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Futuristic Lexus LC coupé mixes the latest technology with an old-school atmospheric V8

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Concept cars are endlessly frustrating. Often jaw-dropping in design, they embody the formidable creative potential of companies operating in one of the most competitive industries in the world.

Invariably, however, the years-long transition from motor-show plinth to dealership car park causes their most exotic edges to be knocked off as the realities of safety legislation, supply-chain economics, takt-time travails and so on bite hard.

Rear edges of the chrome-plated mouldings on the roof are intended to echo the lines of a samurai sword

All of which makes the new Lexus LC an unusually exciting prospect. It is, give or take, indistinguishable from the LF-LC concept whose rakish profile dropped jaws at the 2012 Detroit motor show and whose popularity convinced the suits at Lexus headquarters in Nagoya to go ahead with a production version.

As such, it dramatically continues the brand’s determined efforts to shake off traces of the staid design language exemplified by its former flagship (£343,000 LFA supercar notwithstanding), the thoroughly uninspiring SC430.

Razor sharp but well rounded, understated but confident, the front-engined, rear-driven LC is how modern Lexus wants to be perceived.     

To help its cause, Lexus has fitted the LC500 with a naturally aspirated engine in the mould of the howling V10 in the 202mph LFA.

The newcomer trades a couple of cylinders with its carbon-wrought forebear for slightly greater cubic capacity, and although its 5.0-litre V8 doesn’t quite spin to 9000rpm, you get to experience its feverish, wailing delivery for an outlay of just £76,595.

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Considering the quality of the car’s design and build, that is a modest price, but it also lands this GT-cum-sports-car in a dogfight with everything from the Porsche 911 to the Maserati GranTurismo.

The LC500 is an ambitious project, then. It’s certain to land conquest sales on the appeal of its design alone, but the real challenge for Lexus is to back that up by matching the dynamic versatility of rivals from companies who have been in this game for far longer. (Remember, Toyota’s luxury subsidiary has been in existence for only 28 years.)

Whether it has achieved that – and it would be some feat – will determine whether this is a car to be taken seriously by those who buy a car for the driving experience it offers, and not just its kerbside appeal.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Lexus LC500 front end

The Lexus LC’s aesthetic is rooted in the scything silhouette of the sensational LFA, the gap between the two bridged by the LF-LC concept of 2012.

As such, this car doesn’t exhibit the dramatically cab-rear stance you might expect of something with front-mounted, 7300rpm, 471bhp 5.0-litre V8 that drives the rear axle.

The LC500 is an old-school entertainer. Tuck the nose in, chase the throttle and let its superb chassis balance come to the fore. It handles like a big Toyota GT86

Instead, it seems to occupy the space between GT and sports car, the cabin sitting centrally and allowing the coachwork to taper into a flat rear deck in which a retractable spoiler resides. It’s a pretty thing indeed.

That coachwork, underpinned by Lexus’s emergent GA-L (Global Architecture – Luxury) platform, uses a mix of steel, aluminium and carbonfibre.

Suspension is provided by steel coil springs and adaptive dampers. Lexus claims the geometry of the multi-link set-up at the front underwent six months of remodelling in order to allow the LC’s bonnet line to sit so low. Slender headlight units, meanwhile, make for an unusually short front overhang. 

Bereft of forced induction, this is not a V8 famed for its torque (a peak 398lb ft doesn’t arrive until 4800rpm and even then enjoys only a fleeting existence), something Lexus has sought to remedy by equipping the car with the tightly packed ratios of its Direct Shift torque-converter automatic transmission – all 10 of them – complete with separate clutch lock-up.

Power is then sent to the rear axle with either an open or, if you opt for the Sport+ pack (£9300), a limited-slip differential. LC Sport+ cars also get four-wheel steering, 21in wheels and a carbonfibre roof panel that lowers the centre of gravity but does little to mitigate the car’s near-two-tonne kerb weight.

As well as the model tested, there is a hybrid version, the 3.5-litre V6-equipped LC500h. The electric element of its powertrain and a transmission that features a CVT-style epicyclic power split and four-speed automatic gearbox make it the heavier of the two models and yet it has to make do with only 354bhp at 6600rpm.

Were it our money, we’d stick to the V8 LC500.

INTERIOR

Lexus LC500 interior

Design a car with grand touring pretensions and you’d better get the cabin right. Fortunately, Lexus has done just that here.

The driving position is reassuringly low and the scuttle high. The nature of the wraparound dashboard, with its sheer face and substantial ledge, enhances the feeling that you’re sitting in a long-legged performance car.

With the dampers set to Comfort, I could put up with the ride as payback for LC’s looks and handling. I’d much rather have normal rubber and free roadside recovery, though

We’d like a little more reach in the steering column adjustment and paddles that don’t feel so plastic (or so woolly in their action) but those are small misgivings about what is otherwise an excellent environment in which to get to work.

