Lexus LC 500h Hybrid Performance 2+2 Coupe review – Concept Car to Contemporary Grand Tourer

The Lexus LC 500 Coupe. To see one on the road is a bit like seeing something that looks like it’s been designed and bought back from twenty years in the future. Let’s have a talk about this radically-styled coupe that Lexus have graced our roads with.

Lexus’ of the past couple of years have become more desirable than ever. Sure, previous generations of their range offered points that made Lexus stand out as a luxury brand, and ones that earned them a loyal customer base; incredible reliability, build and material quality rivalling (and surpassing) other manufacturers offerings, a high level of spec as standard, and a degree of comfort and serenity that makes any journey a breeze.

But there was always something slightly lacklustre about the design. They weren’t ugly, but they lacked character and for the most part slotted into the background traffic a little too easily perhaps.

The newer generations of Lexus, though, are pushing forward with gusto, eliminating those aforementioned tame looks with cars that have bold, contemporary designs and now stand out from the crowd. Not shouty, not brash, but making a statement in a very Lexus-like manner.

And that brings me to the Lexus LC 500h Coupe. This is a car that is – aside from hypercars – I believe, the most fantastic-looking thing on the market. It is also one hundred percent unique. No other manufacturer makes a car that looks even faintly comparable, and unless you’re paying Ferrari or Lamborghini money, you’re simply not going to get that same instant and incredible visual impact as the LC.

With supercars shoved in our faces across a multitude of social media and video sites on a daily basis, they’ve now become commonplace, and especially so on the streets of big Western cities. Booooring. Give me a Lexus LC to stand out from the crowd any day.

2012, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, was where Lexus unveiled the LF-LC concept car. Lexus said they’d be bringing out a car as closely based on this concept as possible, without compromise; something that is rarely achieved as concepts are often displayed to show what a manufacturer could do or are capable of, with perhaps a few design cues making it to the final car.

This was, then, a challenge indeed. Akio Toyoda – president of Toyota Motor Corporation – saw the LF-LC concept as a route to introducing more emotion to the Lexus brand. Something perhaps that was a little devoid previously.

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In order to make the LF-LC a reality, designers and engineers had to work hand-in-hand throughout the entire process. Chief engineer Koji Sato stated “While maximising the fundamental taste of the LF-LC, we applied completely different specifications to create a design that goes beyond the concept… every feature on the LC is the result of an integrated approach to design and engineering”.

So, Lexus have nailed the exterior of the LC, but what’s the story with the cabin? Judging from the outer styling of the car, you’d be forgiven for thinking it may perhaps be somewhat hardcore; a generous smattering of bare carbon fibre, thin seats to save weight (but not your back), and nothing in the way of luxury.

However, the LC is not aimed down the track straight. It’s aimed down a beautiful coast road to an exotic holiday destination. And to get the very best experience from that, Lexus have bestowed the LC with a cabin that suits the car’s aim perfectly.

In line with what customers have come to expect of Lexus, the LC has an air of understated class and luxury. Nothing has been overdone, no areas are blingy or showy, but at the same time the attention to the detail of every surface is simply outstanding.

Sat in the cabin, I went over it thoroughly. I checked the stitching, the panel gaps, the fit of each trim piece, the material quality, and even the way the buttons, scrollers and dials feel when you press or touch them, and there was no area that didn’t impress me. The Sport+ package spec version I had on test costs around £86,000 before options, and it absolutely feels like it should cost that much, such is the obvious quality of the LC’s cabin.

In a move that is pure genius, Lexus made the LC a 2+2 seater coupe. This means it can also be used as a highly luxurious tourer for a family, with rear seat leg room good enough for children or young teenagers. Actually, I found the rear seats themselves are incredibly comfortable, even for adults, as they are wide, tall, angled nicely and beautifully plush too. Unfortunately, the legroom isn’t there for most adults, but for the people who will be sat in the back, it will absolutely be pleasant even for longer journeys.

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The front seats have, of course, been designed with comfort in mind, although if you’re after as much in the way of amenity as possible you would be wise to go for the 500 or 500h without the or Sport+ Package options, which have deeper bolsters. They still have nice eight-way adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, but without those optioned you get 10-way adjustable seats that include head restraint adjustment, which allows you to put your seat into the perfect sublime position.

