► Testing the new Lexus LC coupe
► We review LC500 V8 and hybrid
► Jaw-dropping looks, slick drive
Here’s a car for those bored of the traditional German or British premium sporting coupes: the new 2018 Lexus LC. It’s a large 2+2 grand tourer, an alt-take on the Porsche 911, BMW 6-series or even a Bentley Continental with a decidedly Japanese twist.
Just look at it. You’ll never mistake the LC for anything but a Lexus, from that monster contoured grille, to the sharply defined headlamp jewellery and creased origami bodywork. It’s an eye-grabbing aesthetic and now we’ve driven it in the UK we’re all the more revved up by it. It’ll turn heads aplenty.
You have two choices if you step into a British Lexus showroom and dare to be different. UK prices stand at:
- LC 500 £76,595
- LC 500h £80,595
Or, put another way, you could land one of these on your driveway for £799 a month, with a £22k deposit on a Lexus PCP and interest charged at 5.9% APR. Although you can obviously push those numbers up and down, depending on the size of your deposit and monthly payments…
Each model has a subtly different character, letting you choose red-blooded 4969cc V8 petrol or the misleadingly titled 500h, which actually packs a 3456cc V6 petrol assisted by hybrid electrical gubbins.
Read on for CAR magazine’s full Lexus LC UK review.
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Which Lexus LC should I buy?
Brits are splitting their attention evenly, according to Lexus. UK director Ewan Shepherd told CAR magazine that almost half of the early deposits laid down for the LC went towards the 500h, despite its lesser performance against the brawnier V8, despite similar price tags.
We’re not talking Ford Fiesta volumes here, mind, with the UK allocated just 250 of Europe’s 1000 total units. At the time of writing, 162 orders had been placed over here. This will be a rare sight on our roads.
It’s interesting to note that while the majority of V8 LC 500 buyers have gone for the most athletic Sport+ package, most 500h customers have ordered (still very well-equipped) base-spec cars. There’s a curious dichotomy forming between the two approaches that we’re keen to watch play out to fruition. Which LC will prove most popular once the dust settles?
The V8 LC 500: tested in the UK
The V8 is a rather wonderful thing; we’ve now driven the 500 in Europe, the US and back home in Blighty, and can report it’s a proper, long-legged GT to rival anything Europe can offer. Most of the time it fulfils its Lexus brief perfectly, wafting comfortably along, with a surprisingly absorbent ride (considering the huge, highly polished alloys ours rode on, see picture above).
The multi-adjusting seats are comfy, the drivetrain truly refined, road and engine noise properly suppressed, as you’d expect in Toyota’s range-topping luxury brand.
But flick into Sport mode and the moving, interactive dials beef up, the V8 gets a bit more burbly and performance is effortlessly fast. Lexus quotes 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and it feels every bit as quick; there’s a pleasing slickness to the handling and drivetrain, too – we can’t remember such a fine-handling Lexus since the LFA supercar, and that’s praise indeed.
The auto transmission lever is a bit fiddly at first, but once you work it out you’ll be fine; the finger-tapping paddle-shifts work well once you’re on the move.
Just make sure you can stomach the V8’s 263g/km CO2 rating and a gobbly appetite for unleaded. If you’re more frugal, you should investigate the 500h hybrid, whose 148g/km CO2 rating and 43.5mpg combined fuel economy may appeal more.
Read on to see what the hybrid Lexus LC is like.
The LC 500h hybrid: here comes the science lesson!
Let us introduce you to a driveline with a difference. A CVT-equipped hybrid with 10 gears – though not all are physical – and not a turbo in sight.
Yes, one of the cleverest things about the Lexus LC 500h is its powertrain. Lexus’s Multi Stage Hybrid system is all-new for the LC, and at its heart is a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 with electrical assistance in the form of a 132kW (177bhp) motor – but that’s simply too crude an explanation.
Check out our Best Hybrids and Plug-In Electric cars list
To do the job, an all-new hybrid transaxle has been introduced. This comprises an E-CVT with three distinct ratios (CVTs can have infinite ratios, which originally was one of the advantages of using such a transmission, but here a trio are specified) coupled with a four-speed ‘shift device’ (essentially a conventional automatic gearbox) that adds flexibility.
The result is the simulation of 10 gears. The three from the E-CVT are multiplied by three from the shift device for nine, and the final ratio from the latter performs as an overdrive gear, meaning the LC can cruise at high speeds with relatively low engine rpm. And there we have it: 44.1mpg on the combined NEDC alongside a total of 354bhp.
What’s more, with a 6600rpm redline for the motor, 31mph is attainable in first gear. This helps make the five-second 0-62mph time possible.
What’s really impressive here isn’t the hardware, though – it’s the way the LC’s software is configured to manage all this variation across the axle and provide the driver with the optimum gearing for the situation at hand.
