Mis­fits

A con­vert­ible and a comfy V8 coupe... meet the out­liers of the group

Top Gear (UK) - - DRIVES - WORDS: STEPHEN DOBIE /

On-pa­per stats only tell half the story. On pa­per, we have two cars shar­ing 18 cylin­ders and 1,073bhp. They couldn’t be any riper for ap­pear­ing at Speed Week. Yet there’s some­thing novel about each of them be­ing here. The Lexus LC500 and Audi R8 V10 Plus Spy­der have all the in­gre­di­ents of cars that could mon­ster this test, but the recipes they fol­low mark them as out­casts in the pit lane. I’m here to tell you why they’re not.

Bring­ing a 1.9-tonne Lexus coupe to a track day with a GT3 in its midst very much fulfls the knife to a gun­fght cliche. Only for­get “knife”; the LC500 is more like a Hat­tori Hanzo sword. Same im­bal­ance, just more be­guil­ingly crafted. It’s just so sculp­tured. Once ev­ery­one’s had their fll of the Ford GT’s be­witch­ing aero, this is the car they all want to pore over. Pick an an­gle, any an­gle, and it’s easy to lose un­help­fully large por­tions of our tightly packed sched­ule just gaw­ping at the thing. Even Lexus’s own LFA might strug­gle for at­ten­tion along­side it.

That’s be­fore you’ve climbed in­side, which is another fve min­utes of the day, gone for­ever. Lexus has tried lots of quirky fea­tures over the years, but the bits that work re­ally work. The LC’s dial ref­er­ences the LFA’s, a TFT dis­play mish­mashed with beau­ti­ful crafts­man­ship, while you twid­dle be­tween the car’s drive modes (or loosen the ESP) via a knurled dial cu­ri­ously placed above the in­stru­ment cowl.

Enough prod­ding about, time to fnd out what the car’s ac­tu­ally like. And what it sounds like when you fnd the red bit of that dial. Be­cause while you can buy a hy­brid LC500, you don’t want to. You want this iden­ti­cally priced 5.0-litre V8 ver­sion, the Manga-fu­tur­ist styling draped over an in­con­gru­ously old-school nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine. One that sounds ev­ery bit as at­mo­spheric and soul­ful as you’d hope.

Which makes the stodgy re­sponses of the pad­dleshift auto all the more dis­ap­point­ing. Here’s a Hanzo-sharp en­gine, a nat-asp V8 at the crescendo of its life with the sound­track to match, lum­bered with a gear­box that slushes through changes like, well, a Lexus does. There are 10 ra­tios (yes, 10) but you’ll barely use half of them on a wet Knock­hill. I can only imag­ine the RSI you’ll get if you’re in man­ual mode for a dual-car­riage­way round­about. The steer­ing has a sim­i­lar amount of stodge, and for get­ting a feel for this tricky cir­cuit in the pee­ing-down rain, the AMG GT R proves a far friend­lier, more pre­dictable com­pan­ion. Se­ri­ously.

What the LC500 takes is ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion, and it de­mands you ratchet ev­ery­thing into its

sharpest modes. The shifts and steer­ing im­prove, and while it doesn’t metaphor­i­cally shrug of its weight and trans­form into a hard-hit­ting track spe­cial, tal­ent does emerge. The front-en­gine/ rear-drive bal­ance can make it a wild ride in the wet and it hits hard up the straights when you’ve built the conf­dence to wring its neck in the cor­ners. It never feels quite as sharp as it looks, but ev­ery minute spent in this car buries it a lit­tle more un­der your skin.

Mind, it’s not the only one equipped with a howl­ing nat-asp en­gine to trou­ble Knock­hill’s deci­bel me­ter. The Audi R8 has pos­si­bly the most the­atri­cal en­gine of the whole test, save for the Hu­racán’s, which is es­sen­tially the same 5.2-litre V10. It’s mated to a far clev­erer gear­box than the LC500’s, and you could while away hours just snap­ping up and down through its seven speeds. The en­gine is equally in­tox­i­cat­ing as it bur­bles grad­u­ally through a high gear or when it’s whap­ping of the lim­iter in a low gear. Play­ing tunes with an R8 V10 could talk round the staunch­est en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, I’m sure of it. It’s a su­per­star driv­e­train, in a bona fde su­per­car. Even if the roof is made of fab­ric.

And it drives all four wheels of prob­a­bly the most fat­ter­ing chas­sis of our grid. The R8 is sec­ond only to Audi’s own RS3 if you wish to feel skilled be­yond your sta­tion in these con­di­tions, only its ad­di­tional 200bhp and more rear-bi­ased at­ti­tude mean it’s a far greater en­ter­tainer. It has a dizzy­ing ar­ray of driv­ing modes, like the Lexus, but it’s sharp and pre­cise in all of them.

The sim­plest short­cut is the che­quered fag dial on the steer­ing wheel, in­cluded when you up­grade to the Plus, which costs £13k more than stan­dard and also adds 69bhp, car­bon trim and ce­ramic brakes. You’ve a choice of Snow, Wet or Dry modes, each with the elec­tron­ics loos­ened enough to make you feel like you’re hav­ing a pos­i­tive and in­fuen­tial im­pact on which way the car’s point­ing. But there’s still more than enough grip to project you out of a cor­ner like you’ve stum­bled into a tensed-up cat­a­pult.

Fright­en­ingly quick, baf­in­gly sharp cor­ner­ing abil­ity… if it all sounds like the soft, heavy road­ster is in danger of out­do­ing the hard-top he­roes, there’s one com­po­nent that en­sures the R8 re­mains an un­der­dog: the brakes. Lord, it’s fast, but shed­ding even small amounts of that speed ahead of a cor­ner re­quires for­ward plan­ning. Ce­ramic they may be, but they strug­gle with the Spy­der’s 1,770kg. Its heft ul­ti­mately pre­vents any chance of a real up­set tak­ing place.

So per­haps on-pa­per stats are telling, af­ter all. That doesn’t stop the Lexus and Audi putting huge smiles on ev­ery­one’s face. Our un­nat­u­ral track war­riors barely pause for breath all day.

“The LC500 and R8 Plus Spy­der have the in­gre­di­ents of cars that could mon­ster this test”

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: MARK RICCIONI

Chris ex­its the cor­ner in 3rd gear. Or pos­si­bly 4th. Or 7th... The Björk of cab­ins: of­ten baf­fling, some­times bril­liant

Buy a Spy­der! Move to Scot­land! Re­gret buy­ing a Spy­der!

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