2018 Lexus LC 500: Lexus’ Most Emotional Car Turns Heads Like Nothing Before It
Ask the average car shopper to list their most important traits when looking for a new vehicle and you’re going to get a very consistent set of answers. Quality, reliability, fuel efficiency, safety and convenience features. These are all important traits, and consumers have every right to demand them in a new car. But there’s another factor most consumers aren’t as quick to freely mention: looks.
Admit it, when asked what you really want in your next car are you comfortable responding with, “I don’t really care about quality or safety or fuel efficiency, as long as it looks good.” Sounds pretty superficial, right? Yet in anonymous surveys, where respondents are more comfortable with full disclosure, exterior styling is always among the top 2-3 priorities they list.
In today’s world this priority on automotive styling makes sense. Why? Because all those other factors are pretty much standard on every new car. If a modern car doesn’t offer a baseline level of quality, reliability, fuel efficiency, safety and convenience features it doesn’t stand a chance in today’s market. That leaves styling as the one big differentiator, and it’s why the 2018 Lexus LC 500 is such a brilliant move by Lexus.
Multiple factors contributed to the LC 500’s existence. First, the concept version of the car, the LF-LC, was only intended as a styling exercise. It was never meant to see production. But the universally positive reaction it generated, from consumers seeing it at auto shows to Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, transformed the LC 500 from a styling statement into full-fledged production model that hits Lexus showrooms in May.
The LC 500 also makes an excellent showcase for Lexus’ all-new front-engine, rear-drive platform that will underpin the new LS sedan and other high-end models. Brian Bolain, Lexus’ General Manager of Product and Consumer Marketing, told journalists at the car’s launch, “Lexus is absolutely changing with the introduction of an all-new platform. Please do rest assured this will completely change the way Lexus vehicles feel and ensure that Lexus drivers of the future are more connected than they’ve ever been before.”
So no pressure on the new LC 500, right? Especially with America’s current fixation on large SUVs compared to sporty two-door coupes. Thankfully, Lexus recognizes the market this car is entering. The company plans to sell just 400 LC 500s a month, or less than 2 a month for each U.S. dealer. That’s a reasonable number to hit, even with a starting price of $92,000 for the LC 500 and $96,510 for the LC 500h (hybrid).
Given the reaction this car generated on Hawaii’s Big Island it’s easy to imagine the LC 500 finding at least 400 buyers a month. Lexus’s design team worked diligently to bring the original concept car’s style to the street, and if the double takes, camera phone photos and “I love your car!” exclamations are any indication, they succeeded. Starting with a low hood and new “Polaris Ellipsoid System” (PES) 3-projector headlight the LC 500 offers a small frontal area flowing into classic long hood/short deck coupe proportions. This means Lexus’ trademark front spindle grille plays a relatively subtle role in the LC 500’s overall look (probably not a bad thing…).
That same spindle shape appears on the LC 500’s rear end, flanked by taillights with an internal reflector that creates a concept-car-like glow and depth. The coupe’s mid-section offers standard 20-inch wheels (21s optional) wrapped by flowing body panels and a low roof. Look casually at the LC 500 and you’ll swear the rear end is wider than the front. This impression comes from creative use of proportions along its flanks, giving the LC 500 visual poise and power despite a nearly identical front and rear wheel track.
There’s no question the LC 500 looks good, but how does it drive? Honestly, it wasn’t easy to fully exercise the car’s handling dynamics in Hawaii. The Big Island’s roads are generally straight, strung together by the occasional gentle turn. But it was clear the LC 500’s visual poise is backed up by refined and confident handling, thanks in large part to its stiff chassis and use of lightweight materials, including carbon fiber and aluminum throughout the body structure.
There’s also a pleasing exhaust note from its 5.0-liter, 471 horsepower V8. Power is delivered to the rear wheels through a 10-speed automatic with paddle shifters, which Lexus says will deliver the coupe from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 16 city, 26 highway and 19 mixed mpg.
Higher fuel efficiency is possible with the LC 500h, which uses a 3.5-liter V6 combined with an electric motor and 44 kWh lithium-ion battery back to create 354 horsepower. The hybrid weighs 155 pounds more than the V8 and is down 117 horsepower, yet it only takes .3 seconds longer (4.7) to reach 60 mph, and it gets 26 city, 35 highway and 30 mixed mpg. The hybrid version also costs $4,510 more than the V8, and it doesn’t offer the same sonic enjoyment when you hammer the accelerator.
Both the LC 500 and LC 500h include a long list of standard luxury and safety features. Beyond the aforementioned 20-inch wheels and LED exterior lighting every LC comes with a 10-inch central touchscreen, 10-way power seats, a reconfigurable instrument cluster, a 12-speaker premium audio system, Lexus Enform destination and concierge service and a full suite of the latest safety technology (smart cruise control, lane-keeping assist, pre-collision warning, etc.). Lexus even added pop-up hood technology, which allows the LC 500 to have its low hoodline while still meeting Europe’s pedestrian safety standards.
LC 500 options include a Sport Package with a carbon fiber roof, 21-inch wheels, a limited slip differential, heated and ventilated Alcantara sport seats and Intuitive Park Assist. A Performance Package includes these features plus Active Rear Steer, Variable Gear Ratio Steering, an active rear spoiler and carbon fiber scuff plates. A Cold Area Package with a heated steering wheel and windshield de-icer, plus individual options like a color heads-up display and a 12-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, are also available. Lexus says a loaded LC 500 tops out at $102,000 while the LC 500h can hit $104,000.
Between the luxury coupe’s 6-figure price tag and cramped rear seat (the 5.4 cubic foot trunk is pretty small, too) there’s no arguing the logic of a car like the Lexus LC 500, even in hybrid form. If logic ruled the day when it comes to car purchases, that could be a problem. But it doesn’t, and the LC 500’s stunning design will win over plenty of well-heeled buyers looking to stand out and look fabulous in the growing sea of SUVs.