2018 Lexus LC 500 First Drive: Banish boring
– Seville, Spain
Lexus is, to a certain extent, a prisoner of its own success. After decades of building quietly excellent luxury cars, with reputations for quality and reliability far stronger than those for sporty driving and overall excitement, the automaker understands that reinvention is necessary to develop a younger audience.
In fact, just one look at the current Lexus showroom floor will tell you that the Japanese brand has been clawing for mindshare amongst hipper car buyers for some time now. The oversized spindle grill; the LED slashes that look like a Nike endorsement; the complexly crimped body surfacing: all moves to empower and enhance the credibility of Lexus design. You might argue about the success of those efforts, but their existence speaks to overall purpose.
As I walked out of the front door of my hotel in Seville, Spain, the Lexus LC 500 awaiting me on the cobblestone street seemed to represent the pinnacle of those efforts to date. This, ladies and gentlemen, is an awfully attractive car.
The long, curving hood reminds one of the bulbous nose of the RC, but its lower profile and slimmer silhouette are far less cartoonish here on the new coupe.
The LC pays tribute to the design work that has come before it, while pulling elements together in a way more successful than any Lexus I can remember. “Arrowhead” DRLs like those debuted by the current IS have been stretched, while a dark kind of “eyeliner” underscores the sharp, triple-element headlights. The long, curving hood reminds one of the bulbous nose of the RC, but its lower profile and slimmer silhouette are far less cartoonish here on the new coupe.
But most impressive to me, by far, is the way in which the ultra-short rear deck meets up with those very wide back haunches. The gesture is powerful and, combined with the long hood, a remarkably fresh expression of classic sports car proportions.
Inside, the design is just as effectively executed, though it perhaps falls slightly back into the traditional Lexus comfort zone. Yes, the sueded door panels and weave pattern on the panel above the glove box do feel like the stuff of concept or supercars. Oh, and the door handles, which stand proud of the panel, not recessed, should win whatever design prize is awarded for such things – they’re perhaps my favorite detail of this interior. But the rest of the cabin is just a first-rate execution of materials, and touch points, with more of a conventional (re: conservative) Lexus ethos.
Inside, the design is just as effectively executed, though it perhaps falls slightly back into the traditional Lexus comfort zone.
Of course, the mandate for Lexus (remember Akio Toyoda, in his finest David E. Davis, Jr. moment, said he’s done with boring cars) isn’t just to build machines that look like the business, they must drive the part, too. Enter the all-new, rear-drive-based platform that underpins the LC, and the familiar-but-fun 5.0-liter V8 that motivates it.
You’ve no doubt read the LC will launch with two powertrains: the aforementioned V8 with a 10-speed automatic transmission and a performance-oriented hybrid dubbed LC 500h. I drove both cars, on the road and on the track, and will respectfully save the hybrid, which isn’t going to be the volume seller in the U.S., for a later review. Suffice it to say here that the hybrid is not the version I’d buy.
The conventional engine is, on the other hand, rather stirring. Lexus has squeezed 471 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque from the mill, with a claimed 0-60-miles-per-hour run of just 4.4 seconds. (That’s four more horsepower and nine added pound-feet compared to the same V8 in the RC F, for the record, though the 0-60 time stays the same for both cars.) I’m a sucker for a good naturally aspirated V8, where I can find one in today’s landscape of turbocharged power, and this is no exception. Power to the rear wheels rises rapidly and smoothly as the revs stack up, and the attendant exhaust note seems to goad one’s right foot into the bottom of the carpet. Thrust from a standing start is well managed by the 10-speed auto; the transmission uses a first-gear lockout feature to deliver smooth takeoffs, but you can still get the back tires loose if you’d rather drop the hammer and dial in some steering lock.
The transmission uses a first-gear lockout feature to deliver smooth takeoffs, but you can still get the back tires loose if you’d rather drop the hammer and dial in some steering lock.
There’s no word yet from Lexus on just how thirsty the LC 500 will be, but we can make an educated guess based on the RC F. The LC has a bit more power, and weighs roughly 300 more pounds, so it’s fair to estimate a mild decline from the RC’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 city, 25 highway, and 19 combined.
Rear-wheel drive with a potent V8 in the front would seem to hint that the LC is a kind of luxurious Japanese muscle car, but the underpinnings make the driving experience far more grownup. There were some spectacularly twisted driving roads scattered across the Andalusian countryside outside of Seville, and this Lexus made great use of them. Steering response especially surprised me here, with a reasonable amount of road feel (informative but not chatty) and rapid turn-in from the electrically assisted system.
Sure, the 4,000-plus pounds of curb weight make all in-corner response feel a little duller at track speeds than on the road, but the car wanted to stay flat even in fast corners.
With the Drive Mode set to Sport, ride and handling seemed very well balanced for aggressive driving on good roads. The tail of the car felt fluid, but not darty, in hard corners, and the multilink rear suspension kept the attitude correct for switchback driving. And the strong brakes – 13-inch front discs with 6-pot calipers up front – made setting up for the next turn quick and predictable. It was rhythmic work: turn-in, power on, and then quickly shed velocity. Just the kind of thing that makes one grab the keys of a coupe for a weekend blast.
Now, your average Lexus LC 500 owner will probably not extend that weekend drive to the local track; this is a luxury sports car, not a lapping machine. But Lexus lined up time for me on the Monteblanco Circuit – a rather new facility near Seville that’s seen occasional use as Formula 1 test track – to illustrate where the edges of the LC’s performance envelope really are. The biggest takeaway from the experience was just how rigid the new rear-drive platform is. Sure, the 4,000-plus pounds of curb weight make all in-corner response feel a little duller at track speeds than on the road, but the car wanted to stay flat even in fast corners. Steering response in Sport+ mode remained impressive, too, even with the greater demands of speed and my occasional mis-reading of those new corners (I got smoother near the end of my set of laps, don’t worry).
The LC 500 is a sports car that is far from boring, and describes a path that has the potential to turn Lexus into a destination brand for younger buyers.
Much more relevant to the future of the LC than lap times will be its starting price. On that front, as of this writing, I’m left to play a game of “best guess.” Here’s what I know: the LC is quite clearly a move upmarket from the current RC coupe, but starts with roughly equal performance of the $65,000 RC F. The engineering team was benchmarking cars like the Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe and BMW 650i, however, which start in the $90,000 to $100,000-ish range. My bet would be we see an MSRP in the $90k zone then, with heavily optioned cars surpassing six figures.
Oh, and don’t forget that it’s little better than an open secret that there’s an LC R in the works, too. Expect that car to be the highest-performance Lexus since the LFA, and carry an attendant price tag.
CEO Toyoda should be proud of this car, as should the company product planners and engineers that have brought it to life. The LC 500 is a sports car that is far from boring, and describes a path that has the potential to turn Lexus into a destination brand for younger buyers. Selling with the sex of performance and style, but without completely selling out on the core values that have made the luxury marque so successful, could prove a masterstroke.