Car reviews - Lexus - LC - 500h
Nimble handling that belies the two-tonne bulk, state-of-the-art steering, eye-catching styling, cruising comfort, jewel-like build quality
Room for improvement
Not as fuel efficient as claimed, confusing infotainment and connectivity with silly touch pad control, over-complicated interior
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2 Mar 2018
TRY as we might, we often cannot escape preconceptions about newly introduced cars. The freshly minted Lexus LC sports coupe is a case in point.
Reading through the launch information about this two-door Japanese 2+2 grand tourer, one statistic stood out: kerb weight 2020kg. My, we thought, this lardy Two-Tonne Tess is going to handle like a barge and struggle to get out of its own way, especially in its petrol-electric hybrid LC500h form which has peak power of just 264kW.
At least the 5.0-litre V8 version of the LC500 has a respectable 351kW, we noted.
So, we were all prepared to spurn it like a $200,000 Prius when we stepped aboard the LC500h in the visitor parking area at Toyota’s head office in Melbourne. The funny thing is, when we drove back into that same car park a week later, it was with a pang of guilt that we had prejudged this machine. And as we handed the key fob to the receptionist, it was with some reluctance.
You see, the LC500h is much more nimble than we could have imagined, and while it would not see which way a Porsche 911 or Mercedes-AMG GT went, it gets along nicely in all but race track extremes.
Flawless? No way. But for those seeking a satisfying cruiser, not a bruiser, in a surprisingly sexy and well built package, the LC500h is worth a look.
Price and equipment
With an Australian list price of $190,000 before on-road costs for both LC variants – the V6 hybrid LC500h and petrol V8 LC500 – Lexus’s large grand tourer coupe is not exactly budget motoring, but put it up against the $327,215 starting price of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe or $242,400 for a base Porsche 911 and it does not look so bad.
On the road in standard guise, you are looking at a tick above $200,000.
As with all Lexus models, the LC500h comes standard with most things that open and shut, in this case including a high-end Mark Levinson 13-speaker sound system, handcrafted Takumi leather and a climate control system that even co-ordinates the air-conditioning with the seater heaters and seat ventilation.
Head-up display, 21-inch forged alloy wheels, 10.3-inch high-definition screen, sat-nav with SUNA traffic information, five driving modes and flush door handles that pop out when the car is opened and retreat when the car moves off, are all included in the standard price.
Our test car came with the optional Enhancement Pack that adds $15,780 to deliver items such as a weight-saving carbon-fibre roof in place of the glass roof, active-rear-wheel steering, variable-ratio steering, retractable rear wing, torque-splitting Torsen differential, sportier seats with Alcantara, 10-way power seats and carbon-fibre scuff plates.
In reality, most buyers are going to add this pack, pushing the driveaway price to just under $220,000.
Soft leather and high quality finishes abound in the LC500h. Leather seams are neatly tucked out of sight on the deep sports seats that not only provide great lateral support but also lots of under-thigh comfort for long-distance driving.
Strangely, the front-seat passenger gets a curving grab handle that arches down in the middle of the car from the dash to the centre console. Looks like a bit of an unnecessary brain explosion from the interior designer, to us. It just interrupts the otherwise flowing, airy feel of the cabin.
As a 2+2 coupe, the rear seat knee room is tight, and barely big enough for adults on short journeys, made even shorter in the 500h by having to accommodate the lithium-ion battery between the rear seat and the boot where space is also in short supply at a tiny 172 litres – just sufficient for a couple of overnight bags.
The instruments are well illuminated for easy reading, while the wide in-dash screen delivers high-definition graphics for sat-nav and other infotainment functions. Unlike the free-standing screens in most Germany cars, the Lexus design buries the screen in the dash to keep it free of sunlight glare.
If only setting up functions such as Bluetooth and radio stations were so well thought through. A touchpad on the centre console is supposed to be the latest and greatest control device for such things, but it is fiddly and imprecise most of the time, and just won’t work on the move in some cases.
The electrically adjustable sports steering wheel (with a classy smooth leather finish) has myriad buttons for cruise control, phone audio control, etcetera, and while an owner would no doubt learn to go straight to the correct button over time, a Lexus novice driver struggles, having to take the eyes off the road while searching for the right control.
Like Porsche, Lexus needs to think a bit more about simplification of these complex actions.
Engine and transmission
Firstly, the LC500h is not a plug-in hybrid, rather a standard hybrid (like others in the Toyota and Lexus range) that employs regenerative braking to charge the batteries that are, for the first time in a Lexus, lithium-ion.
