How can Lexus get so wrong when doing right?

I have a confession— I like Joss Whedon’s work.  This is the man who brought us Toy Story via screen play, shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Buffy spin-off Angel, and Doll House.  Given those are shows my girlfriend watches, not me, the show that got me hooked was the cult-classic Firefly and subsequent follow-up film Serenity.  Other films such as The Avengers and Alien Resurrection are also among them.  The reason for bringing this up comes down to the latter: Alien.  One can look around the automotive market and see what seems to be a resurgence of the franchise when looking at such vehicles as Honda’s Insight, or the Nissan Quest.

2012 Honda Insight Hybrid (upper left).  2012 Nissan Quest (upper right).  Me without coffee Alien (lower left).

While I can say Whedon had nothing to do with “AVP,” I can’t think of a better way of throwing out that Lexus has gone a different stylistic route: Predator.  Yup, while everyone else makes blobby alien-heads, here comes Lexus with the weird spindle-grille that gets everyone thinking of the toothy Rastafarian hunters that gave Arnold and the acid-blooders a run for their money.

Om nomnom (upper left).  2013 Lexus GS F-Sport package (upper right).  My last dentists appointment Lexus predator mouth (bottom left).

Sure it’s a controversial design, and that’s always a subjective topic.  Personally I can dig the grille—the new GS and ES pull it off fairly well, even.  Both of those cars also offer something Lexus hasn’t done in some time: offering a surprise to drivers.  The ES is now based on the new Toyota Avalon, snubbing the ES norm as the Camry’s Harley Earl Edition.  Since the Avalon is quite the platform for 2013, it translated under the L-badge, too.

2013 Lexus ES350

For the GS, that’s just some good old front-engine, rear-drive performance done… better.  Maybe not perfect, but better.  Stylistically, though, it’s no longer a shoe-horn shaped, Yaris-eyed sedan.  It’s now a sharper, meaner, faster machine.

2010 Lexus GS430 (left).  2013 Lexus GS450h (right).

Now that the ES and GS have finally had their much-needed updates (the LS gets a touch up deserving less attention), what about the already well shaped Lexus IS that’s been out since 2006?  That too has been unveiled.  Now I’m confused.  How could the Lexus designers improve the GS and ES looks so well, and fail so badly on the IS?  The tail-lights seem to evoke old, lesser cars from the MkIV and MkV VW Golf’s (see the Rebadge Round of a few weeks ago for examples), the current Kia Rio subcompact, and a commonly brought up 2004 Acura TSX.

2004 Acura TSX (left).  2013 Lexus IS (right).

One can only deduce that the GS is still supposed to be a stalwart in the class by Lexus’ ideas (though BMW and Mercedes are actually quite bland for the 5-Series and E-Class designs it competes with).  Thus, if the sharp controversy of the GS is supposed to be dull, the IS should be outrageously heinous to to pupils.

2013 Lexus IS with F-Sport kit (left).  2010 Lexus IS250 (right).

But then it hit me after I started writing this article that, while initially mangled, there’s still method in the IS madness.  You see, I have a reputation for seeing lines and design in a car that others may not always pay close attention to.  The way the rocker panel swoops up, it’s creating an invisible line that goes across the wheel, into the rear bumper, and through the lights, looping into the trunk lid to be mirrored on the other side.

I may see that now, but how many other people will?  It was a risky move for Lexus to make when they were on a roll style wise… at least for the models that weren’t simply refreshed with the new grille (helllllooooo LS, RX, et al).  However with sales, looks generally aren’t everything.  Technology, performance, and the all-important brand identity still reigns supreme.  Sadly, that can often be the case for Mr. Whedon’s Firefly.

Image sources:
Click on the images.  It’ll take you to the original source (aside from IS rear lines– that I Photoshopped myself).

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