Lexus LC 500: REVIEW, PICTURES

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Lexus LC 500
The spindle grille works here.
Matthew DeBord/BI

The high-performance grand-touring two-door segment is, to be
perfectly honest with you, one of the dinosaurs of the auto
world. 

Yes, you have machines as spectacular and stylish as the Aston Martin DB 11
we recently reviewed. The genre is well understood: a car for the
well-heeled and fashionable to use for marvelous jaunts between
urban residence and beach or mountain getaways. Seating for two
in the front, and for two in the back. But not really very much
seating in the back. Maybe the idea that nobody should ever sit
back there; instead, space for a cashmere wrap and a suede
jacket, possibly an expensive camera. A trunk large enough to
hold a pair of overnight bags.

Under the hood, a big, powerful, probably excessive engine. A V8
— or more! A great well of horsepower, with the ferocity directed
at the rear drive wheels and the luxuriously loud exhaust note
coming from the tailpipes. 

These GT cars say something about an automaker. Brits and
Italians love to create them. 

And then we have Lexus. Toyota’s luxury brand is supposed to be
about comfy sedans and admirable crossover SUVs, not sexy,
European-ish 2+2s. But Lexus has a GT in the lineup. In fact, it
has two versions of the same GT: the LC 500 and the LC 500h.

We were
recently wowed by the LC 500h, a hybrid gas-electric car, and
then a unique opportunity presented itself: the LC 500h’s
sibling, the LC 500 all-gas vehicle, rocking a stonking V8 rather
than the 500h’s combination of a V6-electric-motor powertrain.
What made this opportunity even more appealing was that we could
drive the LC 500 to Lime Rock Park, a racetrack in Connecticut
where Lexus Racing would be running cars in the IMSA WeatherTech
series, North America’s premier showcase for sports cars. (And
running not the LC 500, but rather the RC F GT3, a track-modded
version of the RC F coupe.)


Lexus Motorsports Lime Rock
Lexus takes to the track at Lime
Rock.

Lexus
Racing


I’ve driven sports cars to watch sport cars race before, but
we’re talking about Ferraris. Lexus’ ambitions on the track
mirror what the LC 500 is all about: proper high performance,
from a brand with a reputation for producing softly sprung sedans
of outstanding quality and SUVs that see heavy action in
America’s more affluent zip codes, hauling families.

Our test car was a well-optioned, pre-production version of the
$92,000 base LC 500 (the LC 500h comes in at about $5,000 more).
Inside and out, it was stylish and luxurious. The LC 500h was a
real traffic stopper in shimmery metallic blue, and the icy white
LC 500 continued that trend. It was one of the most looked-at
cars we have sampled in recent months, exceeded only by something
like the Acura NSX supercar.


Lexus LC 500
Sharp!
Matthew
DeBord/BI


The LC 500 (and the 500h) just seemed to get all the proportions
right. Even Lexus’ controversial “spindle” grille appears
fetching as the prime feature of the car’s fascia. The current
design vocabulary Lexus is using is heavy on folded shapes and
articulated edges, and on some vehicles (I’m looking at you,
RX
SUV) the approach can seem excessive. But on the LC 500,
barely restrained excess is the whole point, and here all the
swoops and slashes and drama come together effectively.

The interior is arguably even better, a sleek realm of tautly
bolstering leather seats and all manner of Alcantara swathing. It
feels spectacularly premium without even a hint of the stodginess
or borderline midlife crisis vibe found in other upscale GT
competitors. 


Lexus LC 500
Luxury!
Matthew
DeBord/BI


Note the grab bar, for the passenger who might need something to
hold onto.


Lexus LC 500Matthew
DeBord/BI

The steering wheel feels great — and the steering is both
comfortable and responsive.


Lexus LC 500Matthew
DeBord/BI

The back seats are, of course, not really suitable for grownups,
although I did transport an adult passenger from Manhattan to New
Jersey, with no major complaints.

Trunk space is also limited, but The LC 500 has adequate cargo
capacity to handle the luggage of your average couple for the
average weekend getaway. And they aren’t likely to have anybody
in the back seat, so there’s some additional space.

The infotainment system is best passed over in silence. A modest
display screen occupies the upper center of the console, but it’s
the wonky knob-and-touchscreen interface that is difficult to
use. The problem isn’t unique to the LC 500 — we’ve struggled
with this system in many Lexus vehicles. It is functional once
you get the hang of it, but it’s also continually annoying. Lexus
can and should do better. But otherwise, all the modern features
are present: Bluetooth integration, USB/AUX ports, navigation,
premium audio with SiriusXM satellite radio.


Lexus LC 500
The powerplant.
Matthew
DeBord/BI


The heart of the LC 500 is, of course, a 5.0-liter,
471-horsepower V8, delivering 398 pound-feet of torque and a
Lexus-claimed 0-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds. That’s juicy fast and
impressive given the LC 500’s bulk, which is about one NFL
defensive lineman above 4,000 lbs.

On my roughly 230-mile round trip from the Garden State to
Connecticut and back, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to
duck and dive into corners (there was some of that), but I
certainly had a chance to pilot the LC 500 and that excellent V8
in a straight line. One of the best things about a big V8 is that
you get this “bottomless well of power” effect: you’re roaring
along, but you can always roar more. This is very relaxing,
knowing that you can just tap the throttle and summon more
puissance, literally on demand. 


Lexus LC 500
Meh.
Matthew
DeBord/BI


This is precisely what you want from a GT car: the Grand Tour
entails parkways, highways, freeways, motorways — all the many
ways that cars can drive on — blended with some scenic twists and
turns. On this front, the LC 500 is magnificent. It’s different
from the LC 500h, which is natural given that the driving
dynamics of a hybrid vary. In the case of the LC 500, they vary a
lot, but not so much with the handling and the vehicle’s
composure, more so with the powertrain. 

You’ve got a rear-wheel-drive car in both cases, but the LC 500
has a large gas-only engine with a 10-speed transmission that can
deliver decent fuel economy. It also has an Eco mode to go along
with a Comfort mode, as well as Sport and Sport Plus modes that
when combined with the paddle-shifters allow the driver to take
control. The LC 500h has the same modes, but the engine yokes
together two technologies. The transmission is also a two-part
invention, combining a familiar hybrid continuously variable unit
with a geared setup to mimic the pop of an old-school mill.


Lexus LC 500
Controls driving modes.
Matthew DeBord/BI

We had
some issues with the RC F, but really no major performance
objections to the LC 500 or LC 500h. True, the LC 500 isn’t
Lexus’ legendary LFA supercar, but it checks off numerous boxes,
from snazzy styling to robust engine note.

Lexus has set about changing minds and capturing heats with its
enthusiast offerings, and somewhat shockingly, it’s succeeding.
Lexus Racing is the point of the spear, but memories of the LFA
linger strongly, and while some of the company’s F-Sport products
haven’t been quite as good as we might have hoped, the LC 500 is
a generally brilliant piece of engineering. 

The market for such machines is small but significant, as far as
branding, influence, and direction are concerned. The LC 500 is a
“talker” — a car whose reputation will increasingly precede it.
And a very good reputation it will be: this might be the best
high-performance car Lexus has ever built.


Lexus LC 500
Well done!
Matthew
DeBord/BI


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