2018 Lexus LC500h new car reviewAug 23rd, 2017
The latest Japanese luxury model makes quite a statement.
What is it?
A halo. A beacon. A grab for attention. This is Lexus making a big, bold statement about itself as a brand.
The LC500h (and its V8-powered sibling, the LC500) are designed to make the Japanese brand stand out from the crowd, or more specifically, stand out from the big German trio of luxury car makers.
Taking clear inspiration from the V10-powered LFA supercar, launched back in 2010, the LC is a grand tourer with head-turning looks. But underneath is a more mainstream powertrain, the same V6 petrol-electric hybrid system used across much of the Lexus range.
So the LC500h is ultimately about being outrageous on top but sensible underneath.
How much does it cost and what do you get?
The beauty of the LC500h is it looks like the $1m LFA, staying impressively close to the LF-LC concept car that previewed it back 2012, but costs a more reasonable $190,000 (plus on-road costs).
While that’s still a lot of money for a car, in our time with it it turned more heads than some $300,000+ machines. So if ‘wow factor’ is high on your priority list, then the LC500h delivers.
But on a more pragmatic front the price includes 21-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, panoramic glass roof, head-up display, dual-zone climate control, leather-accented trim, multi-function digital dashboard, heated and ventilated front seats, Bluetooth, navigation and a 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
What’s under the bonnet?
While the basics of the hybrid system are similar to the rest of the Lexus range – pairing a 3.5-litre V6 with an electric motor – a lot of the details have been changed.
One of the most unique elements for the LC500h is the hybrid system’s battery, which is a lithium-ion unit for the first time, replacing the nickel-metal hydride kind of other models. Lexus claims it is both smaller and lighter but also has better energy density.
Lexus engineers reworked the engine to make it feel sportier, rather than just being an eco-friendly powertrain. Even so, the outputs of 220kW and 348Nm are not a lot for a car weighing 2000kg, so performance is good without being a true sports car even if Lexus claims it will do the 0-100km/h sprint in 5.0secs.
It also lacks some a little bit of polish as the V6 is very noticeable when it springs into life, with a gruff soundtrack that will be familiar to anyone who has driven a V6-powered Toyota in recent years.
The hybrid system is paired with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that Lexus has re-engineered to give it the feeling of having 10 different ratios.
The positive impact of such a modest engine paired with a hybrid system and efficient transmission is a frugal machine. Lexus claims the LC500h can use as little as 6.7-litres per 100km, which is an impressive return for such a dramatic looking and large coupe.
And it feels achievable too, during our time in the car a mixture of highway and urban commuting saw 7.0L/100km appear on the trip computer. But even in urban driving we saw 8.3L/100km, which is still a respectable figure under those circumstances.
What’s it like to drive?
This is one area where the LC500h doesn’t make clear sense, falling between a true 2+2 grand tourer and an outright sports car.
It can’t hide it’s sheer size and weight, so it lacks the last degree of poise and precision that you expect from a sports car. But, having said that, it’s offers up beautiful feel through the steering and the car feels responsive to inputs.
The ride is comfortable, especially given its massive 21-inch rims, but it is fighting hard against its girth when you really push towards it limits. At eight-tenths it is brilliantly balanced with good grip from its standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
If you’re looking for a proper sports car, the LC has the looks but, at least in hybrid configuration, is more of a cruiser than an outright corner carver.
What’s it like inside?
Just as dramatic looking as the outside. Lexus has been steadily improving its interior design over the years, using less and less Toyota switchgear, and the LC500h raises that bar further.
From the moment you open the door you a greeted by the sweeping design that wraps from the driver’s door all the way across the dashboard and around the passenger’s door. It creates a feeling of being caccooned inside the LC500h. Coupled with the high centre console and highly adjustable seat and steering wheel you feel surprisingly ensconced in what, from the outside, looks like a large and imposing cabin.
There’s some beautiful details in the cabin too, like the wave pattern in the door trim, the handles that look like arrow heads and the origami-like pattern that’s hidden behind a see-through panel on the passenger side and is lit by ambient lighting at night.
But despite the overall size of the vehicle, there’s not much room in the back with little in the way of legroom for a car that is 4.7m in length. Even putting kids in the back is a challenge, so it’s hard to really think of the LC as a genuine four-seat grand tourer.
One criticism of the design are the rear window pillars, which may work with the styling but are massive and create a huge blind spot when you’re driving. An unfortunate byproduct of the design-led focus on the LC.
Is it safe?
Every new model from the Japanese brand comes equipped with Lexus Safety System+, a suite of active safety items including pre-collision warning, lane keeping assist, automatic high beam and adaptive cruise control. The LC500h also comes with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert plus a reversing camera and eight airbags.
Would I buy it?
Because it’s a sensible sports car… as far as extravagant two-door, luxury car purchases go.
Its looks aren’t to everyone’s taste but it does stand out in traffic like a true supercar, which is an important factor for those lucky enough to be in the market for a sports car/grand tourer.
And while the hybrid isn’t the traditional sports car powertrain it’s got enough grunt and has the kind of efficiency that V8 and turbocharged rivals can’t compete with.
It may fall between a sports car and grand tourer but its a very fine luxury car.
What else should I consider?
That’s a hard question to answer because the LC500h doesn’t really have any direct rivals. A Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe offers up similar space (actually even more rear room) but can’t match the LC for head-turning looks.
The BMW 640i Coupe is arguably the closest in terms of style, price and performance, with its 230kW/450Nm 3.0-litre V6 and $182,100 price tag.
If you can stretch the budget then you could also consider the $259,000 Mercedes-AMG GT or $295,000 Maserati GranTurismo Sportline, and both of those boast far more powerful V8 engines and are in a different performance league than the LC500h.
2017 Lexus LC500h price and specifications
Price: From $190,000 (plus on-road costs)
Engines: 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric hybrid
Power: 220kW at 6600rpm
Torque: 348Nm at 4900rpm
Transmissions: CVT automatic, rear-wheel drive
Fuel use: 6.7L/100km