When you think of hybrids, you think of Toyota. The Prius reset expectations for what consumers could expect from fuel-economy and emissions when it arrived on the scene nearly 20 years ago.
The Prius reset expectations for what consumers could expect from fuel-economy and emissions when it arrived on the scene nearly 20 years ago.
Since then, Toyota has expanded its hybrid offerings, taking the tech out of the familiar Prius form and installing it in sedans and SUVs. Now a version of the system has been dropped into a high-performance Lexus sports car, the LC 500h.
It wasn’t a simple process, but ultimately, it was worth it. Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division, sells two versions of the LC 500: one with a big V8 under the hood, and the 500h variation we’re considering here. With the big-motor LC, you get a 10-speed automatic (with manual mode) and a straightforward linkage between gears and engine, in a rear-whee-drive grand-touring platform.
With the 500h, you get a tricky double transmission, two electric motors, and a smaller but still potent V6 engine.
In both cases, you get a car that literally stopped traffic when we borrowed it for a weekend. Yes, the LC 500h is a good-looking car. Possibly the best-looking Lexus money can buy.
Our test car tipped the cost scales at well over $US100,000, but the base vehicle is a mere $US96,000 and change (the LC 500 is $US92,000). Here’s what we thought.
Photos by Hollis Johnson.
We didn't initially think the looks were particularly show-stopping, but EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO WALKED BY begged to differ. The only vehicle that garnered more attention of late was our 2016 Car of the Year, the Acura NSX.
The controversial Lexus 'spindle' grille. It works on some vehicles, such as the LC and the Lexus SUVs, but it's less successful on the brand's sedans.
The overall design is aggressive, and the car comes in a non-hybrid variant, the LC500, which has a stonking 471-horsepower 5.0-litre V8 under the hood. This bold coupé starts strong in the front with swept-back headlights and huge scoops then narrows through the doorline before ...
... widening to a pair of athletic rear haunches and a pair of rectangular exhaust pipes. The LC 500h might be a hybrid, but its looks get ya coming and going.
The LC 500h is a hefty car, at almost 4,500 lbs. With a 0-60 mph time of just over five seconds, this machine is quick without being blisteringly fast. But the weight means that solid brakes are essential. Bottom line is that what we have here is a proper GT, powerful but also capable of comfortable cruising.
The dark leather interior provides abundant comfort, if severely limited space. The driver and passenger will be relatively content, and the seats are supportive and well bolstered.
This steering wheel is fantastic. Leather-wrapped, perforated, and with nice big shifting paddles. As you can see, the overall vibe in here is rich and subdued, with the leather counterpointed by brushed-metal trim.
Very sophisticated. Note the grab handle for the passenger. Yes, there's enough performance bottled up in the LC 500h to induce grabbing hold of something under certain circumstances.
You've got Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus at your disposal. You choose using a small drive move selector that juts from the instrument panel.
The sunroof lets in light, and the sloping, fastback rear window prevents the snug rear seats from becoming small cave.
As sports-car trunks go, the LC 500h's isn't actually too bad. In classic GT fashion, there's room in here for a fashionable couple's weekend gear.
Lexus' infotainment system for the LC 500h is functional and comes with all the modern touches, but it's not well-loved. You have navigation, multiple audio options, voice activation, Bluetooth connectivity and AUX/USB ports. But the know-button-trackpad combo is difficult to use.
The infotainment screen is modest in size. But that's no knock -- screen are typically not huge on sports cars.
As with many systems these days, the view can be customised to display multiple types of information -- in this case, audio and navigation.
Apart from the styling, which was admired by everyone we encountered who looked at the car, the most interesting aspect of the LC 500h is the hybrid-electric drivetrain and its exotic transmission.
We will be driving the V8-engined LC 500 soon, but for now, we're focusing on the hybrid exclusively. What we have here is effectively a Prius-like gas-electric hybrid setup, but with a much more powerful gas engine and a transmission that is quite unlike the Prius' oft-maligned continuously variable unit.
The motor is a 295-horsepower, 3.5-litre V6 -- in and of itself, a pretty tasty powerplant, just not quite up to snuff an exciting grand-touring car such as the LC 500h. A pair of electric motors bumps the output to 354 hp (with power stored in a lithium-ion battery). And then comes the complicated transmission.
It's effectively a CVT combined with a more familiar four-speed gearbox, two transmissions for the price of one (the LC 500h, by the way, stickers for over $US4,000 more than the LC 500).
I've experienced the general idea in other vehicles, and the concept is to overcome the balky torque delivery of a CVT and provide the spirited driving dynamics that enthusiasts crave from conventional geared transmissions, but without clonking the hybrid fuel economy.
The best way to think about it is that the LC 500h can be driven like a car with a normal transmission, either in full auto or manual mode. Especially in manual mode, you want the power to be delivered in a crisp manner, without any lag.
What the LC 500h's system does is provide the torque required when the driver wants it, until the driver doesn't want it, at which point the LC 500h goes back to being a Prius in nature -- until the driver wants torque again.
Yes, there's a lot of engineering behind all this. But the bottom line is that it's tremendous in practice. That sort of buzzy, always tapped-out CVT feeling that Prius owners such as myself know and love is never in evidence.
The LC 500h continues my enthusiasm for Toyota's hybrid systems, from the Prius through the Lexus version of that car, the CT 200h, to this near-halo vehicle, which is more or less intended to give the BMW i8 a run for its money without tripping into supercar territory.
The DNA of the LC 500h is pure grand tourer, a coupé that's optimised for stylish runs to a second home or a snazzy resort. The thrill of arrival is partly supplanted by the joy of getting there.
Yes, you can opt for the stonking V8 LC 500, with its additional oomph and engine growl. But as with many high-powered performance cars these days, it will be hard to find anywhere to dive deeply into all that horsepower. The LC 500h offers the same package, but with tasty hybrid fuel-economy and electrically augmented pop when accelerating.
Yes, the hybrid system adds cost, but at this level, that's sort of academic. In exchange for a few grand extra, you acquire some exceptional technology and can spend hours trying to figure out how the transmission actually works to regale friends with tales of Lexus engineering prowess. Or just ignore the details and enjoy the LC 500h's ecologically sensitive voodoo.
The LC 500h isn't quite as comfy as the Acura NSX, perhaps the easiest-to-live-with mid-engine supercar on Earth (and our 2016 BI Car of the Year). But the LC 500h also has a back seat and trunk. And it's abundantly comfortable.
I expected the LC 500 to be an absolute kick to drive. But I also felt that I got into more of what the LC 500h has to give. The entire combination is ferociously suave, sort of like a high-tech Japanese Aston Martin.
This is an eminently satisfying rear-wheel-drive sports car that intensifies every fundamental. Acceleration is brisk. Handling, thanks to the carefully composed suspension, is exceptional. Steering is communicative without being a chore. The brakes are outstanding. Put it all together and you've got a car that's ready to give everything it's got when called upon but is happy to return to poke-around-town mode when the fun has ended.
That might sound boring, or like a machine that wants to have it both ways and could be compromised accordingly. But the LC 500h isn't boring at all, and at no time did the whiff of compromise emanate from it.
The car is quite simply superb. Sure, the LC 500 is objectively more machine. But the LC 500h has a secret weapon, called miles-per-gallon. According to the EPA, it's 26 city/35 highway/30 combined. For a car with this much performance and style, that's astonishing.
We will be testing the LC 500 pretty soon, but I already know which Lexus GT I'm leaning toward.
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