Lexus is at a very critical stage in its production life. After the demise of the LFA, what was next for Lexus? They’ve been stuck producing commonplace, mass production cars but never really focused on the enthusiast side of the car world… at least that’s what we thought, until now, five years later. The problem is, where does Lexus now fit into the game of high performance? Acura may have the NSX, but it’s out of Lexus’ league at the moment and Infiniti is still trying to catch up. Their new luxury sports coupe LC500 and LC500h is entering a whole new, tougher, more vigorous, world – can Lexus really play with the big boys now?
The LC, short for “Luxury Coupe,” is nestled in a very unique sports car market, its competition faces the Porsche 911 and quite possibly the $112,000 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, which even that is a bit of stretch to say they really compare – perhaps more appropriately the E-Class Coupe, which is more car than the LC. Either way, starting at $92,000 the LC holds an upper hand over the Porsche 911, because, while the 911 starts a mere grand cheaper, to get nearly half the options the LC 500 has, it requires an extra 30-grand just to make it as luxurious as the LC – for numbers sake, the 911 can push $120,000 easily and that’s before looking into the performance options.
Lexus has done what Lexus does best, while the LC comes with a snarling naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 that sounds very unlady like, they also offer a hybrid noted the LC 500h. However, don’t let that hush, hush quietness fool – there is a something about this system that has us thinking, “is being a hybrid a good thing?”
First things first, the hybrid is more expensive than the standard V-8 starting over $96,000, which has us a little baffled. The V-8 of the LC 500 produces 471-horsepower while the 3.5-liter V-6 here with its electric motor produces 354 net horsepower… so it’s more expensive and less power? It’s also not as quick as the V-8, taking 4.7 seconds to 60 mph verses the V-8’s 4.4 seconds. So then it comes down to fuel economy? The hybrid is supposed to be better than the V-8? Maybe… maybe not. We nearly averaged 22 miles to the gallon combined with mixed highway and city driving having driven over 600 miles; however, other sources have reported their V-8 test cars getting nearly 22 MPG mixed – I wonder if they were as aggressive as we were, hmmm.
The hybrid system works very similarly to how a traditional hybrid works, but on a much grander scale. The V-6 and electric motor work tirelessly together to produce maximum performance, while at steady or lower speeds it can switch into electric mode (even as far as 82 mph) to maximize the most out of its fuel efficiency. It’s transmission on the other hand is where we start to get into the real technical bit – now we can either bore you with the specifics and leave your head scratching or simply just say that the LC hybrid uses a simulated 10-speed, 4-speed CVT automatic transmission that is quite the piece of clever engineering. Accentually, the LC hybrid uses a CVT transmission at the core, but it’s also paired with a four-speed management system that operates for the higher end of the revolutions while simulating a 10-speed system. It’s quite interesting actually… however, because it’s all basically electronically controlled, it feels more like a video game console than a transmission. Choosing between Normal, Sport and Sport + Modes alter the transmissions ego, as well as the digital instrument cluster. During Sport +, the transmissions alter ego becomes more aggressive with sharper responses through the magnesium paddle shifters and the throttle behavior is more intensified. Nevertheless at the end of the day, the transmission is still partially fake, using the paddle shifters feels fraudulent – there’s no real enjoyment and because the shifts are fake there’s no real engagement with the car. Even the sound of the engine and exhaust are pipped through the speakers, but that, we don’t mind. This engine sounds phenomenal at high revs with a high pitch note.
The steering and the chassis on the other hand are fairly on point. Our tester rolling on optional 21-inch forged wheels expressed the competent side of the luxury chart. The adaptive variable suspension system worked its charm maintaining comfort over the roughest roads while providing a sporty feel from behind the wheel. Even during “Normal” drive mode the steering maintain precision with an agile composure. The turns in where crisp with nimble responsiveness – changing into Sport + enhances the steering dynamics to be more vigorous and energetic. Every response provides a familiarity to the road, you can feel the grip with the tires. Unfortunately, this is a luxury coupe after all and is let down but its body lean in the corners – but then again, this wasn’t built for the track. Perhaps a Lexus LC F should be in the works for that to be the case.
The LC 500 is all about being luxurious. So what is luxury, what does one consider to be luxurious over a standard Lexus? For starters, just look at it for a moment – not the car – the details – the little details. The LED headlights that look like crystal jewels and the integrated LED switchback that flows into the headlight seamlessly. The LED taillights that have mirrors to give off an infinite illusion or the fact that during the day look like alien eyes. Or the flush mounted door hands that pop out from the door with Lexus symbol mounted on top just as a reminder what you purchased.
Then there’s the interior – granted our sampler was featured with the $3960 Performance Package that brought in Alcantara sport seats and an Alcantara finished headliner. Stepping into the interior is like stepping into a modern day Roman Empire oasis. Everything seen, everything touched felt of high quality, the stainless steel buttons had presence. Even the steel door handles that protruded from the door felt like grabbing something important, opening and closing the door was an occasion. Lexus even left the fiberglass panels exposed on the doors to give a unique appeal with engraved Lexus screw heads. That’s just something you don’t see every day.
However, while Lexus has gone out of their way to make the LC as un-Lexus-like as possible, there are subtle details that remind us that not everything is perfect. The infotainment system touch pad is finicky and awkward to use – it’s very distracting while driving. Lexus also wanted a clean dash, so they removed key components like the ventilated and heated seats feature to be integrated into the infotainment system which is then difficult to navigate and find. Because this is the hybrid, Lexus has a funny way of reminding people they’re in reverse by emitting an unpleasant pinging noise through the cabin. While the gear nob is layered in leather and stainless steel – it carries the same functionality as a Toyota Prius – there’s not tactile engagement when changing gear. Even at $100k, the LC still offers Blind Spot Monitoring and the Intuitive Parking system as a $1000 option while features such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking and Automatic High Beams are a standard feature. And strangely enough, Lexus offers an all-around view camera in their premium RX and LX SUV’s but not in this – instead it has a camera straight out of an IS sedan.
Hats off to Lexus for stepping into a segment filled with hardcore enthusiast. It’s a hard justification to sacrifice the V-8 for something more fuel efficient. But if the life of an everyday sports car, it is more beneficial after all. Lexus has taken a big risk with the LC, and it’s a risk we think will pay off because at the end of the day, it is, after all, a Lexus, a car that 10 years later will still be in someone’s garage, running as smooth as the day it was purchased verses sitting on the used car lot waiting for someone to bite the bullet.
|2018 Lexus LC 500h:||$96,510|
|As Tested (including Options & Destination):||$108,605|
|3.5-liter V-6 & Electric Motor – 254-Net Horsepower, CVT 4-Speed Simulated 10-Speed Automatic Transmission – 0-60MPH: ±4.7 seconds|
|EPA MPG: 26/35/30 (City/Highway/Combined) – SSB Average: 22 MPG’s – Fuel Range: ±465 Miles|