It's official: Lexus is boring, even the boss agrees. Akio Toyoda chief executive of Toyota (which owns Lexus) and a keen race driver has been banging on about it for years, he's even quoted letters from disgruntled owners at press conferences.
AUG 30th 2017
First Drive: Lexus LC500
This, the new Lexus LC, is the answer, as much an exercise in changing big-company culture as it is a Gran Turismo two-plus-two coupé. It also debuts the new GA-L steel, aluminium, and carbon fibre body framing and suspension that will underpin next year's replacement LS luxury saloon as well as all forthcoming large, rear-drive Lexus models.
On the launch, which took place between Munich and Milan over three days, we discussed whether these big GTs are the ultimate measure of a premium car maker's kudos, far more so than the glut of hideous SUVs and crossovers and others body types. Discuss, but when a GT looks this startling, it's hard to argue against. Based on and largely identical to the 2012 LF-LC concept, the LC is track stopping, with a radically low front end, aero ducts all over and those dramatically cutaway doors. Only the rear end looks weak by comparison and perhaps that slightly weird front three-quarter view. Try to avoid the yellow coachwork, but chose instead white, blue or a rather amazing brown - yes really.
The cabin is based on the horizontally dominated lines we first saw in the LFA supercar, with twin TFT screens in the instrument binnacle which can be digitally moved left and right to reveal more and different information. The narrow facia means the centre sat-nav screen isn't really deep enough but there is a head-up display which contains turn-by-turn tulip icons. As well as camera and radar-based cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance and pedestrian recognition, there's also a degree of machine learning, so there are no seat heating controls, for example, they come on automatically when the outside temperature drops below a pre-set threshold. Unfortunately, Lexus also retains touchpad control for the screen functions, which is fiddly and annoying and makes rival human machine interfaces in Audi or BMW models look like exemplars.
The design is a delight of sumptuous materials, immaculate design and fine craft execution. Raw soft leathers, soft-touch plastics and satin-finish metal make a delightful space. The blue-and-tan upholstery in the special edition examples is quite lovely. Similarly, the seats, which look good enough for your sitting room yet are also supportive and comfortable. There isn't a lot of spare space round the front seats, and the rear seats are suitable only for the smallest children or shopping. The boot is smaller than that in the average supermini (even smaller in the hybrid version), though you'll just about cram in a couple of airline carry-ons.
Two drivelines are offered, both the same price with only the trim choice changing between models.
The LC 500 is powered with a 5-litre, quad-cam, 32-valve, all-aluminium V8 from the RC-F and GS-F. It's a traditional high-revving, naturally-aspirated unit delivering 467bhp at 7,100rpm and 389lb ft of torque at 4,800rpm, enough to give a top speed of 168mph, 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, 24.4mpg Combined consumption on 21-inch wheels and CO2 emissions of 267g/km. There's also a brand-new, 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifts.
The LC 500h is a 291bhp/257lb ft 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric hybrid loosely based on that in the Lexus RX, but reworked with new cylinder heads, a four-speed automatic gearbox mounted on the back of the 174bhp twin-motor hybrid system and a 1.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack buffer replacing the nickel-metal hydride battery which compensates for the extra weight of four-speed 'box.
The idea is that the four speed combines with artificial 'ratios' to give ten 'speeds' in total which should add precision to the driveline and reduce the 'rubber-band' driving effect often associated with this Prius-based technology.
It starts in electric mode, but the engine chimes in pretty quickly and provides a high-revving soundtrack. You can tell the real from the artificial gear ratios, but the system works reasonably well and, if not as precise as a conventional driveline, is the best Lexus hybrid yet. It doesn't feel fantastically fast, but 155mph top speed and a 4.7 second 0-62mph time are quick enough. Its Combined economy of 43.5mpg (we achieved 31mpg) is impressive set against the performance, too.
By contrast, the V8 is one huge, high-revving giggle, howling up to its 7,100rpm with ferocity and sling shot performance that reminds you how much we're going to miss these units when they're gone. It might not have much low-down torque, but the gorgeous gurgling soundtrack (part of it piped into the cabin) is too good not to bottle and the close-spaced ratios of the new 10-speed auto keep it on the boil even if you have to feather foot it occasionally to get a smooth change.
With a centre of gravity 510mm off the ground, a centre of mass near the driver's hip point, and almost 50/50 per cent front/rear weight distribution, together with upper and lower wishbones all round, the chassis presents a tempting prospect. Steel springs and adjustable damping are standard and the most expensive Sport + model gets variable-ratio steering with a rear steering system, a carbon-fibre reinforced plastic roof and a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential.
The hybrid, however, feels hampered by its over two-tonne kerb weight, which lends a deliberate quality to the handling, where the steering feels nervous as you first turn the wheel. There's a lot of anti-roll in the chassis and yaw builds up fast without the progression of say, a Jaguar F-Type, though if you really hurl it up the road it's more trustworthy and a better communicator than you first thought. Certainly, those 21-inch Michelin run-flat tyres grip tenaciously and though they don't do the low-speed ride many favours, overall all versions of the LC ride pretty well.
By contrast, the V8 is a perfect hoot from the get go, just the sort of car that relishes over driving, cornering on the limit and being flung up the road with that V8 racing noisily and tyres squealing. It might not quite have the precision of Jaguar's F-Type, but it does long distance travel with considerably more aplomb.
Aimed at rivals such as Mercedes-Benz's SL, BMW's 6-series and the Maserati GranTurismo, rather than the Jaguar or Porsche 911, the Lexus provides enough to thrill and cosset. And, priced at between £76,595 and £85,895 depending on the trim level, it's good value in this market where prices quickly get into six figures. It'll be rare, too, with just 250 a year destined for the UK. It could do with a tiny bit more precision and dynamism (particularly the hybrid), but the new LC is a country mile from boring and actually quite a desirable motorcar.
Engines: 3.5-litre V6 petrol/electric hybrid, or 5-litre V8 petrol
Transmission: 10-spd auto (both), rear-wheel drive
Bhp/lb ft: 354bhp total system (hybrid), 467bhp/389lb ft (V8)
0-62mph: 4.7sec (hybrid), 4.7sec (V8)
Top speed: 155mph (hybrid), 168mph (V8)
Price as tested: £76,595 - 85,895
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