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Lexus LC 500 2017 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Stephen Corby road tests and reviews the new Lexus LC500 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its International launch in Seville, Spain.

Jack Pyefinch road tests and reviews the new Lexus LC500 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its International launch in Seville, Spain.

Lexus is making a bold statement of intent with its exciting, shouty and visually arresting new LC, and that is that it's not going to be Lexus any more.

The company says the high-end coupe represents the beginning of a "brand revolution", and it doesn't take long in the driver's seat to realise just how radical that reinvention is going to be. While Lexus promises its future designs will be equally as "brave" as this highly conceptual and futuristic-looking vehicle, it also seems determined to bury a 27-year history of making cars that are admittedly luxurious but also safe, bland and unexciting to drive.

Lexus has hinted at its potential once before, with the LFA supercar, but it only made 500 of those. Lexus Australia boss Peter McGregor says he won't measure the success of the LC by its volume (which is wise), because it is more of a halo car, representing not only what the company can do, but what it will do.

So, there's quite a bit riding on the strangely shaped shoulders of the LC. What's it actually like to drive?

Price and features

The big question that's yet to be answered about the LC is how much it will cost, and Lexus will no doubt want to squeeze maximum profit out of each sale, because in a BMW 6 Series-matching $175,000 and up segment, there won't be a lot of them. Lexus says its new halo car isn't about sales numbers, of course, it's about changing brand perceptions.

But that won't stop them cashing in, offering the LC with an Enhancement Pack (for a yet to be announced extra cost) that will force you to pay more for all the sexy bits, like the carbon-fibre roof, the automatic rear spoiler and other carbon niceties.

It's not very Lexus to sting people for options, but then this car isn't very Lexus.

So far the local arm of the company is also unwilling to indicate whether it's going to charge more for the less-exciting, less-enticing hybrid version (good luck with that) or less. But it already knows it won't sell many of them either way.

Practicality

The LC offers two different boot sizes; Very Small in the LC500 (197 litres) or Even Smaller (172 litres in the hybrid). Although you'll obviously use the rear seats to carry objects, because they're far too small for humans, even the ones you don't like (or even naughty small children).

Practicality, like subtlety, is not high on the list of LC priorities. Lexus offers lesser cars for such things.

You get a total of one cup holder, but you can squeeze another small water bottle into a little cargo net next to the passenger's leg, and a bottle each in the door bins.

Practicality, like subtlety, is not high on the list of LC priorities. Lexus offers lesser cars for such things.

Design

There's no denying the LC is confronting, or "brave", as the company's own designers put it, through thinly hopeful "please like us" smiles. The grille is so large and aggressive it could turn a whole blue whale into fish fingers if it hit it at reasonable speed.

The rear is apparently designed to reflect the spindle grille shape at the front, as if we weren't getting enough of it already, and the whole thing looks like it could be - or should be - some kind of futuristic EV.

Very soon the design grows on you, and you feel a creeping admiration for just how far they've pushed the boat out.

Which is interesting, because it's the first time Lexus has created a design where the flashy, tricky, heavy and yet boring hybrid version looks exactly the same as the beefy V8 one (ie, they both look beefy), aside form the badges.

You could pick the individual pieces of the LC's look apart for hours, and it's a tempting pastime when you first meet in the flesh, but very soon the design grows on you, and you feel a creeping admiration for just how far they've pushed the boat out (hint: so far you can't see land, just polar ice).

For a company as dowdy as Lexus usually is, it's a bold and brilliant stroke, and while it does look almost as heavy as it actually is in some ways, it's still just crazy enough to work.

A lot of people have said the interior is utterly brilliant as well, and the best Japanese cabin ever, but there's still a lot that's familiar about it to me, and its lack of genuine change of futuristic style seems in contrast to the exterior. No doubt it feels lovely and looks pretty, of course, but perhaps they could have done even more.

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  • 2017 Lexus LC500h 2017 Lexus LC500h
  • 2017 Lexus LC500h 2017 Lexus LC500h

Engine and transmission

Normally, it's okay to mark these two things together, but in this case the 5.0-litre, naturally aspirated, ye olde engine and super-modern, world-first 10-speed transmission really could get totally different scores.

Lexus is very proud of its 10-speed torque converter auto (apparently they're smoother and better than double clutch transmissions, and, in this case at least, just as fast at shifting), but just think about it for a minute. Do you really want 10 gears? And if you had them would you ever, ever use the manual shifting option?

Sure, on a race track, which is where Lexus chose to launch the car, you will enjoy the demented downshift noises you get from paddling yourself, and you'll never explore the repetitively uninteresting range of gears from seventh to eighth, ninth and tenth. But anywhere else - i.e. the real world - forget it.

Fortunately the 10 ratios do make for a swift and "rhythmical" progression, most of the time, as you accelerate in Drive, and that almost makes up for the wilful braggadocio of the gearbox ("take that Mercedes, you only have nine gears").

Lexus claims it benchmarked this car against the very best of Maserati when it came to heart-thrilling engine noise, and it shows.