Boot space isn’t huge at 172 litres (197 L for the V8 version), but it’s enough for a largish suitcase and some overnight bags. Should you not have passengers in the rear seats, you can always utilise those for extra storage space.

Watch my interior tour of the LC 500h Sport+ Coupe here

If you like things precise and ’just so’, then you will certainly like the LC’s interior from a driver’s perspective. Lexus have kept the amount of switchgear to a minimum, to make for a clean dash and centre console appearance.

The few controls on the centre console all revolve around the media system and include a couple of nicely-milled track and radio tuner dials, a volume knob, a map button as well as a trackpad with haptic feedback which controls the large dashboard-mounted screen.

On that, Lexus continue to use a similar system to some of its previous generation models. This is something I still have likes and dislikes about. The screen is crystal-clear, providing beautifully-sharp graphics quality for the menus, hybrid system-use display, and the climate controls.

It’s not a touchscreen, however, so everything needs to be done using the track pad. I personally find using the system somewhat fussy and distracting. Doing things like going from the sat nav screen to wanting to turn on, say, the air conditioning or selecting some other menu item is over-complex and badly is in need of simplifying for driver-use.

*Satellite navigation image taken from my Lexus RX 540h review (same graphics).

My main gripe is the satellite navigation. The graphics are utterly outdated, the street name fonts aren’t very clear, and inputting addresses and getting hold of multiple route choices is again irritatingly overly-complex and unintuitive.

One more negative. I love the design and material choices for the dash and centre console, but Lexus have clearly missed this very obvious flaw; the aluminium buttons for the manual climate controls are angled, and unfortunately any light coming into the car reflects that light directly towards your eyes (see my interior tour video for a demonstration of this). It was so bad when the sun was out that I had to hold my hand over the controls while driving. I’m incredibly surprised the design guys at Lexus let that one get past them.

However, those are the only issues I have. The rest of the cabin controls are either on the steering wheel or, in the case of the drive-mode selects, uniquely-yet-perfectly placed exactly to-hand at either side of the driver binnacle. Excellent bit of design, that.

When designing the LC 500, Lexus were sure to make the exterior design not just aerodynamic, but to assure the road and wind noise was appropriate to a luxury touring coupe.

Building on that point, I’d asked for the LC 500h hybrid. Yes, I do love a big V8 – and the LC can be had in five-litre naturally-aspirated guise – but the fact is I also like clever tech too, and that’s especially applicable to Lexus’s fantastic hybrid systems which I’ve been a fan of for a while now.

The hybrid LC is, of course, all-but-silent when driving at lower speeds, when it will be driving using either electricity-only, or a combination of the engine and batteries when they run low.

For me, that only added to the feeling that I was driving a luxurious car. Wafting along in EV (electric) mode, the already-hushed cabin becomes a place of almost imperturbable serenity as the hybrid system bears the Lexus along.

The LC 500h can be driven on battery power alone at up to around 30 miles-per-hour, and you’ll perhaps get one to one-and-half miles of constant range at those speeds, depending on road conditions of course. EV mode makes it easier to accelerate (the throttle pedal becomes less sensitive) without the petrol motor engaging, thus allowing the LC to stay on battery power as often as possible.

However, if you’re not using it in EV mode, I found you can reach higher electric-only speeds of around 40 mph without the engine kicking in, and even on very slight-angled downhill sections it will happily run at that speed and more on fuel-saving battery power.

Lexus didn’t just aim the 500h at being more eco-and-fuel-friendly though, as Chief Engineer Koji Sato explains: “In the past, people only associated hybrid with ‘eco’. We wanted to broaden that perception and create a true high-performance powertrain.”

This powertrain involved the newly-introduced Multi Stage Hybrid System, which amplifies engine and motor output using a new multi stage shift device. This changes the output in four stages, to make use of the full range of engine speeds. This creates a system that responds much more directly to driver inputs and achieves a higher level of dynamic performance and driving pleasure, while maintaining smoothness and efficiency.

Lexus has always made incredibly smooth and refined V8 and V6 engines, and in this case the naturally-aspirated motor is a 3.5 litre litre V6 unit, which, combined the Multi Stage Hybrid System, produces 354 horsepower.