The 132kW electric motor works in tandem with a 220kW 3.6-litre petrol V6 for a total output of 264kW (no, you can’t just add the two together to get the peak power figure).
The oomph is delivered to the rear wheels via a fiendishly complex transmission that is a hybrid itself – part standard automatic transmission (four-speed) and part mechanical continuously variable transmission (CVT). Put the two together and the so-called Multi Stage Hybrid mimics a 10-speed automatic, only more efficiently. Sounds weird, works great, even with the manual-function steering wheel paddles.
Like everything about the LC, the hybrid powertrain is super-refined, going about its work with minimal fuss. For some buyers in this league, that is a problem, as many like to have their senses assaulted with bark and bite.
But, maybe if you have grown up a little, the knowledge that the LC500h can sit you back in the seat while whirring from zero to 100km/h in about 5.0 seconds is enough. The V8 version is marginally quicker at 4.8s, mainly because it is more than 200kg lighter.
The reward comes at the petrol pump where the LC500h in our test returned 9.4 litres per 100km on a run of combined rural and city driving. This is quite a bit more than the claimed 6.7L/100km, but good for a car of its size and weight and far better than the V8 variant that – officially – gets 11.7L/100km, and probably more like 15L/100km.
Ride and handling
For a lump of a car, the Lexus LC500h knows how to hook up its skirts and go.
This is partly due to the new Lexus GL-A platform that is solid as a rock, and partly due to a near 50/50 weight distribution and finely tuned chassis that includes adaptive variable suspension and big 21-inch wheels and low-profile Michelin Pilot tyres – 245/40 at the front and 275/35 at the back. These tyres, incidentally, are run-flats, so no spare wheel.
We must insert a disclaimer here: as we mentioned earlier, our test car was fitted with the optional enhancement that adds items such as rear-axle steering, variable-gear ratio steering, Torsen diff, active rear wing and carbon-fibre roof.
We expect these niceties to have delivered a major boost in handling over the standard car – how much is hard to say without a back-to-back test.
Suffice to say, our test car made short work of a winding mountain road in Victoria’s Otway Ranges, turning into corners like a much smaller car while delivering prodigious mid-corner grip in the Sports S mode (selected via a knob on the side of the instrument binnacle).
While the power delivery is hardly frightening, it comes on strong and even out of corners in a way that would flatter drivers of all capabilities. You can’t beat electric motors for a deep well of torque and turbine-line acceleration without histrionics.
You can also drive at up to 140km/h in all-electric EV mode by pressing a button on the console, but not for very long, even with a full battery.
Ride quality is, as you would expect from Lexus, quite cushy for a car with sports pretensions. This is one area where having the extra weight of batteries in the back and hybrid powertrain in the front actually helps, operating as a damper over uneven surfaces.
Along with the new, solid platform and ample sound deadening, the LC500h is commendably quite on the road too, despite tiny tyre sidewalls that almost require a magnifying glass to be perused.
Safety and servicing
The Lexus LC500h has not been assessed by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), so we have no independent safety rating, but take it from us: Lexus only does five-star safety.
Bristling with items such as radar-operated adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot alert and lane-keeping assist, the LC 500h does it best to keep the driver out of trouble.
Six-piston callipers grip beefty two-piece front disc brakes, while four-piston grippers do the job at the back.
Parking sensors abound all around, and they include one of the handiest innovations of recent times: rear cross-traffic alert to warn of passing traffic while backing out – especially useful in a low-slung sports coupe with restricted rear visibility.
The warranty on Lexus cars is four years or 100,000km. Service at Lexus dealerships comes with a free loan car or pick-up and delivery, along with a car wash.
We could name a dozen or more luxury sports coupes that are faster, meaner and louder than the LC500h, including many that are generally more satisfying to drive (stand up, Mercedes-Benz GT and Audi R8 and RS5).
But we struggle to think of any that are better built or more ... shall we say ... responsible. In its own way, the big Lexus is a grand tourer for the modern age, for well-heeled buyers who like a sharp drive without too much guilt.
Porsche 911 Carrera from $220,900 before on-road costs
The benchmark for luxury sportscars, the base Porsche 911 develops 272kW/450Nm from a twin-turbo flat-six engine. However, some would appreciate the Lexus hybrid powertrain over the Porsche’s internal combustion unit.
Mercedes-AMG GT from $258,711 before on-road costs
350kW/630Nm from AMG’s venerable twin-turbo 4.0-litreV8 makes the Mercedes quicker to 100km/h from a standstill by a second, but no rear seats, a much larger pricetag and tight suspension make it harder to live with than the LC.
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