There are times, unfortunately, where the gearbox seems almost as confused about why it has 10 gears as the average human might be, and it seems to struggle a bit to find the right one when you ask it for a sudden change of mood.

The less said about the CVT option in the hybrid, the better, but then the less said about the hybrid in general...

On the plus side, the 351kW/540Nm V8 is a howling, bellowing, rasping, riotous joy. It's not as fabulously fast as some of the cars it's attempting to compete with - 0 to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds is respectable, but you can go a lot faster for this much money - but it sounds better than most.

Lexus claims it benchmarked this car against the very best of Maserati when it came to heart-thrilling engine noise, and it shows.

It's a powerplant that's easy to love, and happily hard to reconcile with anything else Lexus has ever done - limited-run super cars like the LFA aside.

Fuel consumption

In a strange and unique move, Lexus isn't telling us what the LC's claimed fuel figures will be. It says the testing hasn't been done yet, which is probably true in a sense, but you can bet they know what figure they think they can get, and not talking about it at all seems to suggest it's not going to be a huge selling point, at least in the V8.

The fact that they won't even offer a ballpark for the hybrid 500h, a car that must surely sell on the basis of its wondrous economy, is beyond weird.

Driving

In terms of how much better the LC is than you might expect it to be, it's probably worth an 11 out of 10, because it's that shockingly good.

The steering is a particular highlight, because it's so much more muscular, talkative and just bang-on right than anything else the company currently sells. The engineers say they tried to get close to the same feel the fantasmagorical LFA offered, and that they also tried to emulate a Porsche 911 when it came to steering and handling ability, and while they might be lofty goals, you would genuinely believe they've tried after driving the LC.

With that kind of communicative advantage in place to start with, everything else falls into place nicely, with plenty of focus on keeping the centre of gravity as low, and central, as possible (the engine has been pushed back and down for example) to improve overall balance.

There's a proper sense of sportiness and fun in the way the LC500 can attack a track that is almost as shocking as it is enjoyable.

Out on the road, the occasional indecisiveness, and even brutality, of the new and supposedly super clever 10-speed gearbox feels like an issue, particularly for a car that is trying to be a luxury cruiser when its driver is not peering through the red mist of max-attack mode.

The sheer joy of the LC's riotous V8 noise should not be understated.

In every other way, of course, it is a whisper-quiet and wonderfully composed car, with a sense of solidity on the road that only comes with very high-end, high-priced vehicles. Some colleagues went as far as comparing it with an Aston Martin, but that's kind of a backhanded compliment.

The sheer joy of the LC's riotous V8 noise should not be understated, because it's something an owner will thrill to every single day, and at every start-up.

Perhaps the car's biggest, and most surprising issue - considering it is built on all-new platform with supposedly the very latest in weight-saving technology - is that it is something of a heifer.

It's fine to say you're attempting to ape the greatness of a 911, but if your sporty model weighs 1970kg (just 50kg less than your silly hybrid offering), you're really not in the boxing match.

That weight makes itself felt in sharp changes of direction, or under hard braking, but never, to be fair, to the point where it destroys the overall capability of the LC.

There's just a feeling that it could be sharper, and swifter, if it wasn't carrying so many excess kilograms.

When your main competitors is a BMW 6 Series, of course, perhaps a sense of bank-vault like weighty importance is what buyers are after, rather than pointy-end cornering ability.

It just seems like something of a waste of the effort the engineers have put into things like the LC's steering to end up with something this pudgy.

For what it is, however, and particularly for a Lexus, it's a mighty fine thing to drive.

Safety

As you'd expect, there's a whole shedload of safety tech stuffed into this next-gen vehicle, all coming under the heading of the Lexus Safety System, which includes a Pre Collision Safety System (Automatic Emergency Braking with a sexier name), all-speed active cruise control, lane-keeping assist, auto high beam, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, tyre pressure warning system, eight airbags and a pop-up bonnet for pedestrian comfort.

Ownership

Very much a Lexus specialty, the whole ownership and service thing, so the LC should be on solid ground with a four-year/100,000km warranty and matching full roadside assist.

Service intervals aren't announced yet but typically Lexus opts for one year or 15,000km, and the first service is free. Your car can also be picked up and delivered when you get it serviced, which is very nice indeed.

Verdict

Lexus genuinely is trying to reinvent itself with the LC, and if it can make its next generation of cars head in the same direction as this one it will really be onto something. At last.

The LC500 has its flaws - although nowhere near as many as the hugely complex and unappealing LC500h - but they are blown into the background by just how good it is in the ways that matter - driving involvement, steering and proper V8 noise.

It would be a fine achievement for any top-end car maker, but for Lexus, the LC500 is a great leap forward.

Looks like Lexus is on the front foot with the LC500, or do you think its "brave" design is a styling step too far? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Pricing Guides

$152,130
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$141,570
Highest Price
$162,690

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
V8 5.0L, PULP $141,570 – 162,690 2017 Lexus LC500 2017 V8 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Stephen Corby
Contributing Journalist

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