The grille is a key element of a car’s ‘face’, helping to create a touchstone for public recognition and reaction. Since revealing the LF-Gh concept (below) in 2011 – a car that previewed today’s GS saloon – Lexus has forged a strong identity with its spindle grille design. It is an element that’s become a key styling feature, synonymous with the brand.
Far from being a bolt-on solution to giving a car a more individual look, the spindle grille is an integral element in creating the sharp, distinctive styling applied to all new Lexus models, most recently witnessed in the new LS flagship saloon.
Tokuo Fukuichi, head of Lexus, explains: “I don’t want to create nice designs, I want to create impressive designs, ones that remain in minds. The spindle grille is a symbol that heralds the change… but in the future, we will push even harder.”
Creating a strong identity is all part of building a strong brand and the spindle grille 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 F Sport models.
In all its applications, the spindle grille provides an anchor point from which much of the car’s visual impact is created, such as 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.
The three-dimensional appeal of the grille’s profile is the result of an ongoing design evolution. Its principles are rooted in L-finesse, the design language Lexus has applied to all its cars since 2005. The trapezoid shape of the upper half of the grille was introduced that year with the GS model (above). – part of Lexus’s attempt to create an individual face for the brand.
But it was actually the frontal treatment of the 2011 Lexus CT 200h (above) that started the spindle design. The breakthrough is credited to designer Katsuhiko Inatomi, who took the basic shape of the contemporary GS grille and visually connected the upper and lower elements into what appeared to be a single frame, with a central pinch-point that created a spindle effect.
“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 trim surrounding the grille mesh to enhance the visual statement. The geometric shape is a result of function, too. In particular, the lower half is structured to assist intake airflow, optimising the temperature of the engine under the bonnet.
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,” says Tatsuya Hattori of the Lexus Product Development Division. His team was responsible for drawing up the actual blueprint of the grille. “We 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 models come with this bold frontal design. However, each version receives unique design treatment to cater to each model’s specific target audience.
A more sporty variation is exclusively available on F Sport grade models. Its mesh 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.
In successive concepts and production models, Lexus has successfully adapted the basic spindle design to express different qualities appropriate to each vehicle. Examples include adjusting the height of the pinch-point, applying different mesh designs, different 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