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 marvellous 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.)
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 $US92,000 base LC 500 (the LC 500h comes in at about $US5,000 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.
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.
Note the grab bar, for the passenger who might need something to hold onto.
The steering wheel feels great — and the steering is both comfortable and responsive.
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.
The heart of the LC 500 is, of course, a 5.0-litre, 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.
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.
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.
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