► First drive of prototype Lexus LC
► It's a 2+2 coupe aimed at the 911
► Read on for CAR's early review
Think Lexus, and you probably think whispering limousines, wailing hybrids and impeccable reliability and dealer service. But sporty? Not so much. Here comes the car to change your perceptions: the new 2017 Lexus LC 2+2 coupe.
Underpinned by a clean-sheet chassis and powered by a naturally aspirated V8 or V6 petrol/electric hybrid, this grand tourer is a rival for the BMW 6-series and Maserati GranTurismo. Does it deliver? Read our early prototype review to find out.
The LC means business – and it comes from the top
The LC was born out of adversity, experienced by none other than Akio Toyoda, company boss and member of Toyota’s ruling family. Reputedly, Toyoda was appalled when he unveiled the slab-sided, gaping grilled new GS in 2011 to a negative reception, including outright chuckling.
Toyoda swiftly took control of the company’s premium brand, establishing it as a separate business unit with orders to make its cars more captivating to look at and more exciting to drive. The foundation underpinning that ambition is GA-L (Global Architecture-Luxury), an all-new rear-drive platform.
Multi-materials, front-mid engined
Future Lexus cars, starting with the LC, will adopt GA-L. The engine is pushed back in the nose to a front/mid position, the wheels pulled forward, to get as much mass as possible between the axles. Lexus claims a 52:48 weight distribution front:rear.
The centre of gravity is as low as a Porsche Cayman’s, thanks to the targeted use of materials such as a carbonfibre roof, and an ultra compact double-wishbone suspension which enables those incredibly low front wings, aided by the industry’s smallest front headlamp module.
Eight cylinders, 10 gears – convoluted or captivating?
The LC500 runs an old-school V8: generous 5.0 litres of displacement, no turbocharging, and kicking out 470bhp and 398lb ft of torque. It’s mated to the world’s first 10-speed automatic transmission, which sounds like a recipe for more shifting up and down than a Mariah Carey aria.
In actuality, the transmission does a great job of changing gear smoothly and unobtrusively when you’re pottering about, or hanging onto the cogs and lunging for the 7000+rpm redline when you up the pace.
Second, third, fourth and fifth gears are shorter and more evenly spaced than in the eight-speed transmission it replaces, which enables you to build a hypnotic rhythm to your driving: hustling along in sporty S auto mode, the gearbox keeps you right in the heart of the torque band, engine speed rapidly climbing from about 2500 to 5500rpm, then the transmission upshifts and you accelerate all over again for a similar duration, all the while accompanied by the howling V8 soundtrack piped into the cabin.
And when you lift to slow for a corner, the Lexus blips its throttle theatrically and shifts down, making you sound like a heel-and-toe hero. You can take control yourself with the paddleshift override too: the changes feel as snappy as a dual-clutch 'box’s. This is a captivating new transmission.
But it all goes to pieces with the chassis, right?
The same positivity extends to the GA-L chassis. The range-topping Sports+ LC500 features a limited-slip differential and rear wheel steering, where the rear tyres pivot in the opposite direction to the fronts to accentuate turn-in; at higher speeds they turn in harmony with the forward rubber to boost stability.
Mid-corner bumps are suavely brushed off by the stiff, multi-link rear suspension. It’s a really nicely balanced chassis: plenty of front-end grip, accompanied by lots of rear-drive feel – it’s clear that both ends are working in unison as you scythe through fast sweepers.
The steering is light, delicate and precise, the brakes take a firm press to activate, but haul in the LC500 without fuss.
Can it hush and hustle?
Although this is a fresh start for Lexus, the trademark refinement lives on. At motorway speeds, the cockpit is incredibly serene, the faintest interference being a trace of wind noise. And the ride quality – with adapative damping standard – is good, particularly at high speeds.
The sports seats are mounted at positively subterranean levels: Lexus claims your heels are just 200mm lower than your hips, which says all you need to know about the sporting driving position. Forget about the +2 rear seats though: they’re more token than a consolation goal when you’re six-nil down.
The LC is a true Lexus flagship: prices are expected to start from £80,000 for the hybrid, with a V8 Sports+ topping out around £90,000 when UK deliveries commence in autumn 2017. A decade ago, Lexus had the wobbly SC430 convertible at the top of its range; now it’s the LC, a very different animal indeed.
It’s a Lexus with a sweet dynamic chassis, thrilling V8 drivetrain and a dashing design. Akio Toyoda won’t be subjected to laughter when discussing the LC, although his conversation partners will still be smiling – this time for all the right reasons.