2013 Lexus ES, Lexus Styling Critique
2013 Lexus ES

Hold on, America. I’m about to give you my crit of some of the styling on view at the 2012 New York Auto Show. “Crit” is shorthand for critique at professional design schools. Now, I’ve never been to design school and I don’t draw very well, but I have met many professional designers who’ve helped me to see and judge styling the way they do.

Full disclosure: I did not cover the New York Show, nor have I yet seen the new models exhibited there in person, so the opinions expressed here could change—maybe.

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The Face from Outer Space

I’ve been haunted by Lexus’s new “spindle” grille since it appeared at last year’s New York show on the LF-Gh Hybrid concept, a lightly disguised preview of the 2013 GS sedan. I knew I’d seen it before, and the other day I finally remembered where: the 1961 full-size Plymouth. That’s right, sports fans. Consciously or not, Lexus has cribbed from what many regard as one of the weirdest-looking Detroit cars ever. The “spindle” also graces—if that’s the word—the 2013 RX SUV and, as revealed in New York, the midsize ES sedan. But though it may work as a brand “identifier,” it’s also just another big fat grille of the kind Audi has been doing for years, only less attractive to my eyes. Worse, it demands careful handling. The “spindle” execution on the wild LF-LC concept at this year’s Detroit Show is as sci-fi strange as the old Plymouth’s. Memo to Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda: Tell your designers to stop watching anime.

Creeping Copycat-ness

Speaking of Audi, I see much A7 influence in the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Impala and 2013 Toyota Avalon: same fastback profile, same three-side-window roofline, same basic stance and proportions. The A7 is certainly worthy of copying, but these mass-market sedans are bedeviled by details. The Avalon’s face, with its big trapezoidal lower grille, reminds me of the last cab-forward Chrysler Sebring, and it bears a trace of BMW “Bangle butt” awkwardness. The Impala has an odd rear-fender line that relates to nothing else on the car and looks lifted from the Buick LaCrosse. Its alleged Camaro-inspired grille—the “new face of Chevrolet” and also seen on the 2013 Traverse SUV—lacks the visual punch of the brand’s familiar “twin port” motif. In fairness, the new Lon and Pala are certainly big improvements over the boring designs they replace. It’s just too bad they’re not more original.

Honda Swings and Misses—Again

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but this beholder finds no beauty in Honda’s 2013-preview Crosstour concept. Despite a light refresh, this BMW X6 wannabe remains a lumpy, ungainly SUV-coupe thingy with an oversize snout and a fat fanny. And after wowing us at Detroit with the gorgeous NSX concept, Honda’s upscale division disappointed mightily with the RLX concept, a no-disguise preview of its next flagship sedan. Pastiche is the theme: familiar BMW 5-Series profile, Acura’s awful “beer-can opener” grille, a rear-end apparently stolen from the Suzuki Kizashi, and upper-door scalloping that doesn’t quite meld with the rounded Mazda-like front fenders. Would someone please tell me what’s happened to Honda styling? It used to be so simple, eye-catching, trend-setting, and different, yet pleasing. Now it’s just different and not so pleasing.

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Quick Takes

  • Lincoln MKZ: My jury’s still out on this one. It looks great from some angles, but there’s still a whiff of the sister 2013 Ford Fusion about it. Uh-oh. Also, there’s something faintly Weimar Republic-stuffy about the split, sweptback, horizontal-bar grille. Lincolns of old had real presence. This one doesn’t somehow. Maybe customers will like it more than I do. If they don’t, Lincoln’s days are numbered.
  • Infiniti LE: Not a straight line on it, just like the old Studebaker Avanti. Another “lady in a too-tight-corset” grille. And Infiniti’s new “chicken-leg” rear-roof-pillar shape—again. This may be a more stylish Nissan Leaf, but that doesn’t make it eye candy.
  • SRT Viper: More four-wheeled testosterone, handsomely shaped—another head-turner. But where’s the roadster? And why rebrand it SRT? As colleague Ed Piotrowski notes, no one’s going to think of this brute as anything but a new Dodge Viper, just as most people still think of Ram trucks as Dodge Rams, I’d wager. Memo to Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne: Your marketing guys are full of it. Change these back to Dodges. The last thing you need is more brands to worry about.
1961 Plymouth Fury and our “redesign” of the 2013 Lexus ES
If Lexus wanted to go all-out with its “spindle” grille, it should have resurrected the grille of the 1961 Plymouth Fury (left). That’s what we did, as designer Mark Nowery mashed the Plymouth grille onto the face of the 2013 ES, creating the image on the right.

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