LC 500 convertible review: Lexus goes back to summer school
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Lexus LC 500 convertible
- Character-filled naturally aspirated V8
- Super-refined top up or down
- Nice mix of elegance and entertainment
- Maddening Remote Touch Interface
- Ridiculous rear seats
- No hybrid engine option
What you see and what you get can be two different things with the Lexus LC 500 convertible. But actually, it’s all good.
The LC 500 coupe is a stunning looking machine and there’s little style lost in the transition to convertible. Some might even argue there’s something gained.
The svelte looks, size and $234k price all suggest this is a super-luxury look-at-me summer cruiser and yes, it does that very well indeed. It’s muted when you drive gently, it rides nicely on its adaptive suspension and the cabin quality is everything you’d expect of a high-end Lexus. It’s staggeringly swish. Move over Mercedes-Benz SL, right?
But for all this new-money attitude there’s a bit of old-school-aggression lurking underneath. The LC 500 is one of the few luxury vehicles on the market still powered by a naturally aspirated V8; not a turbocharger in sight. Plus it’s rear-drive - not AWD as so many large, powerful cars are these days - complete with a proper mechanical limited-slip differential.
There’s not even a V6 hybrid option on the LC convertible as there is with the coupe: too hard to package and too much weight, says Lexus. Hard to imagine one won’t appear as a mid-cycle spruce-up though; the LC coupe is hardly a lightweight to begin with (2002kg) and the convertible’s extra strengthening only adds 75kg. What’s a few more kilos?
Lexus has never made a fabric-roof convertible until now (they’ve always been folding hard-tops) and it’s never made a truly gorgeous convertible until now. The two things are not unrelated.
Anyway, the top goes down in 15 seconds and up in 16, and can be operated on the move at up to 50km/h. It’s a quadruple-layer affair and gives coupe-like refinement when it’s raised.
Top down does give more chance to enjoy that V8 though, right? It’s not huge on torque, but the 10-speed transmission fills the gaps nicely and the engine does really start to sing beautifully past 4000rpm. It’s not a 100 per cent natural noise because some of it is piped through the Mark Levinson audio system; but there’s nothing artificial-sounding about the result.
The placement of the drive-mode control is brilliant – high up on the left-hand side of the instrument binnacle. It’s a big dial that you twist forwards to go into either of the two Sport settings, or simply tap the end of it to return to Normal.
Not that there’s a huge amount of differences between the modes – not even in the ride, which remains pretty compliant even in Sport+. You do tend to go straight for the most aggressive setting for that reason, because you get a bit more aggression from the powertrain, including a few more pops and bangs. Occasionally you also get a ridiculously hard downchange from the gearbox, which seems out of character – but also raises a smile because it comes as a surprise.
The handling is not as fluid as the coupe for a variety of reasons. The extra weight is not a big thing, but there is some loss of rigidity with the drop top that you occasionally feel through the steering wheel and seat of your pants. Still impressively strong in convertible terms, though.
The biggest dynamic difference between coupe and convertible is that the latter doesn’t get the rear-wheel steering system – another casualty of having to package that roof mechanism, says Lexus.
So the convertible doesn’t have that slightly surreal cornering feel. But you could argue what you lose in sheer ability and speed, you gain in fun. There’s something a bit Supra-like in the way the LC convertible squats down and powers out of corners. Which makes it a bit BMW-like maybe?
Lexus is continuing with the fiddly Remote Touch Interface for the infotainment (basically a trackpad that you have to learn to “flick” to move between functions) and has even integrated it into Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It had to really, as the screen is not touch-operated (unlike the RX SUV). It takes a lot of getting used to. Never have, actually.
That niggle aside, the rest of the cabin is stunning. The seats are sensational, the architecture achingly high quality and as is usually the case with Lexus, there are no shortcuts taken in using Toyota bits and pieces – at least not the ones that serve as the major touchpoints. Lots of lovely alloy too, including the shift paddles and some of the centre-console controls.
It’s technically a 2+2, but the rear seats are a joke. There’s absolutely no rear legroom, so what you have there is a beautifully upholstered two-piece parcel shelf. To be fair, few cars in this genre have proper rear chairs.
The dashboard is all digital, but the LC also has the Lexus signature sliding cluster that moves across to give you a different configuration of information. It’s an actual dial, too – a bit of physical presence in a virtual environment. If you think that sounds a bit gimmicky you’re right, but it’s also good fun and unique.
Despite the addition of phone projection, the LC does still have a CD player! Perhaps that’s a nod to the old SC convertible, which was the last production car in the world to have a cassette player when it bowed out in 2010. Like we said, this is a really special car… with some sometimes-unexpected old-school touches that make you smile.
LEXUS LC 500 CONVERTIBLE
ENGINE: 5.0-litre V8
GEARBOX: 10-speed automatic, RWD
0-100KM/H: 5.0 seconds