I have to admit – even though I am a total car nut and enthusiast that bleeds oil, in this line of work it is very easy to become jaded. Whether it’s the politics of dealing with the public relations staff at automakers or products that just have a diluted x-factor, this lifestyle can become dull rather fast, and 2017 has been a rather tame year as it relates to special vehicles.
That was before I had the chance to drive not one, but two, of this year’s hottest vehicles. That would be the all-new, 2018 Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h.
In the luxury coupe category, there’s a handful of standout talent but this is Lexus’ return since the days of the 1990s SC that ended production in 2000. We’ll just ignore the second-gen SC as it had a folding metal roof and is considered by some critics to be one of the worst luxury vehicles in history. Let’s just put it this way: it wasn’t sexy looking and it had dodgy driving dynamics.
The all-new LC is a clean-sheet design, however, and it shows. From the chassis to its exterior skin this is a total re-do for Lexus, and it was easily at the top of my list to experience. So, what’s the verdict? Seek and ye shall find.
Upon taking delivery of the all-new LC, I noticed two things. As the hybrid variant was a dark blue and the full-on gasoline version was white, it’s clear that this car looks best in colors that show the lines off. White, silver and bright red all work well with the LC’s body.
Secondly, this design is a bold move as Lexus continues to push the boundaries of what is possible. While the brand’s designs use to be considered less-than-exciting, this has evolved in recent years. From the in-your-face front grille to the sharp and elongated rear taillights to the blacked out C-Pillar and floating roofline, this is a design that is throwing caution to the wind. This pays dividends. I would argue this is one of the most aggressive and best big body coupe designs on the market today, and this is largely due to the fact it remains nearly identical to the 2012 concept car that debuted in Detroit, with exception to some minor details.
Getting better acquainted inside, it’s apparent that Lexus took a note – or several – from its iconic supercar, the LFA. That’s because it has a high dashboard, seats you sink into and a driving position that reminds you that this is a machine developed for performance. Oddly enough, the standard full leather seats seemed a bit too narrow for my 6-foot, 8-inch, 270 pound build whereas the sport seats that leverage Alcantara inserts were a much better fit. The infotainment system, which is controlled via a touchpad, a dial and some buttons, is not particularly intuitive. This has been a recent weak point for Lexus that needs to fine tune. I’ve even had one friend sell their GS sedan due to their frustration using the infotainment system.
Also inspired by the LFA is the LC’s instrument panel. Making its way across the Lexus product portfolio is the TFT display that shifts to the right at the touch of a button. While it is a nice move that’s sure to impress your friends, it really is just a trick to change the way information is displayed to the driver. Although it was cool when the LFA first debuted, Lexus is going to have to do better now that Audi’s Virtual Cockpit instrument panel technology is best in breed.
Aside from those hiccups though, the cabin is a lovely place to be. It’s exceedingly rich and well trimmed, top to bottom. Note: Opt for the Mark Levinson sound system; it is worth the extra $1,200.
So, how does it drive?
Let’s get the details out of the way. The LC 500h is a hybrid variant of the LC that makes use of a lightweight lithium-ion battery as well as a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline-fed engine. The LC 500h has a total system output of 354 horsepower and gets to 60 mph in a quick 4.7 seconds. Mated to this motor is a super complex set up that uses two transmissions “linked” together. Using a continuously variable transmission as well as a traditional four-speed automatic, the LC hybrid simulates six shifts and executes four actual ones. According to reports drivers can’t tell them apart — I know I couldn’t. After a week with the hybrid, I netted 24 mpg, which would be impressive for any performance vehicle doing daily, intense city driving.
The V8-powered LC 500 is the one that speaks to me. Equipped with a 5.0-liter V8 good for 471 horsepower and 398 lb.-ft. of torque, this motor is typically used in Lexus’ F cars — the RC F and GS F – and it sounds amazing. Select the Sport + driving mode and be prepared for a good time. With its burly sounding V8 operating at full tilt, you’re going to be smiling for days. Pulling the left paddle for downshifts become addicting as you hear the V8’s revs climb. Coupled with a 10-speed automatic transmission, the LC 500 is not a fan of slow moving city traffic but it loves to be pushed on country roads. While it’s a traditional autobox, you wouldn’t really know it as shifts happen so fast that it makes you wonder what the fuss is over dual-clutch transmissions these days. To me, the end is near for that technology. Zero to 60 happens in 4.4 seconds although it never seems particularly dramatic. A week’s worth of driving turned out 16 mpg, which I thought would be a touch higher given its transmission credentials.
Where I was completely caught off guard with the LC is its ride quality. For a performance-oriented vehicle, its ride is quite luxurious. Bumps are absorbed very well and its suspension plays a nice balance between firm yet forgiving. The mix is executed flawlessly and this is a big deal, as many players in this class tend to skew too harsh. Driving in and out of Manhattan was a piece of cake, which is unique for a vehicle that drives this way.
What I mean by that is if you want to you can stretch the LC’s legs out; you can have a blast doing so on windy roads. While the vehicle is far from being a lightweight — it tips the scales at ~4,300 pounds for the V8 and ~4,400 pounds for the hybrid— it certainly doesn’t handle the curves in a clumsy fashion.
Lexus deserves credit for the way it tuned the LC’s steering rack. Though it lacks communication, as most modern cars do, it is sharper. This helps the LC feel nimble whereas in reality it is a massive coupe. It’s certainly no LFA but it’s a very impressive effort by Lexus’ engineers given the LC’s heft.
Thinking about the LC and how it compares to its rivals, it’s a bit difficult. For the hybrid variant, it’s a difficult path. That’s because the BMW i8 exists and it simply does everything better while achieving greater mpg in the high 20s and low 30s. While the German is a bit gauche, it is a better performance hybrid.
Swinging around to the V8 LC, however, is a different story. That’s because I would easily have it over the likes of any other daily driven, performance-oriented coupe. Its looks are too good to pass up, the suspension’s capability is staggering, the soundtrack is fantastic and the LC can put a smile on my face when I’ve had a rough day at the office. What else can you ask for?
The 2018 LC 500’s base price: $92,000. The 2018 LC 500h’s base price: $96,510.
By Richard Posluszny
Richard Posluszny is a freelance writer based in Bergen County.