Lexus NX design: speaking with exterior designer Tsuneo Kanasugi

Lexus NX designer

The all-new NX marks the start of a new design direction for Lexus. In this interview, we speak to Lexus NX designer Tsuneo Kanasugi, lead exterior designer for NX, as he gives an insight into the creative process and what Lexus sought to achieve in the look of its mid-size luxury SUV both inside and out.

We have been told about “significant change” in Lexus design with the Next Chapter, while keeping the core Lexus design philosophy. Can you give some examples of how this is demonstrated in the new NX – what are the main differences between the new NX and the previous model?

“At first glance, there is an evident design relationship between the new NX and the original model, but its impact and appeal have been heightened with more pronounced contrasts – sharp hardness and warm elegance that give the car even wider visual appeal. You can see this, for example, in the different surface expressions in the top and lower sections of the side doors.

“We have kept the avant-garde feel and provocative image of the original NX but the design has been refined to make it both more glamorous and more mature. The key direction was to give the NX originality rooted in its proportions, creating the sense of a solid piece of metal with a seductive form. We also wanted simplicity that reflects the car’s new technologies – a simple design that expresses the appeal of innovative functions.”

Lexus NX designer

“Functional Beauty” is an exciting concept, linking design to the need to include new technologies in the car. How challenging is it to combine good design with good technologies?

“There’s an expression we use in Japan to describe a difficult task – ‘it’s hard enough to pass a thread through the eye of a needle.’ New technologies need to be attractive in design terms, or else there is a risk they won’t be liked or used by customers. As designers we have to create designs that are attractive and easy to use, achieving the required functionality within limited dimensions. It might be as difficult as threading a needle, but if we can get it right, we can make the product more desirable. This is a concept that Lexus wants to pursue in the future.”

Lexus NX designer

What were your priorities when it came to designing the new-look grille, as part of a new “face” for the NX?

“We have evolved the spindle grille in line with the new Lexus design language so that the concept for the body design is actually derived from the grille. It merges with the body, giving the impression of the car having a single, solid form. We have also arranged the surface of the grille vertically. Not only is this good for cooling the engine, but it also accentuates the long and sleek bonnet, perfectly expressing the car’s functional beauty”

Lexus NX designer

What kind of design impact did you want the NX to have when people see it on the road?

“Lexus has always sought to bring more ‘colours’ to its customers’ lifestyles. Where the new NX is concerned, we hope that its exterior design will give them a sense of the driving pleasure it will deliver when they take the wheel. We have greatly evolved the NX’s proportions and its dynamic feel in a design that combines glamour and sharpness. I am convinced that the design we have produced has met the goals we set ourselves at the outset.”

How did you want the driver and passengers to feel when they are inside the new NX?

“For the driver, we designed a cockpit that provides excellent visibility, so they can concentrate on the road ahead. For the passenger, the seat is comfortable and relaxing, and the easy-to-use cabin design means that you can make yourself at home, wherever you sit in the car.

“In the new NX’s cockpit we have applied Lexus’ Tazuna concept – it means ‘using the reins’ – to give the driver more intuitive connection with the car, so they can control it just as they want. It’s inspired by the communication between a human rider and horse, using only the reins. You can see the Tazuna principles in the functional relationship between the (touch-tracer) switches on the steering wheel and head-up display and the grouping of the information sources (the HUD and the multi-information and multimedia displays). This design concentrates on the driver’s forward view, so there’s less eye movement needed to operate the controls or take in information, which is faithful to our guiding theme of ‘hands on the wheel, eyes on the road’.”

Lexus NX designer

The Tazuna interior concept creates a very special environment. Was this one of the most challenging parts of the design to create?

“The Tazuna cockpit actually worked very well within the overall ‘tangible space’ concept we adopted for the interior design. This is about making the ‘empty space’ in the cabin a tangible element in the design. Each area – the driver’s cockpit and the front passenger space – is optimised. With Tazuna, this focuses the driver’s attention on the business of driving, while the passenger can relax in comfort. You can see the effect of this in design details such as the placing of switches for driving-related functions on the driver’s side and comfort and entertainment controls on the passenger side.”

Lexus NX designer

Which elements of the new Lexus NX design are you most proud of? 