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What about the hybrid’s battery?
The extra weight and size of the hybrid system has necessitated a move away from the nickel-metal hydride batteries found in earlier Lexus and Toyota hybrids.
This car uses an 84-cell lithium-ion unit instead, weighing four fifths as much as its predecessor while taking up 20% less room.
It’s situated between the rear seats and the boot, unfortunately meaning luggage space is at a premium in the LC. We squeezed a couple of small cabin bags in there but there wasn’t much room left for oxygen.
The LC 500h sounds very clever, but does it work on the road?
That depends on what you benchmark against. If you’re used to traditional approaches like the Maserati Granturismo’s ageing but appealing engine-gearbox-LSD set-up then to start with you’ll be disappointed with the lack of theatre and apparent loss of predictability.
On initial evaluation we found the LC 500h’s driveline erratic and at times disappointingly still afflicted with the dreaded CVT elasticity we’ve grown to dislike so much, made worse by the V6’s less-than-inspiring engine note. The V8 LC 500 is streets ahead here.
However, taken in isolation it’s highly accomplished, if you realise one very important caveat: you need to get to know your LC.
It takes two to tango, and the car needs to familiarise itself with the way you drive, taking into account driver inputs such as the severity of throttle and steering movements to adjust the way the ‘gears’ are served up.
During our test, the system didn’t quite get a fair chance to calibrate itself, especially given that we were sometimes driving in an atypical way to assess chassis response. As a result, gear changes occasionally felt jerky and far too numerous.
Meanwhile the adaptive cruise control seemed to completely befuddle the hybrid system. If it sensed a vehicle in front and slowed by even 10mph the car appeared to struggle to find a ratio to get back to our chosen speed, instead ‘swapping gears’ three or even four times before meaningful acceleration occurred.
Given more time to gel, things started to improve dramatically. And talking about drama, let’s touch on those looks for a second. Borrowing heavily from the LF-LC concept it’s based on, children stop, stare and drop their ice creams when you pass.
But that’s only if they notice you, because the LC 500h can travel in absolute silence for a mile or so before the V6 has to come to the rescue. This is a very cool thing to behold. From the outside it genuinely looks like you’re driving the future.
What’s the Lexus LC 500h’s cabin like?
The interior design is equally likeable, with Lexus’s now-trademark exceptional build quality making for a seriously refined cockpit almost devoid of exterior noise at motorway speeds.
The seats are fantastic too, but we were less enamoured with the fiddly multimedia system. We’re happy the ‘pillow’ control system of yore has been consigned to the history books, but the touchpad still isn’t as slick or intuitive as the rotary one employed by the likes of Audi and BMW.
The problem is confounded on right-hand drive cars, as the majority of the population – right-handers will struggle to operate the sat-nav and infotainment system with their left hand. It’s seriously the worst part of this car, a real negative when compared with those Anglo-German rivals we mentioned earlier.
And on the subject of baffling interior design, if you’re on a fun route you’ve got the option of Sport S and Sport S + modes to liven up the drivetrain, suspension and steering, but they’re controlled via odd rotary stubs mounted on the top corners of the instrument binnacle, roughly at the driver’s eye height. They don’t obstruct vision but they’re located too far from our favoured driving position, necessitating a bend forwards in the seat to switch modes.
This could be far easier – a simple button by the gear lever would work much better, or even one on the steering wheel itself for an even more ergonomically pleasing solution.
Still, we’re nit-picking somewhat here because overall the new LC is a bit of a design triumph. We love the ruched Alcantara sweeping around the door cars; this is a feelgood cabin, alright.
Get your specs on
After leaving the autobahn (top speed: confirmed), we had a chance to test the Lexus LC’s handling on some sweeping mountain roads. Keen drivers will want to be wary of this particular LC 500h, because along with the engine sounding and performing far less interestingly than the V8 option, it’s also in the wrong spec: Sport.
Choose a Sport + and you’ll get the variable-rate steering, rear-steer and LSD that transform the LC into a far more accomplished thing in the handling stakes.
And while the LC is an incredibly comfortable car in both Sport and Sport + specifications on the 21-inch wheels, we’d like to try the standard car’s 20s to see just how much better it could get. The car we’re testing here sits between the two bookends of the LC range, being neither one thing nor the other.
Oh, and make the upgrade to the 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. It’s genuinely among the best hi-fi systems we’ve tried – far better-sounding than the hybrid’s drivetrain…
By offering the hybrid LC 500h for the same money as the V8, Lexus is polarising its customers. The hybrid will appeal to early adopters and those who like the idea of a relatively environmentally friendly GT car that’ll cover serious mileage in comfort. The V8 is the better drive. You pays your money, you takes your choice.
Ours is a V8 Sport + thanks…
Read on for our early Lexus LC prototype drive review by Phil McNamara
► 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.
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