After battling insane morning traffic in Seville, Spain, I floor the 2018 Lexus LC 500h, unleashing all 354 horsepower from its new V6 hybrid drivetrain, to merge onto the expressway heading out of town. The luxury 2+2 coupe accelerates in rapid fashion with an exhaust note that sounds surprisingly good for an electrified V6. Lexus says the 500h hits 60 mph in a brisk 4.7 seconds, and after driving it for a while, this doesn’t seem far-fetched from the driver’s seat — this hybrid brings a healthy amount of performance to the party.
The LC 500h’s power helps provide a sporty feel on road, which is difficult to say about the other gas/electric vehicles in the Lexus lineup that are more fuel-economy or luxury focused. To make things more engaging, the LC’s hybrid system gains a new multi-stage shift unit that combines with the continuously variable transmission to provide 10 selectable “gears.” When left in full auto, the transmission quickly whips through gear changes during hard driving. If you feel like using the big magnesium shift paddles to pick ratios on your own, the gearbox is responsive to commands.
When launching from dead stops, however, there’s still a hint of CVT hesitation before things get going.
Even though Lexus is using hybrid equipment in the LC to enhance performance more than raise fuel economy, the environmentally conscious among you may still be wondering how it does when it comes to efficiency. Official EPA figures aren’t available yet, but the 500h’s drivetrain is a modified version of the one found in the GS 450h, which returns 29 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, giving a starting point to make early estimates.
Further supporting the LC’s sporty mission are its impressive handling characteristics. This starts with a new super-stiff foundation known as the Global Architecture Luxury platform (which will also underpin the next-generation LS sedan that debuts at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show), firm suspension and tight steering.
Remember the SC 430 folding-hardtop convertible? Well, the LC handles nothing like that, and that’s a very, very good thing. Through winding back roads, the LC hunkers down over its staggered 21-inch Bridgestone Potenza S001L tires, keeping it stuck to the pavement. Body roll is nonexistent, and good turn-in bite helps the chassis change directions in a quick and confident manner.
If there is a downside, it may be only for customers expecting a cushy ride. With its massive, low-profile tires and performance-oriented chassis tuning, ride quality is choppier over bumps. All things considered, the LC rides well, and won’t bother enthusiasts who are willing to give up some comfort in the name of handling.
While I enjoy the LC hybrid, I’m eager to get into the V8-powered LC 500 when I arrive at the Circuito Monteblanco in Huelva, Spain. The nonhybridized, 5.0-liter engine which I love so much in the GS F, makes 471 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque — good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds. A new 10-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available, surely disappointing the vocal group of people who want manuals.
After taking it easy on my first lap of the 2.76-mile circuit, I lean into the LC 500 more the second time around. The magnificent howl of the V8 engine and its linear powerband make me smile broadly down the front straight before jumping on the brakes. Six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers slow things in a hurry, helping to get set for the tight right-hander at the end. The transmission responds admirably to all of the shift commands I throw at it during hard laps. It’s not quite dual-clutch responsive, but it’s darn near immediate, and it doesn’t get in the way of attacking the track ahead.
Steering feels weighty, and perhaps surprisingly, you get a lot of feedback through the wheel. Monteblanco has a couple of hairpin turns that make the LC’s front end push, but the coupe barrels through medium- and high-speed corners with aplomb, and it features great stability at high speeds and under braking. Frankly, it’s hard to believe the aluminum-bodied LC weighs nearly 4,300 pounds because of how nimble it feels on a race track.
2018 Lexus LC 500 is a worthy luxury…
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How is the LC 500h and its gas-electric guts on track? Underwhelming after jumping out of the V8, but still respectable. The interesting part is that our hybrid track test model is equipped with the optional active rear steering system that shows its worth in hairpin turns, helping to rotate the back end around effortlessly and erase understeer.
Other available performance goodies coming for the LC include a limited-slip differential, active rear wing, carbon fiber roof, more supportive sport seats and a head-up display.
Speaking of seats, the LC’s are phenomenal — among the most comfortable and supportive examples available from any carmaker today. Lexus says it went through 50 different designs before getting to the ones that kept me locked in place at Monteblanco and comfy over the course of 5 hours of cruising on Spanish roadways. It got it right.
The interior itself is a fantastic place to spend time, with its LFA-inspired dash shape, movable center gauge cluster ring and controls. Even in preproduction vehicles, build quality is top-notch, making liberal use of soft leathers and Alcantara with attractive accent stitching. Rear seat space is also serviceable to carry two adults for a night out on the town.
For entertainment, a Pioneer audio system is standard, while a 13-speaker Mark Levinson unit is optional. Sadly, like all current Lexus vehicles, the LC’s infotainment system isn’t Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capable, but the company has previously said that both are coming to its cars in the future. Sadly, it also still has the touchpad-based infotainment interface that I’ve loathed in Lexus’ other offerings.
Standard safety technology includes radar cruise control, precollision with automatic brake assist to avoid or reduce the severity of front-end impacts, lane departure warning with steering assist and intelligent high beams.
What’s the best thing about the LC? It’s a visual stunner with a low and wide stance, menacing spindle grille, long hood line and profile that again hark back to the LFA. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then maybe the gaggle of pedestrians around Seville whipping out their phones to snap photos of it both early in the morning and the afternoon will convince you of its spectacular looks. Lexus has struggled to produce pretty cars with its current, highly aggressive styling language, but it’s finally nailed it with this LC.
In fact, after driving the LC, I’m done doubting Lexus. With cars like the LFA, RC F and GS F, it’s difficult to pan the Japanese luxury brand for being soulless anymore. It’s true that the Lexus of old was best-known as the builder of blandly styled, cushy and coffin-quiet automobiles that left a lot to be desired from behind the wheel, but things have changed. The LC is further proof of the company’s sportier intentions, both from a styling and performance standpoint.
Sales of the LC are slated to begin next May, with a starting price below $100,000, meaning you’ve got plenty of time mull things over. Do you want the hybrid or the V8? Buy a BMW 6 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe now, or wait for the LC? Or maybe hold out for the possibility of a higher-performance LC F, a model that chief engineer Koji Sato would neither confirm nor deny the existence of, all while wearing a big grin on his face?
If it were up to me, I’d strap in to wait until May to get a LC 500 over those German contenders. I adore the noises the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 makes, and combined with its gorgeous aluminum wrapper, it makes this LC a mighty tough package to beat in the big luxury coupe wars.
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