Lexus LC: two sides of a shiny coin
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First impressions delivered by the two versions of the new Lexus flagship coupe couldn't be any more different.
Prod the starter button of the Lexus LC 500 and it barks into life with a five-litre shot of V8 adrenalin to set your heart racing.
Press the button on the hybrid LC 500h and there's powertrain silence as you move away on electric drive before a muted V6 engine note joins in.
The LC is the new Lexus flagship 2+2 luxury coupe with head-turning design, sumptuous luxury and high-end pricing.
The naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 urgency already familiar from the RC F and GS F models or a new petrol-electric hybrid powertrain are the 500 or 500h alternatives.
I had driven both versions at the press launch in July including on-track at Highlands Motorsport Park, where the V8 showed itself the clear excitement choice.
The V8 is instant gratification with a raised heart rate while the hybrid experience is arguably more interesting and the more thought-provoking drive.
Price isn't part of the decision-making process for LC customers as both versions are priced from $215,000.
And it's an interesting price point that prompts comparison with similar — but not directly competitive — cars as diverse as the two-seat Jaguar F-Type and Mercedes-AMG GT, Maserati Gran Turismo and the recently discontinued BMW 6 Series Coupe.
Without doubt the LC is the most dramatically styled Lexus yet. It's spectacularly wide and low with muscular rear haunches, intricate aero details and menacing lighting signatures.
The long, low silhouette is traditional coupe while pop-out flush door handles are a conversation starter and the detailed alloy mesh of the “spindle” grille is a work of art that unfortunately has to be disfigured by a registration plate.
The new hybrid powertrain features a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine that develops 220kW at 6900rpm and 348Nm of torque at 4900rpm — moderate numbers for a roughly 2000kg car but there's significant electric drive boost from a permanent magnet synchronous motor rated with 132kW and 300Nm of torque.
Lexus publishes a combined system power output figure of 264kW but not a combined torque number.
The data tells you the hybrid has less horsepower and less (engine) torque than the V8 but the reality is also a hybrid 0-100km/h acceleration time of 5.0secs — only 0.5secs slower than the V8 achieves.
The hybrid enjoys a commanding advantage in refinement, efficiency and driving range and its effortless style would likely be the better choice for long journeys.
Given its swift 0-100km/h acceleration time and deceptive way the car gains pace on part throttle, it would be no surprise if the combined hybrid torque numbers match or exceed the 540Nm at 4800rpm of the V8 across much of the rev range.
A lightweight lithium-ion battery is a first for any Lexus hybrid and the multi-stage transmission is also new for the LC 500h.
Around the city, the LC 500h alternates between using only 1000rpm or running in EV mode. It also cruises at 100km/h on the highway at 1000rpm and becomes more responsive when you work its cast magnesium shift paddles.
Lexus claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.7 litres per 100km and the LC 500h achieved a road test average of 8.8 litres per 100km. The main part of the efficiency advantage is the hybrid delivers its best numbers in the city where the V8 is the least efficient.
Much of the dramatic stance of the LC is how the low silhouette and long wheelbase are drawn across the polished 21-inch alloy wheels. The Michelin Pilot SuperSport tyres are 245/35 R21 dimension at the front and 275/30 R21 at the rear.
Yet, despite an extreme tyre choice, the LC 500h has an Adaptive Variable Suspension system that provides low speed ride compliance that easily rivals some air suspension systems.
The settings can be tightened for a more responsive feel and firmed up body control by working through the Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ driving modes.
There are deeply sculpted rear seats where there is limited headroom and legroom and the cargo space measures up at only 172 litres.
In standard form the LC models have a glass roof with a manual sun shade while the $5000 Carbon Roof option also adds more prominently bolstered front seats, carbon scuff plates, a power retractable rear spoiler and sharpen the driving dynamics with the Lexus Dynamic Handling System that comprises variable gear ratio steering and dynamic rear steering.
Standard equipment highlights for all LC variants include a 900-watt Mark Levinson sound system with 13 speakers to underline the Lexus reputation for impressive audio quality.
There’s a power tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel, smart key entry and ignition, reversing camera with active guidelines, satellite navigation, bi-LED headlights with auto high beam and dual-zone climate control.
Blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert are valuable features in a car where you sit low and rear three-quarter visibility is limited.
At the $200K-plus price point the LC should be equipped with a 360-degree camera system and its entry convenience would be aided if there was a belt-feeder system to avoid the long reach back to the grab the seat belt.
With the LC 500h, the Lexus marque has delivered a modern take on the classic front-engine, rear-drive 2+2 luxury coupe format and provides a choice of old school V8 excitement or hybrid efficiency.
The platform has already been stretched to underpin the next generation Lexus LS luxury saloon that hits the New Zealand market before the end of the year while the LC styling themes will be developed to create a stronger image for the rest of the range.