Lexus shifts gears with the 350-hp LC 500h hybrid
There are long, drawn-out car teasers, and then there are super-quick campaigns that are there and gone in a flash. Lexus goes the latter route with the all-new LC 500h. Just days after announcing the new hybrid and showing the first photos, it has revealed the details on the car’s all-new hybrid powertrain and design … plus more photos of the sexy blue coupe.
Lexus developed the LC 500h’s new Multi Stage Hybrid System with two goals in mind. First, it wanted to ensure a sporty, responsive driving experience by closely aligning engine speed with throttle input. Second, it wanted to give the system the best combination of power and fuel efficiency possible.
To fulfill those not-entirely-compatible goals, Lexus added a new four-speed automatic transmission to a familiar hybrid mix of 3.5-liter V6, electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. Mounted at the rear of the hybrid transmission, the four-speed gearbox gives the driver a rawer, more satisfying connection between accelerator pedal and vehicle acceleration than the typical CVT can muster. The driver can also switch the transmission over to manual mode for direct shifting, a first in a full-hybrid Lexus.
While the new transmission adds weight, Lexus says the extra poundage is completely offset by the lighter electric motor and battery, keeping the new Multi Stage Hybrid System the same weight as current hybrid technology. The total output of the hybrid system is 354 hp, a drop from the gas LC 500’s 467 hp, but enough juice to ensure a 0-62 mph (100 km/h) “well into the sub-5 second range,” which compares well to the LC 500’s “less than 4.5 seconds.”
The LC 500h may be a driver’s car, but it’s still a modern luxury car, meaning the latest in driver assistance. Lexus rolls features like a pre-crash safety system with pedestrian detection, all-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and auto high beams into the new Lexus Safety System +, which comes standard.
Toyota chief Akio Toyoda wants to make Lexus a badge that people are viscerally excited to own and drive, and the LC 500 is the first part of the plan. He let Lexus engineers loose on the new car with marching orders to optimize the weight and structure for a fast, sharp ride.
It all starts with the newly developed premium rear-wheel drive platform with its lowered, centralized concentration of mass. The powertrain is mounted just behind the front axle, and short overhangs pull mass off the vehicle ends, effectively pushing the wheels to the corners. Lightweight materials and components, including an aluminum hood, a carbon and glass composite boot lid, ultra-compact LED headlamps and an available carbon fiber roof, help pull the needle of the scale back while pushing the center of gravity lower.
The styling of the LC 500 cars remains remarkably true to the original LF-LC concept that inspired them. Debuted more than four years ago at NAIAS 2012, that concept wasn’t originally meant for production, but the oohs, aahs and accolades eventually convinced Lexus to see it through.
From the front, the LC 500 looks as though it’s been carefully hand-sculpted back, its every upper line pulled toward the rear. Lexus’ signature spindle grille is bolder than ever, flanked by super-sharp triple-LED headlights connected to daytime running lamps.
On the sides, the doors have been gently tucked in, accentuating the bold front, strong rear fenders and large wheels. Vents at the arches lend a hint of power and speed. The roofline drops sharply while tapering into a taut rear, where the eye meets what might be the car’s most interesting styling point – the shark tooth taillight surrounds.
The LC 500 series is clearly all about the driver, and Lexus has created a properly driver-focused interior. It’s structured the driver’s hip point as close to the center of gravity as possible for better driver-vehicle connection. The seat grips and steadies the driver while the shaped steering wheel lets him or her confidently grip the car right back. A next-generation touch pad and new multimedia package with faster software provide infotainment with support from the premium Pioneer audio system (an “audiophile-worthy” Mark Levinson system is available optionally).
Lexus showed the gas LC 500 at NAIAS 2016 in January and will debut the LC 500h in Geneva in just over a week.