“It’s the fusion of sharpness and alluring form in the design. It’s a new approach for Lexus and it was very difficult to express these two conflicting ‘tastes’ in a well-balanced mixture. I believe the NX’s surface expression, which combines sharp edges with expansive, curved surfaces, gives you the sense of high-precision quality co-existing with a warm yet gorgeous feel.

“We moved away from the conventional approach to using a different design process to create a surface with highlights and reflections. As a result, the NX projects a different expression in different environments. I am proud of how the design team has succeeded in creating a design that captures and enhances the NX’s agile and dynamic driving quality.”

On a personal note, how did you become a car designer and what qualities do you think are necessary to make a designer good at their job.

“Originally, I studied mechanical engineering, aiming for a career as an engineer. At the same time, the importance of design was beginning to be highlighted in engineering university courses. I felt that a next-generation engineer would need to have a creative mindset, combined with an engineer’s precision.

“I think the most important qualities for a designer are to be able to gain an overview of all the challenges presented by a project and to inspire others to work together as a team with creative tools. Of course, the minimum requirements for a designer remain, such as drawing and visualising skills.

“Firstly, to create something, you have to think about the initial issues that need to be solved. It may start with inspiration, but you need to be able to see things from different perspectives to finish a product without having to compromise. Secondly, to build a car, you need the help of many talented people. I think it’s essential for a designer to have the ability to collaborate with others and inspire them to work in the same direction, using creative visualising tools.”


  1. I have to say your design is a pleasure to the eyes and the drive is absolutely superb I tested one out a couple of weeks ago.
    “Wow “ I was not disappointed with any aspect of the cars design in fact I was totally blown away by it. Just waiting for mine to be delivered to my Lexus centre.
    Not long to wait now.

    1. Hello Theresa,
      Thank you so much for your kind words.
      We are sure your Lexus will not disappoint.

    2. I love everything but the front grill. To me it looks like an aggressive angry face or animals face. The car is beautiful- why ruin it with a harsh and aggressive grill. I have owned a Lexus 4×4 for 8 years and love it – but now I cannot buy a new one – which is sad.

    1. Hello Stuart,
      Thanks for your comment.
      This would depend on the model and grade you choose.
      Your Lexus Centre would be best placed to advise on this.
      We hope this helps.

    2. I ordered a NX Takumi in early February and it’s built and currently being shipped as we speak. Once you order you get a Lexus app login and they update you at strategic stages.
      Getting excited and I am sure will not be disappointed.

  2. I was drawn to the NX several years ago because of the style and drivability experience. I recently went to my local centre for its first service and was blown away with the new model and Tsuneo has stormed it!! Well done and new car on order.

  3. Absolutely love our Lexus NX, we’ll definitely look at the new model when it’s time to change

  4. Getting mine in September, currently have the NX300h which is a great vehicle, test drove the NX350H a few weeks ago, it’s smoother, quieter and more responsive, really looking forward to getting it

  5. I was also impressed with the design when I test drove this amazing car, you get a lot for your money. Still 6 months to go before it arrives though.

    1. Hello David,
      Thank you for your order.
      Please be assured we are doing everything we can to deliver your vehicle as quickly as possible.

  6. Can the brake lights be turned off when using the brake hold button, to stop the vehicles behind being blinded when stationary in traffic.

    1. Hello David,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Our product team have advised that these cannot be turned off.

  7. Hi Lexus I would like very much to hear more about the new model RZ450e: date for sale in UK, pricing, size etc. Thanks

    1. Hello Claire,
      Thanks for your comment.
      We do not have any information on this at the moment.
      Please keep an eye on our blog and social media channels for the latest information.

  8. The new NX350 is a wonderful car but is spoiled by the multimedia system that is disappointing.
    Doesn’t operate as it should do and has a mind of its own.
    Lexus needs to make sure such a system operates correctly before releasing it.
    In addition the hand book is full of mistakes.
    Not what I would expect from such a prestigious make.
    A happy owner but could be better.

    1. Hello Paul,
      We are happy to hear that you are pleased with your NX 350h.
      We also thank you for taking the time to give this feedback, we will pass it onto our product team.

  9. Hope you are improving the user experience on the Navigation and everything related to multimedia ?

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