Lexus LC coupe: Dare to be different
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The road travelled by Lexus takes some exciting turns with the arrival of the new LC.
The muscular flagship coupe might be destined to sell in exclusive numbers but its importance to the Lexus brand extends beyond annual sales that might at best run into double figures in New Zealand.
Launching the LC sees Lexus make a clear departure from a conservative and conventional path toward something a little more daring and visionary.
But it wasn't a turn taken with speed. Even Lexus executives have questioned whether the LC would reach production since it debuted as the stunning LF-LC concept car at the Detroit Auto Show back in 2012.
Now not only has it reached production, but a substantial amount of the design impact and detailed craftsmanship that was showcased by the concept has been carried through to a production car that's now on New Zealand roads.
And there are two versions, offering a choice between naturally aspirated V8 brute force from the LC 500 or modern performance efficiency from a V6 hybrid model badged as LC 500h.
It's more than just a head-turning hero for the Lexus range. The GA-L architecture with multi-link suspension has already been stretched to provide the platform for the next-gen LS sedan set to launch in New Zealand later this year and it will go on to under-pin future north-south engine Lexus models.
The V8 model introduces a new close-ratio 10-speed automatic transmission while the 500h model has a Lexus-first lithium-ion battery pack and an interesting multi-stage transmission solution that brings together a CVT and a four-speed automatic to provide a wider spread of ratios and more conventional shift feel.
The Lexus engineers have managed to fit the 5.0-litre V8 -- also used in GS F and RC F models -- under the lowline bonnet of the LC. It punches out 351kW output at 7100rpm and 540Nm of torque at 4800rpm and active exhaust routing brings an even more extrovert start-up bellow, full-throttle roar and downshift blips from the V8.
A combined hybrid system power output of 264kW is claimed for the LC 500h with the normally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 engine producing 348Nm at 4900rpm. There isn't a published combined torque figure but the impression is the hybrid has at least as much muscle as the V8 at lower engine speeds while achieving combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.7L/100km.
So, the phrase "rushed or hushed" could be used to highlight the contrasting styles of the LC 500 and LC 500h.
The hybrid has an elastic style of power delivery and nothing like the volume or intensity of soundtrack. But that's not to say it's slow, and a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 5.0secs is only 0.5secs slower than the V8 and reveals the deceptive side to the hybrid's performance.
A press launch with a mix of highway driving from Queenstown across a gritty Crown Range to Wanaka and Cromwell and a chance to explore the performance on the Highlands Motorsport Park confirmed the raw excitement that resides on the V8 side of the LC equation. But there's an appealing low-effort efficiency and refinement that would make the LC 500h a swift and relaxing GT car for long journeys.
Both cars offer the scope to tune the performance and chassis via Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ driving modes.
Thugh the performance level is strong and the luxury feel and quality materials meet high-end Lexus expectations, it's the design of the LC that will attract the most attention. The nose is low in a way that puts the emphasis on the width of the body, while there is superbly crafted detail in the meshwork of the spindle grille. There are slim, three-projector LED headlights and prominent air curtains.
The two-door silhouette is classic coupe with a long bonnet, sweeping roofline, wedge profile and tapered cabin which puts focus on the extremely wide rear haunches. The bold shape -- mix of high strength steel, alloy panels and composites -- is tautly drawn around the 21-inch forged alloy wheels. Concealed door handles that pop out when touched provide a high-tech first acquaintance with the car.
Looks alone should bring new attention to the Lexus marque while the V8 exhaust note will also turn heads. The luxurious cabin has semi-aniline leather trim in glass roof models and a mix of leather and alcantara in the Carbon Roof model while cast magnesium shift paddles are a cool detail touch.
Lexus NZ is not sure how sales will split between V8 and hybrid models but the first car sold to a New Zealand customer is a hybrid. And with about 40 per cent of all Lexus sales in NZ being hybrids, it's not far-fetched to think the sales split between LC models might follow that pattern.
Price isn't a consideration for potential customers weighing up the powertrain choice. The standard glass roof LC 500 and LC500h models are $215,000 and the alternative Carbon Roof model -- also in both powertrain options -- is $220,000.
The $5000 premium doesn't just provide the lightweight roof but also sharpens the chassis with the Lexus Dynamic Handling System that includes variable ratio steering, dynamic rear steering and a Torsen limited slip differential. There's also sports seats with some prominent shoulder bolsters in a combination alcantara and semi-aniline leather trim plus carbon fibre scuff plates and a power retractable rear spoiler.
Other spec highlights include a 13-speaker/900-watt Mark Levinson premium audio system, 10.25-inch TFT colour display with satellite navigation, head-up display, smart entry and start. and heated/ventilated front seats.
Eight airbags, a reversing camera, front and rear park sensors, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert are standard and the Lexus Safety System+ comprises all-speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-crash system with autonomous braking, Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Alert and Automatic High Beam control. The Lexus LC is available in 12 exterior colours.
Big sale of luxury SUVs
Lexus sold a record 720 cars in New Zealand last year and although it says it's working towards 750 this year, a half-year result of 339 units suggests that might be a challenge.
And securing buyers for the 10 LC luxury coupes allocated to the New Zealand market this year won't have a profound effect on those numbers.
But the LC is a big-picture introduction that puts an exclamation mark on the Lexus quest for a more exciting image. A widened choice of sports theme F Sport models and the high-performance IS F, RC F and GS F have played a role in recent years but the main component of Lexus volume is now luxury SUVs, which contribute just over 70 per cent of Lexus sales.
There's a new product on the way with the fifth-generation flagship LS sedan to launch in New Zealand before the end of this year. Lexus is also developing its dealers, with sales outlets in North Shore, Auckland, Hastings, Wellington and Christchurch to be joined by new dealers in Hamilton, Dunedin and Queenstown.