By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
When it comes to cars, the antonym of bland is the 2018 Lexus LC 500. It screams out “look at me – I am beautiful” or whatever sexy sports cars yell to get attention.
During the two weeks we drove the LC 500 and the LC 500h we lived the lives of faux celebrities everywhere we went in these cars. It was virtually impossible for us to pull into a parking lot without having someone compliment LC 500’s looks. We lost count of the number of cell phones we saw taking photos of the car. Our next-door neighbor, who we’ve never officially met since he moved in a year ago, came running up the hill to see the car as we pulled into the driveway. And the topper was when a couple in a new Ferrari 488GTB tailed us on the freeway for about a mile before slowly moving past and continuing to check out the Lexus. The car is stunning!
The design of the Lexus flagship coupe not only screams beautiful, but it reverberates with fast, premium and sporty — the elements that are building blocks of the exclusive cars that would be called Grand Touring Coupes.
From the most elegant and dramatic interpretation of the Lexus signature grille, flowing beyond slim headlight pods encased with L-shaped LED daytime running lights (DRLs), the clean lines surround the body and sweep over the rich looking carbon fiber roof. Large functional air intakes accent the lines to suck in air for the engine and the brakes adding to the technology in motion capabilities. The rear end is a clean powerful look with taillights that mimic the front DLRs, and the large rectangular exhaust outlets that foretell power. You must see the Lexus LC 500 to believe it.
What makes these twin sports coupes more interesting is their dual personalities. For those who enjoy an auditory feast, just starting the V8 engine is a breathtaking experience with the deep throated rumble. Starting the hybrid is just the opposite, yielding only the sounds of silence. But as the driver takes charge and puts a foot hard on the accelerator, the results of the two are nearly the same.
The V-8 leaps forward roaring from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 4.4 seconds and is capable of 168 mph on a track. Conversely the Hybrids V-6 engine and two electric motors do their job with more reserve to make the same run in 4.7 seconds or a limited 155 mph on a track.
Another contrast is the fuel economy, which the EPA lists for the V8 at 16 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined – we averaged 19.3 mpg. The Hybrid is rated at 26/35/30 mpg — we averaged 29.2 mpg. On average, the hybrid fuel economy is about 44 percent better.
Under the hood of the Infrared-colored (deep red) LC 500 is a 471 hp 5.0-liter aluminum V8 engine. It’s fitted with dual overhead cams, variable valve timing with intelligence and direct injection. The great sounds come from an active variable exhaust system which opens baffles when the car is started, when the Sport+ mode is selected or when the accelerator is pushed to the floor. Both cars allow the driver to select a mode that best suits the type of driving and conditions the driver plans.
The V8 drives the rear wheels through the first Lexus 10-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Shifts are crisp and lightening fast manually, and even faster in the automatic mode.
The Ultra White colored LC 500h starts with an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter 295 hp V6 with direct injection and adds two water-cooled motor generators and a lithium-ion battery which is tucked neatly between the rear seat and trunk. Combined the hybrid system procures 354 hp to drive the rear wheels. This is the first Lexus hybrid that will spin the rear tires.
The transmission, however, is complex and beyond our level of comprehension. All we know is it was easy and fun to drive and didn’t feel much different from the 10-speed automatic in the V8.
Lexus describes the LC 500h transmission like this – “The new system keeps the planetary-type continuously variable transmission from Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive and adds a unique four-speed automatic transmission. Working in concert, the two gearsets alter output in four stages to utilize the V6 engine across the entire speed range. In M mode, the two gearsets act together to provide the effect of 10 ratios, giving the LC 500h a highly engaging driving feel and allowing the driver to shift through the ratios with paddle shifters. In automatic mode, the shift control matches gear selection to driving conditions and driver inputs. The Multi Stage Hybrid System allows for more electric assist at lower vehicle speeds, and it enables the LC 500h to operate with the gasoline engine off at speeds of up to 87 mph.”
Other than the inevitable low-to-the-ground challenge of getting in and out of the LC 500s, the car is exceptionally comfortable for longer trips while it allows the driver to easily adjust to a perfect driving position for a spirited romp through the back roads or doing track time. The instrument panel and controls are well-placed, but not totally intuitive. Some functions didn’t come automatically and require some practice. We like the concept of the pointer control mounted on the top of the wide center console. It works like the touch pad on a laptop computer. The LC 500 has a back seat, but it’s only for emergencies or small children. We like cars like this because the rear seat is a perfect place to put the things you might want easy access to on a trip.
Visibility is better that we’d expect from such a low sleek body style, plus the LC 500 is outfitted with all the latest tech aids like blind spot, active cruise, lane departure, head-up display, and automatic high beam controls. There is also an array of active safety features that help the driver avoid accidents and lessen the consequences of a collision. It has all the technologies we think should be included on all cars.
The 2018 Lexus LC 500 is only available in the two models, the V8 and the Hybrid. They are priced at $92,995 and $97,505 respectively. With all the options, the prices move into the low $100,000 range.
We’ve always had profound respect for the Lexus brand, and thought they are about as close to a perfect car as you could buy, although not inexpensive. Although they were great cars they always lacked in style and excitement. The LC 500 takes the Lexus brand to a new level with dramatic styling, outstanding quality and an elevated level of driving enjoyment and comfort.