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Stellar looks, engaging handling, a lavish and classy cabin and a firecracker engine all make Lexus’ new super-coupé feel special – but it’s short on luxury-level driveability and comfort.
  • First Drive

    Lexus LC500 2017 review

    Stellar looks, engaging handling, a lavish and classy cabin and a firecracker engine all make Lexus’ new super-coupé feel special – but it’s short on luxury-lev
  • First Drive

    2017 Lexus LC 500 Sport+ review

    A mainstream Lexus like no other we’ve driven before: delicate, fun and fast

What is it?

When they’re finally done experimenting with their super SUVs, pseudo-saloons, hybrid supercars, high-design shooting brakes, plug-in hypercars and various other ultra-limited-volume flights of fancy, the luxury car makers of the world will, I reckon, all come back to cars like the new Lexus LC500: front-engined, rear-driven, two-plus-two-seater grand touring coupés.

They’ll have to. This is the quintessential vehicle type for an elegant, exclusive and glamorous kind of existence. And Autocar road testers must obviously be considered well-qualified authorities to comment on such lavish lifestyles (stop sniggering at the back).

For the same reasons that big grand touring coupés can only be departed from by the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and BMW for so long, it makes a singular statement when an up-and-coming luxury car maker such as Lexus makes one. It’s a statement of ambition made real; of evident established maturity, skill and expertise there for all to see. A grand touring coupé from a company such as Lexus says: “We’ve arrived.” And one that looks like this, the new LC, says: “Let’s have it.”

Concept car looks seldom make it onto the production line to quite such dramatic effect as they have on this car. Look up a photo of the 2012 LF-LC show car and, if you can spot a significant visual difference between that and the finished LC, you’ve got better eyesight than I do. When car manufacturers plough hundreds of millions into delivering a concept car such as the LF-LC to the road so unmolested, it’s not done easily. And with the new LC production car, Lexus is clearly hoping to surprise; to convince people to look afresh at the brand they might previously have overlooked.

What's it like?

The LC brings with it more than just that arresting exterior. This landmark introduction bloods an all-new vehicle platform for Lexus called GA-L that will go on to sire the next LS limousine and all front-longways-engined, rear-wheel-drive models that follow it. The Japanese firm claims that this is the most rigid, structurally advanced series production car it has yet made, built out of a mix of several grades of steel, aluminium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic.

Power comes from a choice of 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric (LC500h) or 5.0-litre atmospheric V8 (LC500) engines. Both are familiar but they get new transmissions for their application in the LC. The hybrid is teamed with a new multi-stage shift gearbox featuring both a CVT-style epicyclic power split and a four-speed automatic gearbox, while the V8 gets a new ten-speed conventional automatic with a new torque converter and a separate lock-up clutch.

Suspension for the car is by steel coils and adaptive dampers, with multi-link systems featuring both front and rear. The car comes with an open rear differential and 20in cast alloy wheels as standard, but opt for Lexus’ Sport Plus option pack and, among other things, you get a ‘CFRP’ roof panel, a wheel upgrade to 21in forged items, speed-dependent active-ratio four-wheel steering and a Torsen-style limited slip differential.

The LC has a four-seater two-plus-two cabin, but its rear seats aren’t any larger than those of a Porsche 911. You can tell it’s got a stiff superstructure before your backside’s even settled into the leather-and-alcantara driver’s seat because you can close the long, relatively heavy passenger door as hard as you like without feeling so much as the faintest shudder from the surrounding bodywork.

The interior has a blend of apparent quality, opulent material richness and styling flourish that distinguishes the LC from its rivals every bit as clearly as its exterior does. You sit low and snug in the kind of sports seat in which it’s possible to pass a long day at the wheel without even noticing it, and in front of you the car’s dashboard features are stacked up in arcing, leather-wrapped layers. The centre console rises high to meet your elbow at the perfect height. Above that, there’s a rounded shelf on which the car’s heating and ventilation controls can be found, and out of which the steering column seems to sprout. And further up still and at a slightly more discrete distance is a third layer housing the car’s digital instruments, air vents and 10in widescreen infotainment display.

Lexus has gone to remarkable lengths to make this driving environment look and feel special, succeeding greatly in places but not quite everywhere. The car’s digital instrument screen is the same as the one on the LFA supercar; it’s made up of two TFT screens stacked one in front of the other, with the nearer of the two set into a decorative tachometer bezel and ready to slide sideways by a few inches when you want to customise the information visible in front of you. Quite why Lexus didn’t save a few quid by fitting one larger TFT screen with no moving parts and just graphically animate the same visual effects is anyone’s guess. Also, why persevere with a touchpad-operated infotainment system that’s much less easy to use than one with a simpler rotary input device or touchscreen input? Difference is being celebrated here, and fair enough – but surely it needn’t be accepted where it quite plainly makes life harder.

