Lexus LC500h: new coupe gets clever, complex hybrid tech for 2017

Published: 18 February 2016

► Hybrid partner to the 5.0 V8 LC500 coupe
► Full reveal at 2016 Geneva show, on sale 2017
► Complex powertrain includes two gearbox types

Good news: it wasn’t a dream – Lexus really is building the gorgeous LC 2+2 coupe, and it really does look almost exactly like LF-LC concept from 2012. Having revealed the 467bhp 5.0-litre V8 LC500 at the Detroit motor show in January, now it’s the turn of the less profligate LC500h variant to take the plaudits at the 2016 Geneva motor show in March.

And yes, the h does stand for hybrid. But the LC500h ushers in a new ‘Multi Stage Hybrid’, which promises to rewrite our perceptions of Lexus’s petrol-electric technology.

Don’t tell me: Lexus has finally binned the CVT?

Not entirely – the 3.5-litre V6 under the bonnet is still bolted to a pair of electric motors with a continuously variable transmission sandwiched between them. But plugged into the back of this 354bhp combination is an additional four-speed automatic gearbox that’s intended to ‘reconnect’ the driver to the driving experience by more closely aligning the engine speed to the sense of acceleration.

So – in theory at least – the LC500h should no longer be hampered by that traditional Lexus hybrid ‘rubber band’ power delivery. To balance the weight of the additional transmission, Lexus has also switched to a lithium ion battery pack. Besides being smaller and lighter than the equivalent nickel-metal hydride set-up, it also delivers more punch.

Four speeds? Doesn’t the non-hybrid LC500 V8 have a 10-speed transmission?

It does. But when you switch the hybrid over to Manual mode, it’ll act like it’s got 10 gears, too. The electric motor and CVT partnership is able to multiply each of the first three gears in the automatic transmission three times – turning three real ratios into nine virtual ones; the fourth physical ratio acts as an overdrive, enabling the V6 to turn over at much lower rpm when cruising.

Chief engineer Koji Sato reckons the difference between the real gears and the virtual ones is barely perceptible. In fact, the system is said to be so sophisticated that the only reason you’ll feel it change gear at all is because the engineers have told it make the process obvious, in order to give keen drivers a more satisfying experience.

The new system can also cruise at higher electric only speeds (87mph has been suggested, up from 62mph – albeit for only the same short periods as existing Lexus technology) and, more significantly, is able to deploy its power and torque much more rapidly. Response should therefore be much stronger, especially from a standstill; the LC500h will not only hit 62mph in under 5.0sec, it is also capable of breaking traction, so for the first time you’ll be able to smoke the rear tyres of a Lexus hybrid.

So this is where Lexus gets serious about driver enjoyment is it?

That’s the claim. Obviously the proof will come later in the year when we finally get behind the wheel of the LC. But in addition to the V8 and this trick new hybrid setup – which was developed for performance not efficiency, apparently – the new coupe is first to benefit from the firm’s all-new Global Architecture for Luxury vehicles (GA-L) – the platform that will underpin all large Lexuses for the foreseeable future.

In the LC’s case, it combines front-mid engine placement with rear-wheel drive and a driver hip point that is as low and centrally positioned as Lexus could make it. All told, the resulting ‘inertia specification’ – how centrally and close to the ground all the major weight is carried – is said to match the current Porsche Cayman. Which is a pretty good start.

Other details include a multi-material structure that’s stiffer than the carbon-cored Lexus LFA supercar, run-flat tyres to avoid the need to carry (and indeed physically accommodate) a spare, and trick front suspension that’s said to maintain decent travel while enabling the design to keep those stunningly low front wings. Chief designer Tadao Mori described achieving this balance as a ‘major pain!’ But it’s been done.

You can judge the resulting appearance for yourself; the interior is in many respects even more impressive than the exterior.

How fast is the Lexus LC500h, when does it go on sale and what will it cost?

We’re still a way off confirmed specs, but Lexus says the hybrid should match the top speed of the V8 while emitting closer to 120g/km CO2 versus 200g/km CO2.

It’s set to go on sale in spring of 2017, and will target grand tourers like the BMW M6 and Maserati GranTurismo rather than sports cars like the Porsche 911. Pricing is expected to start at just under £100,000, though this is very much dependent on what happens to the exchange rate between now and early next year. Regardless, it’s certainly got our mouths watering.

Lexus rolls out the big guns: new 467bhp LC500 coupe revealed in Detroit

Read more of CAR’s 2016 Geneva motor show coverage here

Click here for CAR’s A-Z guide to the 2016 Geneva motor show

By CJ Hubbard

Associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count