Lexus was an early adopter of hybrids, having introduced the RX hybrid SUV in 2005 and offering hybrid variants of many of other models since—just like its parent, Toyota. Also like Toyota, Lexus seems be dragging its feet a bit on battery electric vehicles (BEV); the luxury automaker’s first effort, the UX-based UX300e, won’t even be sold in America. But an ambitious turnaround is afoot, evidenced by the newly-revealed LF-Z Electrified concept. It previews Lexus’s big plans to move to the front of the pack come 2025, the year by which they have promised all Lexus models will offer some sort of electrification.
But First, That Design
Let’s start with the LF-Z Electrified’s design, which is, er, different. Lexus’s controversial hourglass-shaped spindle grille is gone—at least the grille part is—but the spindle shape is still very much echoed in the concept car’s nose and extending well up into the hood. The LF-Z’s body-side makes extensive use of creative surfacing to create a variety of visual planes. The look is intriguing, but it’s hard not to be distracted by the side view of the greenhouse, which comes to a sharp peak over the back seat. At least no one will have reason to complain about second-row headroom.
Out back, the LF-Z has a full-width taillight and an arrangement of lines and creases that remind us of the first-generation Toyota Mirai. It’s not an unpleasant look, though we’re at a loss to explain the massive dorsal fin, which looks like a satellite radio antenna exposed to gamma radiation in an experiment gone wrong.
And while we like the way “LEXUS” is spelled out across the taillight, does Lexus really plan to put “Electrified” in illuminated letters across the rump of its future cars? It’s confusing—we’re already having a hard time discerning electrified (gas-hybrid) cars from pure electrics like the LF-Z—and the treatment looks rather silly.
The interior, however, is pretty sharp—not least of all because it has a yoke in place of a steering wheel. (Assuming the LF-Z Electrified has been in the works for a while, it must have really burned Lexus’ butter when Tesla stole its thunder on that.) The yoke connects to a drive-by-wire steering system, which allows on-the-fly changes to the steering ratio. Infiniti already does this with its Direct Adaptive Steering, but Lexus is looking to take things to another extreme. A Lexus video depicts a driver taking a car through the slalom without turning the wheel yoke much more than 90 degrees from center.
We also noticed a simplified interior layout, which is designed to concentrate the flow of information to the driver. We like what’s on the center console—it appears to be a dial-style shifter—and liked even more what we didn’t see, which is that dastardly touch-pad infotainment controller found in numerous Lexus models in recent years. Lexus has been adding more straightforward touch-screen functionality to their cars (like the 2021 LS), and if that, plus the concept interior, sounds the death-knell for that pad, no one will be better pleased than us.
The goings-on under the bodywork are intriguing as well. Lexus says the LF-Z concept uses a drive system called Direct-4, which allows two motors to infinitely vary the power to each of the four wheels. Between Direct-4 and a drive-by-wire steering system, Lexus says the LF-Z is better able to go in the direction the driver wants. The steering system can consider not just how far the steering yoke is turned, but how quickly, for a better assessment of the driver’s intentions. By controlling power at each axle as well as steering angle provides more options for getting the car to make the directional changes demanded by the driver.
Lexus says the LF-Z concept is powered by a 90-kWh lithium-ion battery, and it is targeting a range of 600 km (373 miles) for the concept on the optimistic European test cycle. (For comparison, the Tesla Model 3 uses an 82-kWh battery.) Lexus has made improvements in aerodynamics, greater efficiency in the climate control system and reduction of parasitic electrical losses in order to boost the vehicle’s range.
So, when will we see the LF-Z Electrified? Well, the concept does not appear to presage a particular model, but rather a design language and technology road-map for future Lexus vehicles. How far in the future? Lexus won’t commit to a specific date, but it said we should see both the styling and technology found in the LF-Z Electrified in production models by 2025. Hopefully they won’t say “Electrified” in big illuminated letters on their trunk lids.
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