Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept is the EV crossover it desperately needs

Lexus has revealed its latest EV vision, with the LF-Z Electrified promising a taste of what the automaker has in mind for an upcoming electric crossover. The striking compact SUV combines Lexus' DIRECT4 drivetrain system – in which individual wheels can be controlled directly – with a minimalistic four-seater cabin, not to mention a new interpretation of the company's love-it-or-hate-it spindle grille.

That's been a contentious part of Lexus styling for years now, and the automaker has only responded by making it larger. On the LF-Z Electrified, however, far less of the grille is actually open – since the cooling requirements of an EV are very different, and located differently, to those of an internal combustion car – and Lexus says it has tried to integrate the nose of the crossover more into the overall body of the vehicle.

The result is a combination of muscular design and aerodynamic slipperiness. The front is low, with a smooth arch over the top of the cabin for maximum airflow. The wheels get pushed out to the corners as far as possible, while at the rear there's minimal detailing and a new interpretation of the Lexus logo branding.

Inside, meanwhile, Lexus says the concept of "Tazuna" – Japanese for "rein" – has led the styling. "Inspired by the relationship between horse and rider, who communicate through a single rein," the automaker suggests, "steering wheel-mounted switches and the vehicle's head-up display have been highly coordinated to create a space in which various functions, such as the navigation system, audio system, and driving mode selection, can be performed while concentrating on driving and without movement of the driver's line of sight or need to operate complicated switches."

That translates to a fairly spartan dashboard, a stark contrast to the screen-heavy panels that we've seen on other EVs recently. Lexus envisages an augmented reality head-up display along with a tight cluster of controls, leaving the rest of the space made up of sweeping lines. A panoramic roof with long plates of glass keep the four-seater feeling airy inside.

Just because there aren't a dozen screens spread across every surface, though, doesn't mean there isn't technology there too. That roof, for example, uses electrochroamatic glass which can shift from transparent to shaded. In its center there's a touch panel that Lexus says "is used for communication between passengers," and those in the rear get reclining massage seats. A new Mark Levinson audio system that works in tandem with active noise cancellation.

An onboard AI powers the voice recognition system, and Lexus says it'll also learn common destinations and even driver habits and preferences, making more intuitive suggestions and recommendations as a result. A digital key replaces physical access controls, and the E-Latch retractable handles pop-out automatically when someone approaches, but then slide back in so as not to interrupt airflow along the sides of the crossover.

Under it all is DIRECT4, Lexus' all-wheel drive electric powertrain. It can push power to each of the wheels independently, as well as shifting between front-, rear-, and all-wheel drive depending on driving situations. Steer-by-wire not only removes the mechanical link between the steering wheel and the front wheels, but Lexus says it allows the EV to adjust how much turning is required based on the situation. For low-speed parking, for example, a much smaller turn of the wheel could translate to a bigger movement.

Sadly for those taken by the LF-Z Electrified's blend of curves and sharp creases, Lexus isn't planning to build the concept car. Instead, it's a preview of what sort of thing it has in mind as it readies production EVs. By 2025, the automaker has said, it plans to introduce 20 new vehicle models, though not all of those will be fully-electric.

Instead, it'll be a combination of more than 10 BEVs, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), regular hybrids (HEVs), and then the rest being combustion models, Lexus suggests. Gas engine vehicles will still be part of the line-up, but Lexus expects sales to be outnumbered by its electrified models.