Lexus reveals its plans for a future that’s both clean and sexy

Lexus reveals its plans for a future that’s both clean and sexy

As Lexus embraces battery-electric power, this will become a jaw-dropping halo car ready for the new world order. By Jake Groves.


THE SPIRIT OF THE LFA LIVES ON


A resurrection is upon us. Lexus, famed for its buttoned-up yet dramatically styled saloons and SUVs, is yearning for the days when it had a flagship supercar that the automotive enthusiast couldn’t get enough of. What you see here is the brand concocting what could be its next LFA before our eyes. But this isn’t necromancy, it’s alchemy; instead of creating a sentimental rip-off of that masterpiece, complete with an engine co-developed with Yamaha, Lexus is going full cyberpunk and embracing a software-driven, battery-electric future.


Lexus reveals its plans for a future that’s both clean and sexy

IT’S ALL VERY GRAN TURISMO – BUT THAT’S EXACTLY THE CLIENTELE LEXUS WILL BE CHASING

You may well have spotted something like this super-sleek, low-drag car before; Toyota and Lexus laid out their long roadmap for electrification with images previewing a new range of EVs and concepts a year ago. Buried somewhere between wacky crossovers and what looked like an electric Hilux lay this: the Lexus Electrified Sport.

Details at that time were scarce. But just looking at its rendered image was enough to make enthusiasts drool. Now, Lexus is ready to talk about it – because it will definitely be making it into production.


Lexus reveals its plans for a future that’s both clean and sexy

DETAILS WERE SCARCE – NOW LEXUS IS READY TO TALK, BECAUSE IT’LL MAKE PRODUCTION

The car is the brainchild of Takashi Watanabe, chief engineer of Lexus Electrified, who’s described as the ‘father’ of the whole department by Lexus Europe vice president Pascal Ruch. Watanabe knows there are comparisons being drawn between this and the LFA, and is more than happy to point out similarities between the two.

‘Definitely the packaging and weight distribution, and even just the base potential of the vehicle are similar,’ he says, ‘and if you actually take the diagrams of this and the LFA and overlay them, they are very close to each other.’

So size, performance potential and scope are very similar to the LFA. The performance numbers, however, are on another plane. Lexus claims a sub-3.0sec 0-62mph time, for example – a launch sprint so quick this could keep up with the likes of the Lotus Evija, Pininfarina Battista and (if it ever launches) the Tesla Roadster – without its rocket thruster option, at least.

While power output and kerb-weight remain hush-hush, engineers and executives say the resulting production car won’t just be a point-and-squirt one-trick pony, either. ‘The dynamic capabilities of the Electrified Sport will, of course, be developed on the racetrack,’ says Toyota Motor Europe boss Matt Harrison, with engineer Watanabe saying chassis packaging, weight distribution and dynamics engineering will be inspired by GT3 race cars.

‘BEVs are heavy,’ he says, ‘so the lighter the car the better. Taking that experience from GT3 racing is what we’re going to apply to solve that. As for the powertrain, we’re talking about something with very high power loads, motor control and efficiency so we have to develop a system that can handle all of that. That’s why motorsport will really play a big role with this car’s development.’

Technology is key to unlocking the Electrified Sport’s potentially massive power. Lexus confirmed that the production car would be all-wheel drive, with the Direct4 AWD system first seen in the new RZ EV being applied here, as well as the One Motion Grip steer-by-wire system and even brake-by-wire. The shift to using software instead of more hardware shaves kilos – key for the goal of an almost GT3-spec weight figure, but it also allows for huge customisation.

‘We can create any kind of characteristic given it’s done through software, which is a massive benefit,’ says Watanabe. ‘Take steer-by- wire; we can control the amount of tyre movement matched to the preference of each individual person. For a production car, regulations don’t allow us to offer that on the road. But let’s say you go to a racetrack: there, you’ll have the ability to customise the steering angle, even the throttle – and control it how you want to.’

Watanabe believes that BEVs don’t have to be boring, hence the inclusion of technologies like this. ‘Not only that, but everyone has their own idea of what fun is,’ he adds, ‘so allowing the opportunity to customise the vehicle to each owner is what I want to make. That’s my goal.’

So much so that Watanabe even wants to include a ‘manual’ transmissionin the production car. ‘Trust me, even I know that nothing is more useless in a BEV than a manual,’ he laughs, ‘but if we’re just talking about a car, regardless of powertrain, a manual transmission means being in control. Physically being able to operate one when swinging a car around is something I don’t want to lose. I feel it’s a viable choice to offer somebody, and if that becomes something that sets Lexus apart, then nothing would give me more pleasure.’