The sports seats that come with the Sport and Sport+ packs also feature additional bolstering – as much as you’ll ever need, given the chassis’ limited grip.

You don’t have to spend long in this cabin to get the feeling it’s over-engineered, from the thick contrast stitching to the electric motor that operates the glovebox release.

Factor in the car’s unusual character – the asymmetric door cards, for instance, are cloaked in furrowed Alcantara, out of which door handles sprout like talons – and you have a setting that will feel reassuringly familiar but perhaps enjoyably refreshing to anyone who is more au fait with the likes of the Porsche 911 or the BMW 6 Series.

Like the 911, the LC ticks the box for providing rear seats. Also like the 911, they’re all but useless for adults, especially if the occupant ahead is anywhere approaching 6ft tall. In the front, space is adequate, the wide transmission tunnel housing the gear selector and Remote Touch Interface touchpad that operates an irksome infotainment set-up.

The LC’s infotainment system uses a 10.3in widescreen operated by a mixture of physical buttons and a touchpad sited on the transmission tunnel.

It is by far and away our least favourite aspect of this car. It has all the usual features — smartphone connectivity, DAB radio, sat-nav, climate control and so on — but it makes the process of accessing them frustratingly unintuitive.

The touchpad is largely to blame for this, the cursor jumping around frenetically, but the layers of menus are also unfathomable. Indeed, an ill-advised attempt to cancel route guidance almost reduced one road tester to tears.

The 8.0 TFT display in the instrument binnacle is usefully clear, though, and features a sliding ring, in which sits another TFT screen, to present additional information.

Switching between the car’s driving modes – there are five, from Eco to Sport+ – is done via a rotary control curiously mounted on the side of the instrument binnacle.

This set-up isn’t as ergonomically pleasing as Lexus would have you think, although having the option of moving the large rev counter into the centre of the TFT instrument binnacle – and just a fraction below eye level – is a nice touch. 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

5.0-litre V8 Lexus LC500 petrol engine

The Lexus LC’s driving experience is one of many-layered complexity, and engaging with that complexity is a bit like fiddling with a very expensive, gem-encrusted Rubik’s Cube: initially daunting and a bit off-putting, but strangely satisfying once you’re used to the idea.

But in order to develop the kind of relationship you’ll want with what you might expect to be the LC 500’s main attraction – the atmospheric V8 – you need to start peeling those layers away from the get-go; or else you risk getting out of the car somewhat deflated.

Handling balance is very good through the corners. The LC’s attitude can be adjusted on and off the accelerator

If you leave the car’s drive mode controller in its default Normal mode, the powertrain works well enough – so long as you’re in no particular hurry to get anywhere, or much interested in engaging with the process you’re involved with.

On part-throttle, the 10-speed transmission shifts very smoothly, although it often needs to change down several ratios in order to respond to a big change in pedal input, so it pays to be deliberate with the demands made by your right foot.

When given the opportunity for stretched legs, however, the Lexus’s sheer abundance of choice of intermediate ratios, and its tendency to hunt for the perfect one, begins to obstruct your enjoyment.

At that point, your options are either to move from its Normal driving mode to Sport or Sport+; or, as several testers preferred, to use Custom, by which you can combine a sportier setting for the engine and gearbox with a more balanced one for the suspension.

In any of its sportier settings, the character of the LC500’s powertrain is simplified because the car effectively retires its overdrive ratios at typical UK road speeds.

That 10-speed ’box changes into a seven-speeder-by-proxy and is at once quicker with a downshift and much more likely to be closer to the ratio you want for the bend, gradient or overtaking manoeuvre you’re sizing up. In these modes, the LC500 is fast and responsive on the road, and its gearbox partly covers for the car’s considerable mass and its relative shortage of mid-range torque compared with certain rivals.

The LC is never as effortlessly drivable as the best modern gran turismos, and when long-distance touring is on the menu, you can’t fail to notice it. But for something that looks to split the difference between a GT and a sports car, it certainly has the right kind of soulful engine.

It could be quicker too. The fact that our test car missed Lexus’s 0-62mph claim by fully half a second, and ended up on the wrong side of the 5.0sec mark, costs it as much credit here as that outright shortage of drivability does. And yet the car still emerges with plenty.

RIDE & HANDLING

Lexus LC500 cornering

We’ve got generous praise and quite serious censure for Lexus here.

As the bigger of two coupés in Lexus ’s range and one with an ‘L’ for luxury in its model nomenclature, the Lexus LC ought to be a comfortable ride.

Variable-ratio steering still allows a good feel for the limit of lateral grip around shallow corners

However, just as the car’s touring practicality was sacrificed somewhat on the altar of that striking exterior, so has compromise been brought to its dynamic repertoire.

