It isn’t just looks that define a car and, in the case of the Lexus LC 500 at least, there’s a lot below its sleek metal sheeting that supports the public clamour for cars that are just that little bit more fun.
Underneath the bonnet sits a normally-aspirated five-litre V8 petrol engine. It builds upon the power plants that we have already seen and loved in the Lexus RC F, with advances in areas such as the D-4S fuel injection system. The motor is a lightweight, high-revving joy, moving quickly to a max of 7,300 rpm.
Maximum power is realised just 200 rpm short of that with 477 ps, and maximum torque of 540 Nm comes in at 4,800 rpm. The tuning of the engine helps to highlight what many love most about big non-turbo V8s: the feeling of endless acceleration, quick response and an awesome noise to boot. When you are inside the well-designed and appropriately luxurious cabin, that engine sound can quickly go from subdued to stirring – but it’s not too loud.
Details such as the use of a double torsional damper on the crank pulley help to reduce noise and vibration. Although if you find yourself sitting beside a racetrack or a long straight when an LC 500 drives by at full throttle, it will make your heart stir.
It’s a traditional American V8 but with a hint of European tuning for performance. The V8’s power is transmitted outward through a new 10-speed Direct Shift single-clutch transmission, which makes shifting quick and almost seamless. Close ratios bring the gears together, and in a world first for a premium passenger car, there is even spacing between each gear. This was done to avoid what was considered a “drawn out, unappealing engine sound” when the engine stayed in gear too long on an acceleration run.
An additional gear was added so as not to draw out the second and third gears too long, and a 10th was added for high-speed, low-rpm cruising. The end result is quick, precise and consistent shifts in either direction and no shift shock. It feels in some ways like a race shifter made smooth – and it’s also made to sound a bit more refined. This is, after all, a Lexus.
In addition, an AI-Shift control function with a switchable driver mode selects the best gear according to what the driver normally does or may intend to do. It looks not just at speed and acceleration, but also at driving history. It will do this in the background even if the driver doesn’t use the Drive Mode Select switch.
“The engine sound can quickly go from subdued to stirring – but it’s not too loud”
The idea for the LC was first seen at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show as the LF-LC concept car, and it’s an interpretation of what Lexus calls the “Seduction and Technology” design theme. It was one of the few projects in which two concept cars were made, and much of what was seen in these original concepts made it to the street cars intact. The spindle grill seems tighter, but meshes well with the soul of the car and how it drives. LED daytime running lights are separate from the independent triple headlights, and a sweeping roofline tapers to the rear to help create a distinctive silhouette.
This attention to detail is also apparent in the engine mounts, which look like sculptures. It’s also equipped with impressive safety features, including a long, low hood with pyrotechnics that will pop up if the car system senses a head-on collision with a pedestrian. When asked why they put a large engine cover over a motor that already looked so good, and filled out the bay better than most, Lexus representatives replied that it was part of the crumple system that serves as an extra safety measure to lessen the impact on a pedestrian or object should an accident occur.
As for the interior, it’s well-appointed and the material choices are appropriately luxurious without being too plush. Because the seats are well-bolstered, passengers who want to bring plus-ones along for the ride may want to try the seats on for size to ensure they are comfortable and wide enough to accommodate a full house. Boot space is limited, so the two rear seats may also come in handy for holding baggage.
The LC is a pretty easy car to drive around for daily use as long as you take into account certain clearances. It isn’t intrusively noisy, and even if you gas it hard the sound isn’t irritating. You’ll find no electronically-generated exhaust tones here – it’s all natural, though admittedly ducted in a way for optimum aural use.
You can’t say the LC comes into its own as you drive it harder, even though it is fully able, capable and confidence-inspiring at high speeds and around corners. The LC transitions easily on curves, with no floaty or bouncy feel, and without the harshness of more purposefully-sporty machines.
Because it is so holistically designed, it is meant to be at high levels at all levels. It is a dynamic, attention-getting Grand Tourer (GT) that may well be used for more actual grand touring than many cars and sports cars with the GT label, simply because the overall experience of the LC promises to be more pleasant and less tiring.
The LC is an amalgamation of all the creative visions at Toyota and Lexus. It’s of course a perfectly reliable, well-engineered vehicle that is suitable for daily driving. But unlike many other vehicles, the LC was never meant to be one-dimensional. Toyota has demanded that the new LC be solid and flawless, but also fun and engaging.
It’s a tight, light driving car that engages you in the drive if you want it to, but it doesn’t demand compliance if all you want is a smooth commute. It can take tight corners with ease, using that wonderfully smooth transmission and satisfyingly full power band to propel you forward, and in a rhythm of shifting that may have you wondering why other transmissions don’t feel so in sync. It is also planted and smooth on long drives so it will act as a comfortable GT.
It is not a barn-stormer or fire-breather, and in many ways the refinement of the actual drive is a surprise when you consider how visually striking the car is. But all is in correct context. This is a car meant to point the way to the future, using technology in full support. In terms of design, in terms of dynamics, in terms of technology, it is an appropriate flagship for the brand that turned everyone on their heads years ago.
Model: Lexus LC 500
From: Approx. HK$751,300 Engine 5 litre V-8
Power: 477 ps at 7,100 rpm
Torque: 540 Nm at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed direct shift automatic
Weight: 2,375 kg
0-100 km/h: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 270 km/h