Car reviews - Lexus - LC - range
Stunning design and build quality, driving position, soaring V8, efficient hybrid, sweet steering and suspension even on 21s
Room for improvement
Feels most like a $160K F-Type S rival, infuriating ergonomics, sub-par ESC for a sportscar undermines handling
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5 Jun 2017
JUST look at it. From the tiny headlight cluster and sinewy jutted-out grille, to the edgy side character creases and silver-spear C-pillar wedge, all the way to the muscled rear haunches and pert Corvette-like bootlid, the Lexus LC would feel at home on a turntable under motorshow lights.
Instead it sweeps into showrooms looking like nothing else for $190,000 before on-road costs. It is not traditional like the Porsche 911 just above it, or formal like a 6 Series, or al fresco-relaxed like an SL. An F-Type must surely be its closest foe.
That view is reinforced when a pillarless door is opened, and a flying buttress-style pillar flanks the passenger side of the centre stack – just like in the Jaguar.
Lexus spruiks the value of its ‘Takumi’ team of handcrafters that produce the LC in the factory that built its LFA supercar. Fit and finish is flawless, and the low driving position and small, leather-clad steering wheel heighten expectations for a driving experience racier than the average GT.
Firstly, however, it is difficult to escape some cheap and generic switchgear that surrounds the otherwise lush plastics and leathers. The volume knob, in particular, is shiny enough to be mistaken for an Aldi home audio system, not a Bang and Olufsen one. Speaking of sound, though, the Mark Levinson system is at least a beauty.
While the digital gauges ahead of the driver are slick, even the lurid green icons for the active cruise control and Eco modes are far too Toyota-derived to be considered bespoke.
The 10.1-inch touchscreen delivers high-resolution graphics, but it melds with a touchpad user interface that controls a cursor on the screen and remains clunky. That is when functions are allowed – at speed, even changing the Custom driver select mode (to mix-and-match Comfort suspension with Sport drivetrain, for example) is blanked out. Likewise adjusting the head-up display, or accessing a smartphone’s contact list.
This OH&S obsession is something Lexus needs to shed, particularly given other brands deliver more intuitive and less restrictive infotainment systems.
A further challenge is accepting a 1935kg kerb weight for a medium-to-large coupe with limited rear legroom and tight boot volume complete with a narrow opening – in the latter case again like F-Type, although at least it adds (child-only) back seats.
Perhaps for the better, Lexus remains unmoved by the recent trend of downsizing engine capacity and adding forced induction. Indeed the 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine, now producing an additional 10Nm over the compact RC F with 540Nm at 4800rpm, as well as 351kW of power at 7100rpm, delivers on revs, sound and throttle response.
Buyers can also choose the 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine and (for the first time) lithium-ion battery-fed electric motor combination to almost halve fuel use – 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres versus 11.7L/100km. With 265kW its 5.0-second 0-100km/h claim is three-tenths behind the V8.
Both LC500 and LC500h use 10-speed transmissions, but only the former is a torque-converter derivation of the eight-speed used in RC F. The hybrid combines a four-speed auto – not from a 1999 ES300, we promise – with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) filling in the additional six gears, only in sliding-ratio ‘steps’.
We sampled both drivetrains on-road, and then on-track at Phillip Island raceway, and in both instances the identically priced V8 proved the pearler.
It screams a soulful tune that eludes the grainy, whiney hybrid, even if overall performance seems more like that of a sub-$150,000 sportscar. And if 10 gears seem a few too many, then at least they are packed so closely together to keep the V8 on-song, with whip-crack-quick upshifts at redline.
At Phillip Island, the V8 pulled 236km/h down the main straight versus 200km/h for the hybrid. Conversely, on the road we saw 19.0L/100km and 9.0L/100km for each drivetrain respectively.
The masterstroke for both LC model grades, however, is the lack of tyre roar and controlled yet comfortable ride quality in the adaptive suspension’s Comfort mode, even on low-profile 21-inch tyres. It gives credibility to Lexus’ claim that it used carbon-fibre and aluminium in the body structure of its flagship coupe to subtract weight, only to add suspension beef and sound deadening.
Despite its weight, the new Global Architecture-Luxury (GA-L) platform really does help this big Lexus haul. The LC remains amazingly flat and stable through punishingly quick changes of direction, and only in the tightest corners – especially on track – does the nose become pushy.
However, the back half of this Lexus chassis proves most alluring.
Brake deep into a bend, and the LC will delicately pivot and shift weight rearwards, which highlights the brilliant traction on corner exit where the LC500 simply digs in, hooks up then fires. Because the V8 is not boosted, generous throttle can be used on exit, and often.
The excellence of the back part of this rear-wheel-drive chassis is partially undermined, however, by a single-setting electronic stability control (ESC) that proves far too invasive.
The argument that if the ESC light is flashing the car is being driven beyond its limits simply does not resonate here. Having steered a Gen-F HSV, C63 AMG and 911 Carrera S around Phillip Island, the need for either smarter ESC or a Sport ESC setting becomes painfully obvious here.
Even in Sport+ the ESC remains unaltered from its standard setting, and while switching it off is an option, in a pricey sportscar it arguably should not be a case of all or nothing. Despite the inclusion of a limited-slip differential (LSD) on the V8, not even slight throttle can be used to adjust the LC.
Lexus needs to let both its talented engineers and the car itself breathe.
The LC500 and LC500h are clearly playing a balancing act, but they can come across as compromised. Seemingly the handling wants to be the star of the show, but judgement is clouded by harsh ESC. The cabin is well-crafted and sporty, but ergonomically frustrating and a touch cramped for its size. It is loaded, as expected for $40,000 more than an F-Type V6 S.
Which brings us back to design. It really is the difference between this new Lexus and its rivals. Handling should be, too, but hopefully a Sport ESC setting is only an update away.
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