That body design, you suspect, left little or no space for both a usable boot and a spare wheel, so Lexus decided to fit run-flat tyres, around either 20in or 21in wheels, at quite an early stage.

There is no doubt, however, that the LC’s stiff-sidewalled run-flat tyres adversely affect how well its suspension can deal with shorter, sharper bumps, and how much road noise is filtered into the cabin.

Lexus’s own engineers must have known it was likely: somebody simply decided that the car’s design appeal mattered more.

What Lexus has been left with is a car whose suspension often fidgets and fiddles away over the road’s surface where other, better GTs would soothe and glide.

The problem is clearly to do with Lexus’s choices on suspension tuning as well, because the LC500 is fairly firmly sprung and bushed for a big coupé – and it feels it. That’s mitigated a little if you keep the adaptively damped suspension in Comfort mode, but it’s always a present bugbear.

Now for the better news. The LC has the sort of finely balanced, delicately adjustable, nicely agile handling you’d sooner associate with a mid-engined Porsche than a two-tonne Toyota.

The four-wheel steering system and active variable-ratio steering rack are integrated into its driving experience with subtlety, and neither stops its limit handling from being progressive or its major controls from feeling connected to its extremities.

The car’s stability control systems are fully switchable and, when they’re deactivated on a track, remarkable things can happen.

The absorbing balance and delicacy of the LC’s handling can surface on the road, as well, of course, but here it’s overlaid on a ride that’s simply too lively and excitable to have a place on a gran turismo.

Given how much it weighs and how much torque its engine makes, the LC500’s lap time around a slightly damp MIRA Dunlop circuit speaks volumes about the poise and progressiveness of its handling.

Here, the car is well capable of carrying the sort of apex speeds to give its adaptive dampers a hard day at the office but, although it rolls a little, it stays as benign and controllable as many a sports car we could mention.

The car’s stability control system isn’t particularly intrusive, and in Sport+ mode, it allows you to adjust its corner trajectory and attitude a little bit using power — but it must be switched out completely to appreciate how benign the car is ultimately.

There isn’t quite enough torque here to move the rear axle around as easily as you might in, say, a Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupé, but the handling is deliciously mobile and indulgent all the same.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Lexus LC500

In pricing the LC500 from £76,595, Lexus has heli-dropped its sleek coupé into a savagely competitive marketplace.

You’ll need to find only another £1296 for a Porsche 911outgunned by the Lexus in terms of power and noisier at a cruise, but undoubtedly the superior car for ride and handling – and Jaguar’s F-Type 400 Sport undercuts its Japanese rival by £5000.

Low volumes expected to help the LC retain 10% more value after three years/36,000 miles than S-Class

Neither of those cars will struggle to keep pace with the Lexus, but nor do they offer an engine quite in the same league in terms of charisma.

Jaguar The V8-engined F-Type R is more comparable although, at £90,860, it’s also rather more expensive, and the soon-to-be-replaced twin-turbo V8 BMW M6 starts at £95,580.

A Mercedes-Benz S500 costs even more, although it has no equal for long-range refinement in this segment.

Further support for the LC500’s case is touring economy nudging 40mpg – outrageously high for a car with an atmospheric 5.0-litre V8 and largely down to the car’s 10 speeds, the tallest of which allows the engine to wallow at 1155rpm on a motorway cruise.

Work those eight cylinders and they’ll gulp down fuel with zeal, but it’s good to know you can get to and from your favourite driving roads without emptying your wallet.

 

VERDICT

4 star Lexus LC500

The Lexus LC feels a bit like a car created by people so excited by the idea that it could exist at all that they neglected to focus fully on all the things it needed to do and be.

That’s entirely understandable when you consider just how incredible the car looks – inside and out. But the LC500 just doesn’t have the touring practicality, easy drivability, systems usability or rolling refinement we expect of a luxury coupé.

As soulful as it is stunning, but a much better sports car than a GT

Even so, as a keen driver, you still feel inclined to make a case for it. The LC500 has a superbly charismatic and likeable V8 engine, and the balanced, spry, involving handling make it feel, at times, more of a natural rival for a Jaguar F-Type or a Porsche 911 than a Mercedes S-Class Coupé.

It seems large, heavy, leaden-footed and a bit cumbersome on the road at times too – so you never quite escape a feeling of ambivalence towards the car.

Ultimately, depending on how much you’re moved by its virtues or irked by its shortcomings, this car is either a bit of a rough diamond or the dreaded curate’s egg. For us, it’s much closer to the former.

That is why, the LC makes our top five ahead of the outgoing Aston Martin V8 Vantage S, but is just behind the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé, Jaguar F-Type R and the formidable Porsche 911 Carrera GTS.

 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Lexus LC First drives