Jeff Bracken, Group Vice-President, General Manager, Lexus Division, introduces the Lexus LF-1 Limitless on Monday January 15, 2017 at the North American International Auto Show at Cob Center. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News
Lexus hinted Monday at what’s to come with the LF-1 Limitless Concept which debuted Monday at the Detroit auto show. The car underscores the way high-line brands are scrambling to respond to the dramatic shifts reshaping the global auto industry.
Full-size sedans, like the Lexus LS, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7-Series, have traditionally served as the pinnacle of what those brands stand for. But in a market where SUVs account for half of all sales and traditional passenger cars are rapidly sliding in demand, the focus is shifting. The LF1, according to Lexus “carves out” space for a new “flagship luxury crossover.”
“This is our vision for a new kind of flagship vehicle that embraces crossover capability without giving up the performance and luxury delivered by today’s top sedans,” said Kevin Hunter, the president of CALTY, the advanced design center near Los Angeles for Lexus' parent Toyota. “The LF-1 Limitless concept incorporates imaginative technology while creating a strong emotional connection by improving the human experience for the driver and passengers.”
One might argue that Lexus already has a premium utility vehicle, the big LX. But that three-row model is based on a classic, body-on-frame design with limited niche appeal. The LF-1 – like the flagship model to come – is based on a more car-like platform. That translates into a more comfortable on-road driving experience while retaining the higher seating and all-weather capabilities of a classic “ute.”
For those used to the traditional, slab-sided look that long defined the Lexus brand, meanwhile, designers took to heart the mandate of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda to “put more passion into the brand.” The LF-1 offers a much bolder – and potentially polarizing – shape that Lexus likens to “molten metal being forged into a fine Japanese sword.”
The show car features an athletic look that is as much sports car or sport-utility vehicle, with a low roofline and massive 22-inch wheels barely concealed by its flaring fenders. The face, of course, features the now-familiar Lexus spindle grille, though it adopts a more three-dimensional appearance. One of the more distinctive details comes with the use of LED lighting, rather than chrome, to frame the grille. The LF-1 has a virtually all-glass roof.
Inside, the Lexus LF-1 marries traditional luxury features, such as two-tone Cocoa Bean and Chiffon White leather, with more modern technology, including indirect LED lighting that can be adjusted to the driver’s color preference. There’s also what Lexus calls a “four-dimensional” navigation system that is meant to “anticipate the needs of the driver and occupants,” according to Lexus. It not only adjusts for traffic and road conditions, but even suggests fuel stops, rest breaks and can make hotel reservations during a longer trip.
And to reflect another coming trend, the Lexus LF-1 features parent Toyota’s “Chauffeur” autonomous driving system that would allow a motorist to switch to a hands-free mode or back to manual for a more sporty experience. Paddle shifters frame the steering wheel of the rear-drive crossover prototype. Its onboard "supercomputer" and AI system "may know you better than some of your friends and family," said Jeff Bracken, Lexus general manager.
Noting the constant media coverage of autonomous vehicles, Bracken cautioned that cars are not just appliances. “We always come back to people’s emotional response to …vehicles. How many objects can trigger as emotional a response?”
The use of the word, “Limitless,” in the concept’s name also reflects CEO Toyoda’s recent promise to offer alternative powertrain technology for every one of the company’s future products. The automaker hints the production version of the LF-1 could ultimately be powered by not only a conventional gas engine, but by hybrid, plug-in, all-electric or even fuel-cell powertrains.
Lexus isn’t ready to discuss production plans for the LF-1 Limitless Concept, but with competitors as diverse as Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW and other manufacturers turning to their own flagship crossovers, Lexus insiders hint we can expect the Japanese luxury-maker to have something in its showrooms within the next couple years.
Lexus also rolled out its new RX 350L, which premiered at the LA Auto Show in November. The crossover has a third-row seating option.