A maximum combined torque figure isn’t quoted as a hybrid powertrain develops its power in a different way compared to diesel or petrol. For example, the electric motor delivers its peak torque immediately from take-off, on the other hand the complimentary way in which the hybrid system is designed, means that motor and engine never produce their max torque simultaneously. As a result, it is meaningless to compare the maximum torque for hybrid system with that of a conventional engine.

However, to give you some idea of the torque, there’s 221 lb ft (300Nm) available from the 650-volt electric motor, and 257 lb ft (348Nm) from the V6 engine. While the zero-to-sixty-two mph run is done in five seconds (possibly around 4.8s to 60), which is only 0.3 seconds off the V8’s time, the V8 will almost certainly be dominating the hybrid version in the real-world in-gear acceleration, via its 458 horsepower and 391 lb ft (530Nm) of torque.

How do all these number and stats relate to the way the LC 500h drives though? First off, through the front-engine, rear-drive setup, the power delivery is fantastic. The immediate and instant torque developed by the hybrid system means the 500h gives genuinely exhilarating acceleration off the line, and mated with the naturally-aspirated 3.5 litre V6 engine it delivers the flow of power in a strong, smooth, and continuous manner right through the rev range and up to the maximum power output at 6,600 rpm.

Watch my road test of the LC 500h Sport+ Coupe here

I never at any point felt that the hybrid LC wanted for more power or torque, and while that big 5.0 litre V8 produces far more, the 500h lets you play around and have fun with what’s available without you being into jail-time speeds at every touch of the accelerator.

Is the handling as sharp as the LC’s looks? Again, it’s hard to fault it. Are these bought as a road-going car while doubling as a focussed track weapon? It’s likely not. I imagine most owners wouldn’t want to risk stone-chipping the beautiful paintwork, burying it nose-deep in gravel, or damaging that artwork of a body.

I believe Lexus aimed the LC as a grand tourer. A thing to blast (or waft) down roads winding through picturesque scenery. A car to be thoroughly enjoyed both as a driver and passenger. Because of that, Lexus have given it suspension that matches driving in the real world, that will soak up the lumps ‘n’ bumps. There’s still the issue of the LC having low-profile, narrow side-walled tyres though, which does mean a ride firmer than it would be without. It must be hard for engineers to compensate for that on the suspension side though, as too soft and it’ll be boat-like and lose handling ability, while leaving it would mean it being too stiff and uncomfortable.

Aside from on some poorly-maintained road sections though, where most cars wouldn’t hide the roughness anyway, the LC rides very nicely indeed. The LC handled fast corners beautifully and certainly felt sharp and planted enough, providing absolute driver-confidence throughout my test period with it. However, some of that will be down to the Sport + Package on my LC press car.

The Sport + Package equips the LC with the Lexus Dynamic Handling system. Its role is to provide a higher level of handling in all driving scenarios, achieved through the co-ordination of the car’s Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS), Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS), Electric Power Steering (EPS) and a limited-slip rear differential. As standard, the LC is designed with a low centre of gravity (its carbon fibre roof will aide that), high torsional body stiffness, and balanced front-to-rear weight distribution.

Even with weight-saving measures, including the strategic use of various steels, aluminium and carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic, the LC 500h is still certainly not a light car with a kerb weight of around 2,000 kilograms (4,400 lbs) and a gross weight of 2,445 kgs (5,390 lbs). In actual fact, though, it hides that poundage really well with its cornering and handling ability. The rear-steering feel really is quite obvious as both myself and another driver noted it felt like it was on rails when cornering, and gave the same sort of confidence-inspiring feel that all-wheel-drive delivers.

Yes, there’s a feeling of it being weighty in a luxury-car type way, but I never felt it lugged or heaved its way around the bends, or that it felt sloppy, instead offering a rewarding and inspiring driving experience when I was in the mood for an enthusiastic journey.

Current pricing (GBP, July 2019) for the LC starts at £76,660 for both the hybrid and V8 models, with the top spec versions priced at £88,775 for the LC 500h Limited Edition and just £60.00 more for the V8 Limited Edition. Rivals include the Mercedes-AMG GT Coupé (starting at £104k), the BMW 8 Series Coupé (starting at £76k) and the Jaguar F-Type (£56k – £113k).

To sum up, the Lexus LC 500h is a beautifully crafted grand tourer in all respects and offered with the choice of two superb powertrains to go with it. Lexus’s designers and engineers have worked together and made something that easily stands out from the crowd; a supercar shape without the super-high price tag.

 

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