Engineering development is currently ongoing. CAR has seen a video of a test mule with the tech onboard, complete with augmented rev sounds matching the manual shift inputs. It’s all very Gran Turismo, but that is exactly the generation of clientele Lexus will be chasing when the production version arrives. By the time this car hits a showroom, some of the millennial crowd may have become rich enough to buy one. But when will that moment come? And will the production version be watered down? Lexus is keeping quiet about when exactly we’ll see the real thing, with future developments in battery technology potentially dictating the timeline. But, in terms of how it will look – you only have to cast your eye back to previous Lexus concepts, most of which have led to production cars very close to the concept’s design.

And, in any case, how on earth did a hugely expensive, difficult-to-develop car get production approval from the powers-that-be in the first place? Did Watanabe just walk into the Lexus boardroom and ask to make it? ‘Yes,’ he beams, ‘simple as that. Koji Sato, the president of Lexus [who’s also chief branding officer, and president of Gazoo Racing], loves cars. Within the realm of Lexus, he wants to share his passion, too.

He’s the real leader of Lexus Electrified, so he determines what kind of development of certain technologies is necessary.

‘Plus, as long as Sato is president, it means I can do whatever I want!’

Design is for super-low drag, and is said to be inspired by aerobatics.

Almost Supralike in shape, but dimensions echo the LFA. This will be the next Lexus supercar: just let that sink in…


THE RIVAL

Lexus strays into Hethel’s crosshairs

The EV supercar arms race continues. Lotus was the first big(ish) brand to have an electric supercar make production with the £2m Evija. Lexus, a brand known much more for its refinement and quality and with a chequered history of proper full-bore sports cars, has stepped on the toes of one of the most recognisable performance players out there. The Evija and Electrified Sport share similar 0-62mph claims and dramatic styling – but we’re betting the Lexus will be cheaper.


BLOODLINE

HARDCORE vs SOFTWARE

These three have given the Electrified Sport a solid foundation

Lexus LFA

The production version of the Electrified Sport will have a similar, hyper-focused ethos to this supercar disruptor. No screaming V10 this time, but Lexus’s engineers promise it’ll be fun and fast. It already looks to be as desirable as the LFA, too.

Lexus RZ

The first ground-up BEV from Lexus, using the e-TNGA platform like Toyota’s bZ4x. This is the first car to use the One Motion Grip steer-by-wire tech, which will feature on the production-spec sports car. The driver will be able to customise steering sharpness when on track.

Lexus UX

An unlikely DNA link, we know, but Lexus engineers used a UX300e to test out a ‘manual’ gearbox for EVs – something that the engineers want to include here. They admit it’s more about fun than function, but are gagging to include it to keep involvement up.


THE DEBATE: LEXUS’S NEW IDENTITY

‘How can Lexus truly stand out from Toyota’s shadow?’

JG: You say Lexus is more about emotion and fun than Toyota, but Lexus has been saying that for years. How can you truly step out from under Toyota’s shadow?

PR: Well, it’s not just about differentiation from Toyota but from other brands, too. We need to have a Lexus driving signature – I come back to this all the time. We’ll do it through technology – just look at One Motion Grip in the RZ and even in the Electrified Sport.

JG: And actually making EVs fun? I’m told you’re developing a manual transmission for EVs. Pointless from a functionality point of view, but I’m guessing there are more emotional reasons to have one, right?

PR: Exactly. It’s an interesting direction, because you could say BEVs are losing some of the emotion you need if you’re an enthusiast. We want to add stuff for when you want something a bit more engaging. Would you use it every day? No. But I can imagine certain conditions, maybe on the roads around Goodwood, for example, where it’s there for you to have a bit of fun.

JG: Given you’re developing a BEV supercar, will tech from it come into other Lexus cars?

PR: Some of the tech we’ve discussed already we can take into production, so we can give all of our cars a sporty touch. The Electrified Sport will be the pinnacle of the range – almost like a cherry on a cake – and with the technologies it showcases, you might then find them on other future BEVs like the next-generation RZ and so on.

JG: But it won’t just be BEVs in the Lexus and Toyota portfolio, will it?

PR: No, because we know so many markets still aren’t ready for electric. We’re contributing to Toyota’s carbon-neutrality goals, but we can’t just do it with BEV. By 2030, we will have a 100 per cent zero-emissions solution in every segment we’re in, but you can expect us to continue with hybrids and PHEVs as well.

  • Jake GrovesOur deputy news editor questions how Lexus can expand its identity
  • Pascal RuchLexus Europe vice president, tasked with doing exactly that
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