Getting behind the wheel of a sporty Lexus has been a spotty affair since the brand was founded back in 1989. While the brand has had a great success with their sedans, there have been a few sporty hits, but mostly misses, on the path to establish the company as a full-line Japanese luxury brand. That was until recent years where Akio Toyoda decided enough was enough. That was until the 2018 Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h.
Fat, drunk and stupid Stodgy, boring and not very fun to drive is no way to go through life. (With apologies to Dean Wormer in Animal House https://youtu.be/rs_PkNkB-wQ ) So it was very apparent by Toyoda-san’s joyful display at the 2016 NAIAS in Detroit, that the brand had finally found its footing.
With the 2018 Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h, do we have just another pretty face or does this newest grand tourer finally have what it takes to compete in the world of high-zoot personal luxury cars?
A sheep in wolf’s clothing or more?
The 2018 Lexus LC 500 is a front-engined, rear drive, 2+2 placed sports machine. Offered from the start with a choice of two powerplants, the lead engine will be the 5.0-liter naturally aspirated, direct injection V8 engine that produces 471 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. It will be mated to a first-for-the-segment 10-speed automatic transmission that Lexus tells us is as fast as some dual-clutch gearboxes found in sports cars costing thousands more.
As an alternative to that engine, and capitalizing on the Lexus parent company’s expertise in hybrid technology, the brand managed to stuff a Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive system into the engine bay of the Lexus LC 500h. Based on an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V6 with two electric motors for a net 354 total horsepower. Instead of the ten-cog gearbox, the LC 500h uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that combines with a more traditional four-speed transmission, which works to keep the hybrid’s 3.5-liter V6 running in what engineers have determined to be the powertrain’s sweet spot. The system allows the electric portion of the drivetrain to giddyup to 87 mph before it starts drawing from the gasoline-powered V6.
The gas and the hybrid models of this 4,290-pounder top out at an electronically limited 168 and 155 mph respectively. While the gas V8 manages 16 city, 26 highway, with a 19 mpg average, the hybrid achieves 26 city, 35 highway and 30 combined. Zero to 60 from the gas 5.0-liter ticks off in 4.4-seconds, while the hybrid manages the same feat in 4.7.
The LC 500’s suspension manages to bypass the latest in high tech offerings including variable air suspension systems in favor of a more traditional front and rear multilink suspension with electrically assisted power rack and pinion steering kit. An optional rear-steering system is part of the LC’s Performance package and provides the means to shrink the LC’s turning circle or assist in lane change maneuvers. In total, the entire suspension system helps the LC sportscar perform more rigidly than the LF-A supercar
They said it couldn’t be done.
Doing a quick walk around the car, it is clear that there really is no bad angle from which to look at it. Design yields to innovations, including a nearly flat bottom for improved aero, and scoops in the lower front fascia that channel air over the outsides of the wheels, both front and rear similar to the Air Curtain feature found in select BMW models.
Mr. Toyoda asked, “Can it be done? Would it be possible to go all out and make a truly luxurious grand touring sport coupe worthy of the L-logo and the signature spindle grille?” About that spindle grille, we think this is the first time in a Lexus model where the cinched-waist opening really fits the design, rather than fighting it. The hood, fenders and door panels are aluminum. The rest of the exterior uses composites throughout, and even has an available carbon fiber roof.
Built on Lexus’s new GA-L platform that it shares with the new Lexus LS sedan, it is built to compete against the likes of the BMW 650i, Jaguar’s F-Type and the Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe. It manages to fit right in while remaining completely different from the others. Pricing is different, too, starting at $92,000 for the 2018 Lexus LC 500 with its naturally aspirated V8, to the LC 500h Hybrid, which checks in at $96,510. In the grand scheme of things, that’s almost in bargain territory.
Being a two+two grand tourer seems to be a bit of a reach. But the whole concept seems to be, doesn’t it? It does manage to source interior inspiration directly from Maranello, Italy, home of Ferrari. We loved nearly every aspect of the interior including the finely stitched leather that covered the high-performance driver and passenger seats. But all was not totally perfect. We thought it came up a bit short with the touchpad, which should be taken back for a bit of refinement. And then there was the LC’s fly-by-wire gearshift control. Despite its leather-wrapping, it still seemed as though it was pilfered from Toyota’s Prius parts bin. It just doesn’t seem a proper fit in a luxury sports coupe.
Either way, the cars appear the same except for the blue-background hybrid badging.
Behind the wheel.
The Lexus LC 500 features the same engine found in the GS-F and the RC-F. Sonorous, almost F1-like in nature, it punctuated the exhaust notes with an audible pop at the change of a gear. The closely spaced gearbox climbed rather quickly through the cogs, getting to the optimal ring in short order. But could this be a case of overkill? We experienced a bit of hunting while cruising around, which may just be the indicator that, in this case, maybe eight truly is enough.
Acceleration is sharp enough in both versions of the LC 500, with the shifting of the gears holding just long enough to make it interesting. When it reached the optimal point, a slight backfire is heard offering the emotional appeal that got you interested in cars in the first place, right?
This grand tourer is almost a one-size-fits-all proposition that could work for a wide variety of drivers. Think of it as an Aston Martin with reliability. It’s just the thing if you would like a little cash back from your $100-large. Still, with only 400 samples being built each month, and with dealers trying to eek every last cent out of a transaction, finding one at that price might be like finding one of those unicorn things.
Another cool thing: Lexus plans to go racing with the LC 500 in the IMSA WeatherTech and other European and Asian racing series. Do they have what it takes? Time will tell, but as a betting man, we’d say yes. According to Lexus officials, the brand is here to leave a mark.
Base MSRP: LC 500- $92,000. LC 500h- $96,510.
Destination Fee: $995.
Key Specs LC 500 LC 500h
Cylinders: 8 6 + two electric motors
Displacement: 5.0-liter 3.5-liter
Power: 471 @ 7,100 rpm 354 hp (combined)
Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm 256.7 @4,900 rpm
Fuel System: Direct Injection Direct Injection
Fuel: Premium Premium
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds
Drive Type RWD RWD
Gearbox: 10-speed automatic Multi-stage Hybrid
Tire Size: 245/45RF20, Rr: 275/40RF20 245/45RF20, Rr: 275/40RF20
Unladen Weight: 4,280-pounds 4,435-pounds
Length: 187.4-inches 187.4-inches
Width: 75.6-inches 75.6-inches
Height: 53.0-inches 53.0-inches
Wheelbase: 113.0-inches 113.0-inches
Cargo Volume: 5.4-cubic feet 5.4-cubic feet
Cd: 0.33 0.33
City: 16 26
Highway: 26 35
Combined: 19 30