The Lexus HS influence continues with thin-contoured, curved and pocketless front seatbacks, but those seatbacks are a true marriage of art, form and function, with grained black wood around the outside perimeter, a brushed metal hoop encircling a recessed area that allows for extra rear knee room, cleverly elegant (albeit a bit too low-mounted to be truly practical) central coat hooks and the pièce de résistance
that everyone is talking about
: the headrest-mounted recesses that provide iPhone docking capability for rear seat passengers' audio and video entertainment. The LF-Ch features two separate rear bucket seats, as well as trim lighting along the cushion’s edge for cabin illumination and storage in the rear seat armrests for small items such as iPods, PDAs and cell phones. For the production CT, however, expect a 3-passenger bench seat, and for rear bucket seats to remain an IS F sedan exclusive.
Where to next?
Our Lexus' "C-Premium" upmarket small car gets a name: CT 200h... Front Page story
from late July theorized that the LF-Ch concept would travel eastward from Frankfurt to Tokyo to Los Angeles (for the 2009 Auto Show in early December) to Detroit (for the January 2010 North American International Auto Show), and at least part of that prediction has been confirmed, for the Lexus LF-Ch Premium Compact Hybrid Concept will make its North American Debut at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, per the U.S. Press Release. As Mark Templin, Lexus division group vice president and general manager puts it, “To continue raising the hybrid benchmark, we need to continue exploring hybrid technology in different segments. The LF-Ch concept gives us the opportunity to gauge consumer reaction (and) we look forward to hearing feedback on the LF-Ch. We hope consumers like what they see so we can change the luxury hybrid marketplace again.” At least this editor likes what he's seen thus far...