There is no underestimating the importance of a car’s front grille; the “face” it helps create is a touchstone for public recognition and reaction. Since the reveal of its LF-Gh concept car in 2011 – the precursor to today’s GS saloon – Lexus has forged a strong new identity with its spindle grille design, an element that’s quickly become a key styling feature, synonymous with the brand.
Far from being a simple bolt-on solution to giving a car a more individual look, it is an integral element in a sharper, edgier and more distinctive styling that is being applied to all new Lexus models, most recently witnessed in the new LC luxury coupe.
Tokuo Fukuichi, new head of Lexus, explains: ‘From now on I don’t want to create nice designs, I want to create impressive designs, ones that remain in minds. I should add that Lexus already started taking this turn since a couple of years, with the spindle grille as symbol heralding the change, plus acclaimed coupe concepts LF-LC, LF-CC and LF-NX, now the production models IS, RC and RC F, and of course NX. But in future, we will push even harder.’
Creating a strong identity is all part of building a strong brand and the brand-defining grille shape plays a key role in positioning Lexus as a modern, advanced premium manufacturer. The design’s versatility also allows it to amplify the sportier character of Lexus’s F Sport models.
In all its applications, from the new CT 200h hatchback to the RX SUV and LS limousine, the spindle grille provides an anchor point from which much of a car’s visual impact is created, as in the lines of the bonnet, the arrangement of the headlamps and daytime running lights, the depth of the front bumper and the sculpting of the front wings. While the look is new, the basic principles are rooted in L-finesse, the design language Lexus has applied to all its cars since 2005.
The frontal treatment of the original Lexus CT 200h generated a basic shape that subsequently brought about the spindle design, a breakthrough credited to Katsuhiko Inatomi, who led the GS’s design team. He first joined together the upper and lower grilles in a single unit, with a central pinch-point that creates the spindle effect.
The bold, 3-D appeal of the grille’s profile is the result of an ongoing design evolution. The upper half of the grille, a trapezoid-like shape, was first introduced in 2005 with the GS model. It was part of Lexus’s attempt to create an individual face for the brand — soon leading to the decision to develop an additional lower grille aperture, forming the resultant spindle grille.
“Everyone at Lexus believed that we should try putting forward our L-finesse design philosophy in a much bolder manner,” explains Takeshi Tanabe, project manager of the Lexus Design Division. “L-finesse consists of the following three elements: seamless anticipation, intriguing elegance and incisive simplicity. They all must be reinforced in our design.”
Many drawings and clay models later, the overall design concept was perfected. The upper and lower grille apertures have been merged to form one distinctive shape, with chrome lining decorating the grille’s trim, making a bold visual statement.
The recognisable geometric grille is a result of its function, too. In particular, the lower half is structured to assist intake airflow, optimising the temperature of the engine under the hood.
Each part of the grille is sculpted and positioned by the slimmest of margins, ensuring a seamless surface treatment. The paint job is also of excellent quality; even half-hidden parts of the grille’s profile are finished, using a variety of shades if necessary, so that it appears sound from all angles.
“The elements behind the grille — things like ducts and cables that may not seem tidy — are not at all visible from the outside either,” says Tatsuya Hattori of the Lexus Product Development Division. His team was responsible for drawing up the actual blueprint of the grille. “We’ve looked at every tiniest detail to maintain the superb look of the face, as well as to ensure the maximum safety to pedestrians.”
The spindle grille is Lexus’s seal of authenticity, and all future models will come with this bold frontal design. Each version will receive a slightly different design treatment to cater to each model’s specific target audience.
Only available to owners of the F Sport grade — the raciest of all the categories — is an even more sporty-looking grille. Its mesh face is made of dozens of tiny L-shaped pieces that are vertically aligned, a masterpiece by Lexus craftsmen. Just a quick glance indicates what a painstaking process it must have been to forge such intricate architecture. Such attention to detail should delight any driver who is lucky enough to get behind the wheel.
Read more: Spindle Grille: An Element
In successive concepts and production models, Lexus has successfully adapted the basic spindle design to express different qualities appropriate to each vehicle, for example by adjusting the level of the pinch-point up or down; using different mesh designs and finishes for the grille surround; and giving the grille more depth by projecting the pinch point further forward.
Read more: The philosophy of L-finesse design
Read more: Takeshi Tanabe interview: Evolution of Lexus design