Life’s to short to drive boring cars
Driving the new Lexus compact SUV with its designer, Hideaki Iida
Review by Sam Clark
The UX is an all new model for Lexus, aimed at bridging the gap between car and SUV, capitalising on the best of each.
While giving this new model a test drive, it was a pleasure to get an exclusive in sight into the car’s design from Hideaki Iida, the exterior designer on the project. We started by talking about the initial concept and what the UX will bring to the Lexus range?
Hideaki Iida – Lexus, with the introduction of the first RX, is the pioneer in the luxury cross-over segment. As such, our focus is not just to increase our line-up by creating an S, M, L size of the same concept, but rather to create unique models with distinct characters. The role of the UX as an entry-level model is to attract first-time Lexus customers to the brand, therefore we needed to exceed the expectations of those who were challenging enough a try a Lexus.
It was important to convey “a feeling of security and peace of mind” but in combination with the sporty driving feel of a hatchback. Thus, the keywords for the design development were “Secure and Agile”, aiming to convey a design that’s robust yet athletic.
Since their first car, the LS400 launched in 1983, Lexus have strove to defy convention with their vehicles and the UX seems to be the embodiment of this balancing act, blurring the boundaries between car and SUV. This concept lies at the core of their design and Iida explained the Lexus ‘Yet’
HI – The ‘Yet Philosophy’ is one the fundamental pillars of the Lexus brand and is a positive philosophy that lead a break-through on our creative thinking. It is the harmonious combination of opposing elements that creates unique, new values; meaning that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Simply put, 1+1=3. This “Yet Philosophy” is an essential factor that differentiates us from our competitors. Based on this, our original inspiration for the UX design came from combining the image of an armoured vehicle with a GT racing car.
The UX is full of opposing ‘Yets’: compact yet large; economical yet powerful; refined yet sporty; secure yet agile; the list goes on. The Yet principal comes together in a refined balance of the driving experience, power, technology and luxury.
Following other models in the Lexus range, the UX combines both petrol and electric energy from the Lexus Self-Charging Hybrid. The new Lexus 2.0 litre petrol engine and electric motor are automatically controlled to seamlessly deliver the most efficient mix of power. The electric battery is charged from the drive and breaking of the car. It’s a brilliantly easy system that produces the environmental benefits of electricity without the need to plug it in.
I drove the F Sport, which has a Sport S+ mode that adjusts the throttle, steering and suspension. And the dashboard changes to a very cool sports display. It doesn’t deliver seat-of-your-pants-excitement speed but that is not what the UX is really designed for. It is defiantly quick enough to be lots of fun and the low center of gravity makes it well balanced and a very nimble drive.
At first the dash, media and head-up displays are all a little bewildering but you quickly settle into it, realizing most of the information is repeated in the different positions so you can just focus on the most comfortable. I wondered how I’d ever drive again without the head-up display projected onto the windscreen. The extensive list of safety and driver technology is available on other models but it was the first time I had driven with many of them. This may only be a small step away from the car driving itself, but it is a very reassuring step. On the motorway, the lane assist option initially feels slightly awkward but I found the trick is to stop resisting the automated movements and to hold the steering wheel gently and let the car guide you. It becomes a very relaxed way to drive.
Inside the UX is simply a really nice place to be. The interior sort of flows around you with everything at your fingertips. The attention to detail and carefully considered design is evident everywhere. From the beautifully sculptured, brushed metal door handles to contours above the dashboard following out along the bonnet.
HI – The interior is inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, where the boundary between the interior and exterior remains blurred. The impression that the instrument panel flows towards the bonnet and the bumpers along with the interior structure that reflects the strength of the exterior, contribute in creating a sense of oneness with the vehicle.
From the very beginning, our aim was to create a visual connection between the exterior and interior. Together, interior and exterior designers studied its design potential on real cars.
The lead interior designer of the production UX, Mr. Masaki MOTOZAKI and I shared the same concept; therefore communication was smooth amongst all designers, which enabled us to achieve a consistent whole.
The collective balance of all this driving experience, power, technology and luxury comes together in a strikingly bold design. The UX’s stylish angles and scoops direct the eye, and airflow around the car. No where more so than the distinctive upward flick at each side of the rear lights.
HI – The L-shape is a signature Lexus design cue used within the rear lamps as an iconic feature and is even more recognizable when lit. For the UX however, we took it further and made the design of the lamp itself L-shaped. At the beginning it was far more pronounced, boldly protruding out of the body, but through the development phase, we discovered its aerodynamic potential and refined the design. As a result of a great collaboration with engineers, we achieved to create rear combination lamps that bear our enhanced L-shaped design cue with sophisticated aerodynamic functions.
Living with the UX for a few days we found it a very enjoyable and thoroughly engaging big/little car. Unlike many other cars I’ve driven the UX’s distinct looks and active technology gave it a warm personality and it quickly became part of the family. It strangely cheered you up, glimpsing it through a window sat out on the drive. It was like a four wheeled Jack Russell. Eager to please, fiercely protective of it owners and thinks its a lot bigger than it is!