It’s the job of a grand tourer to be relaxing, intuitive and long-striding, after all; not that the LC500’s driving experience always hits those high notes. Some of its quirks you can overlook; others can be embraced as preferences that make this a more engaging car to drive than the typical luxury coupé. But, overall, it’s the LC’s failure to cover distance with that all-important effortless pace and smoothness that leaves you a little unconvinced when you get out of it at the end of a 300-mile day.

That 5.0-litre atmospheric V8 might be second only to the LC’s looks in your list of reasons to buy one, and it’s an absolutely wonderful engine in its wilder moments - when it’s revving between 4500rpm and that 7100rpm cut-out and sounding so deliciously feral. But below 4000rpm, it’s conspicuously short on the torque necessary to move this near-two-tonne car with any urgency. Also, while a ten-speed automatic gearbox ought to be ready with just the right ratio, the LC’s gearbox seldom seems that way. The transmission often needs to drop two or even three ratios in order to shift into the engine’s power band, and it just can’t be relied upon to do that smoothly or decisively enough every time to make the car seem consummate or to put its driver at ease.

The LC handles with very creditable body control and cornering poise. Our test car’s optional active steering was executed with subtlety and left a compelling sense of precision and tactile feedback evident through the rim. The car’s too wide and heavy to do a really good impression of a sports car, but it’s engaging to drive all the same. But its ability to soothe away the miles when the occasion calls for it isn’t quite as good. In order to package the LC as Lexus has, it abandoned the notion of even a space-saver spare wheel very early in the development process. The car is fitted with low-profile runflat tyres, then, which make for a ride that can get fidgety and feels a little wooden over certain surfaces.

Should I buy one?

This car certainly couldn’t be confused for the most refined, isolating luxury car of the moment – and neither was Lexus intending it to be. The LC500 is a sporting GT, and it’s quite successful in that mould. But, while you might be very happy to enliven your weekend with a drive in one if you had the chance, I’m not sure you’d pick one to drive long distances regularly - and as quickly, easily, smoothly and comfortably as possible.

Lexus has designed a stunning-looking car here, and one that is a true pleasure to travel in and to drive hard. But when it can take on the might of cars as accomplished as the Porsche Panamera and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé and win, it really will have arrived. That day isn’t upon us just yet.

Lexus LC500

Location Switzerland; On sale: now; Price £85,895; Engine V8, 4969cc, normally aspirated petrol; Power 471bhp at 7100rpm; Torque 398lb ft at 4800rpm; Gearbox 10-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1935kg; 0-62mph 4.4sec; Top speed168mph; Economy 24.4mpg; CO2/tax band 267g/km, 37%; Rivals Mercedes-Benz S500 Coupé, Aston Martin V8 Vantage S

Join the debate

Comments
16

24 August 2017

You must be either blind or have low standards, or may be the photos do not do it justice looks like a dogs dinner of a design to me prefer the Toyota crv or h whatever they call it, certainly not a classy design to make you want one for that price can think of dozens of preferable cars.

24 August 2017
Ski Kid wrote:

You must be either blind or have low standards, or may be the photos do not do it justice looks like a dogs dinner of a design to me prefer the Toyota crv or h whatever they call it, certainly not a classy design to make you want one for that price can think of dozens of preferable cars.

Go and buy a VAG product. This car is just stunning and I am right you are wrong.

25 August 2017

Possibly the most desirable coupe on the market, inside and out.  PURE WIN.

24 August 2017

Amazing looking thing but maybe for once the concept car looks could have been toned down a wee bit as it's all a bit busy, though it is a great shape and isn't copying anyone which is nice.

The interior though is a total mess. After the shock of the exterior I think you would want something a bit more calming but there's a huge party going on inside that I think is just a bit tacky.

lrh

24 August 2017

Another car ruined by an excess of the 3 Ws: Weight, Width and Wheels.

24 August 2017

Stupid last paragraph.. it's as though the german's paid the reviewer to slip that in..

24 August 2017

if this is "arresting good looks", I need my eyes testing and to attend style school to realign my senses. Hideously over detailed, rear three quarter view looks like old ford Ka.

24 August 2017

I think it looks amazing. Definitely not going for the retro look, but this sort of car is bought by people who want to be noticed.

I think the interior looks good too.

Personally, I prefer the Aston style, more tradiitonal, but I think if this had an Italian designer  badge, everyone would be lavishing praise on it.

Happy motoring

24 August 2017
rhwilton wrote:

I think it looks amazing. Definitely not going for the retro look, but this sort of car is bought by people who want to be noticed.

I think the interior looks good too.

Personally, I prefer the Aston style, more tradiitonal, but I think if this had an Italian designer  badge, everyone would be lavishing praise on it.

 

"but I think if this had an Italian designer  badge, everyone would be lavishing praise on it."

Utterly agree.

24 August 2017

I think it looks awesome, inside and out. Think I could live with the odd flaw.

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