Lexus LC 500: Full throttle future proofing
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Lexus 'does' flagship well. Add potent performance to the mix and you have a special recipe. The new LC 500 and LC 500H are GT's with brains and brawn.
Lexus has reached something of a turning point in its evolution as a brand. It has been building to this for a while; a car company originally synonymous with soft, cushiony luxury is slowly but surely morphing into something else.
There is an increased emphasis on aggression, attitude and out-and-out performance. No, not in every corner of the range, but certainly at the top of it.
And you're looking at the first -- and best -- example of this transformation. It's the new flagship grand tourer, rear-wheel drive LC 500. There will be two versions on sale from mid-2017, almost identical to look at and sit in, but with two distinct beating hearts under the bonnet; a choice of Lexus' naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 or a 3.5-litre V6 augmented by a clever new Multi-Stage hybrid drive system.
Driven flew to Seville this week to drive both iterations on Spain's mountain highways and a rain-soaked Circuito Monteblanco race track. The short answer? It's all about noise and future-proof technology. And what a wonderful combination that is.
You might recall the svelte LF-LC concept that Lexus unveiled a few years ago. This car is the road-going representation of that. And looking at images of that car alongside the LC 500, it's amazing to see how faithful the latter is to the former.
From every angle this is a stunning looking coupe. There are clever details everywhere, such as the Active Spoiler tucked into the boot lid, the impossibly intricate projector headlights and the way the LED taillight assembly looks three-dimensional at night (yet are only recessed 50mm into the GT's sculptured rear). Even the door mirrors serve as streamlined talking points.
The LC 500 sits on the manufacturer's new GA-L platform which will underpin all luxury-focused front-engine/rear-drive models going forward. The engine has been moved back 50mm in the bay, while the front wheels have been pushed 80mm further forward. The driver's hip point has been engineered to be as close as possible to the car's centre of gravity. This car weighs a couple of tons, but it doesn't feel like it. Thanks to plenty of aluminium, high tensile steel, carbon fibre reinforced plastics, extra engine bracing and clever long suspension towers forged from cast aluminium, it feels nimble and precise and the driver connected to what's happening underneath.
What I'm about to relay here on paper about the interior will make it sound over-designed and fussy. But trust me, it isn't. Different surfaces and planes abound, and alcantara, leather and carbon-fibre are the materials of choice. There's a massive 12.3-inch display screen dominating the cliff-like dashboard ahead, which is great to look at. The glovebox appears to have a roll-top effect, but open it up and it's just a small aperture underneath. Lexus' oft-maligned Remote Touch Interface has been improved, featuring better haptic feedback on a wider touch panel and the ability to scrawl letters with your finger across the surface to input addresses for the sat nav to find.
Owners can choose from two exceptionally supportive sports seat designs, although apparently more than 50 mocks-ups were considered during the development of the LC.
There are rear seats, but unless you're routinely transporting under-10s, this is no 2+2. Deep door panels with elegant grab handles (not a contradiction in terms) and hand-stitched surfaces everywhere complete the picture.
Competition? BMW 6-Series coupe; Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe; Jaguar F-Type; Maserati Gran Turismo.
But the Lexus is a real point-of-difference. In 5.0-litre V8 form, the Lexus is distinctly growlier than those rivals, with maybe only the Maserati capable of matching its exhaust bark under duress.
The LC 500 is all the more beguiling though, because it looks so refined. You don't expect it to shout at you like it does. Even better, let the sophisticated 10-speed gearbox kick down under hard braking and -- as part of the act -- it peppers the process with rhythmic crescendos of noise.
Did I mention this car has a 10-speed automatic gearbox? Featuring shift times as fast as a dual-clutch 'box (but without the increased propensity for clutch plate wear), the 10-speeder is impressively snappy. Flick up through the ratios with the long magnesium paddle shifters and it's like you're firing a rifle. Utterly addictive.
Designed to offer realistic smoothness over shotgun hysterics, Lexus' engineers wanted to remove the "rubber band" feel (that moment where the engine revs don't appear to be in the same post code as throttle position) of conventional CVT gearboxes in the hybrid version.
To overcome this, they decided to use a conventional four-speed auto in conjunction with the CVT. The first three gears in the auto 'box work in conjunction with three artificial ratios through a Power Control Unit, making for nine ratios, with the tenth as an overdrive. Cleverly, this means the LC 500h can effectively run on electric-only power at up to 140km/h.
On a wet racetrack, the LC 500 offered up a smooth, linear amount of feedback. Progressive steering feel out of corners made for predictable fun even though the atrocious conditions meant staying well clear of the ripple strips as we powered around Circuito Monteblanco.
Seeing 190km/h on the start/finish straight felt effortless; limited only by the elements and my cojones. Big brakes specially developed for the LC 500 bit hard when needed, though.
Out on fast, sweeping roads west of Seville (and blessed with a break in the rain), "solidity" was a word that kept springing to mind. The LC 500 showed off a combination of brutal momentum and confidence-inspiring cornering ability, and always with that soundtrack, which is fed into the cabin in a measured -- and non-synthesised -- way.
Our test car featured Lexus' Dynamic Handling pack, which includes enhanced steering (as well as rear-steer wheels that oppose what the front are doing, enhancing the 'on-rails' effect).
We're still a few months away from confirmed local pricing and spec, says Lexus New Zealand. But it is already fielding enquiries.
This is a different beast to an RC F coupe and I'd wager the LC 500 V8 will feature retail pricing starting with a "2". The distributor says it wants to let owners start with their drivetrain of choice and specify their LC 500 from there, so don't expect grades and tiered pricing in the conventional sense.
The notion is a bit slow-motion-dream-sequence, but Lexus suggests the formulation of the LC 500 stemmed from the idea of "what would Lexus look like if limits didn't exist?"
Taking all the technological work that has gone into creating this flagship GT into account, along with the carmaker's usual fastidious attention-to-detail around exterior and interior design, gives you the answer.
It would look exactly like this.
LEXUS LC 500 AND LC 500H
ENGINES: 5.0-litre V8 (351kW/540Nm) / 3.5-litre V6 with Lexus multi-stage hybrid drive electric motor (264kW/471Nm)
Pro: Exquisite design inside and out, LC 500's V8 acousticS, LC 500H's hybrid point-of-difference
Con: Recently bought an RC coupe did you? Ah ... well then ...