FEB 19th 2016

Geneva 2016: New Lexus LC500h – It's A Hybrid With Horns

Lexus will have not one but two versions of its bold new circa £80,000 supercoupe to take on assorted BMWs, Maseratis and Porsches when it arrives in showrooms 12 months from now.

Joining the LC500 that made its debut at the Detroit Show earlier this year is this car, the LC500h – h for hybrid – to premiere at the Geneva Motor Show on March 1st. The wild concept car looks may be the same as the V8 model, but under the skin there’s a world of difference in the technology.

Geneva preview promo

The LC500h previews what Lexus is calling Multi Stage Hybrid, a next-gen system that puts the emphasis on performance and increased driver involvement while still claiming a hybrid’s efficiency advantages.

Injecting more passion into Lexus, both in the driving experience and the design, is the watchword at the Japanese luxury firm right now, following big boss Akio Toyoda’s assertion that the brand ‘had something missing’.

But giving a V6/electric hybrid enthusiast appeal has to be a lot harder than making a normally-aspirated 477hp rear-driven V8 a rewarding steer – and we know already how enticing the LC500 sounds.

So how has Lexus managed it with this hybrid? Two transmissions for starters. There’s a regular continuously variable CVT type mated to the 3.5-litre V6, and then a conventional automatic bolted to the rear of the hybrid transmission.

Lexus LC500h

Lexus experts went to great lengths to explain this to GRR but in the end we kept coming back to a bicycle’s derailleur gears: six ‘virtual’ (CVT) gears on the right hand lever, four actual gears (the automatic) on the left lever. While that might make 10 gears in total – coincidentally the same as the auto box in the V8 LC500 offers – in practice there are six ratios for each of the four cogs, in the manner of a 24-speed bike. So a 24-speed Lexus?

Maybe, maybe not – thankfully the driver doesn’t need to know the answer to that: just select D and plant your foot. But at the same time the system’s benefits are not designed to go unnoticed. The sporty point here is that you feel, and hear, the gearchange steps more in the manner of a regular car. And you can get involved more if you want to: a new M mode allows the driver to take control of cog-swapping, the first time such a feature has been available on a Lexus hybrid.

The Multi Stage Hybrid’s four ‘transfer case’ ratios also mean engine speed can be more closely aligned to throttle inputs, avoiding the traditional CVT high-rev-screaming-for-not-much-action syndrome (not that Lexus hybrids have that). It all adds up to a car that is more engaging to drive, says the firm.

Lexus LC500h

But why not just go for a single dual-clutch transmission, we ask LC500h chief engineer Koji Sato. Because, he says, the Multi Stage system offers shift speed just as fast as a dual-clutch, but the changes are smoother and the drivetrain more compact, more reliable and weighs less.

For the ‘efficiency’ version of the new luxury coupe, then, the LC500h does promise to be a sporty machine, with a total system output of 359hp. Lexus says 0-62mph is under 5secs – so almost as fast as the V8 (4.5secs). There’s even a sound generator to try to make the V6 as aurally exciting as the V8. And like the LC500, the whole thing is sat upon an all-new and super-stiff, low centre of gravity platform that’s set up to ‘offer a dynamic driving experience unlike any Lexus vehicle prior to it’.

Both the LC500 and LC500h will go on sale at the same time in spring 2017, taking Lexus into a whole new market slot for the first time, one populated with star cars from the BMW M6 to the Porsche 911 in the £80-£100,000 area.

There’s a good chance we’ll see these wannabe 911 rivals ahead of next year… sounds to GRR like the Festival of Speed wouldn’t be complete without them.

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