Lexus LC 500h fru­gal, se­duc­tive

Road Test: 2018 Lexus LC 500h

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - DRIVING - GRAEME FLETCHER

In 2012, Lexus de­buted the LF-LC con­cept. It was greeted warmly and so it went from piein-the-sky — at the time, Lexus said it would not be pro­duced — to re­al­ity in short or­der. Where the LC dif­fers from so many con­cept-to-pro­duc­tion cars is the fin­ished coupe holds true to the con­cept. It has a striking style and the sort of road pres­ence Lexus is sim­ply not known for; the LC drew eyes to it wher­ever it roamed.

Lexus of­fers two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the LC 500. The first fea­tures a 5.0-litre V8 that pro­duces 471 horse­power and 398 pound­feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. The sec­ond is the LC 500h. Some will ar­gue that hav­ing a 3.5-L V6 en­gine — good for 295 hp — plus two elec­tric mo­tors and a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion that works a reg­u­lar four-speed au­to­matic is not the sort of stuff that makes your pulse quicken. In this case, they’d be wrong.

The com­bi­na­tion pro­duces a net sys­tem out­put of 354 hp. The en­gine is smooth and loves to rev, the trans­mis­sion works to give 10 speeds and the elec­tric side gets its power from a lithium-ion bat­tery. The tran­si­tion be­tween the gas, elec­tric and gas/elec­tric modes is seam­less to the point that few are bet­ter.

The key dif­fer­ence be­tween the two LC mod­els boils down to fuel con­sump­tion. Where the V8 con­sumes a posted av­er­age of 12.2 L/100 kilo­me­tres, the hy­brid sips an av­er­age of just 8.0 L/100 km. Dur­ing the week, the LC 500h de­liv­ered an over­all econ­omy of 9.4 L/100 km, which is out­stand­ing for a per­for­mance car that was driven with pur­pose.

In­ter­est­ingly, the fuel econ­omy ad­van­tage does not make the LC 500h feel like it’s lack­ing. It takes five sec­onds to reach 100 km/h from a stand­still, which is just 0.3 sec­onds slower than the 5.0-L V8 ver­sion. The hy­brid also com­pletes the more im­por­tant 80-to120 km/h pass­ing move in a rapid 4.3 sec­onds.

When it comes to the ride and han­dling, the LC cedes noth­ing to its peers. The rear-drive hy­brid comes with an adap­tive sus­pen­sion, ac­tive four-wheel steer­ing and a Torsen lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial. The com­bi­na­tion saw it hoon through a se­ries of switch­backs as well as just about any­thing out there. The turn-in is crisp, the damp­ing caters to di­ver­gent driv­ing needs and, in some­what of a sur­prise, the hy­brid still loves to wag its tail in spite of the P275/35R21 tires, so it re­tains the all-im­por­tant fun fac­tor.

It is a de­light to drive quickly, but it is equally at home cruis­ing the high­way. And the brake pedal, un­like in so many hy­brids, is flaw­less. It is crisp un­der foot and eas­ily mod­u­lated.

Most of the me­chan­i­cals can be tweaked to suit the tone of the drive. For­get Eco, as it em­pha­sizes econ­omy to the point the LC feels blunt. Com­fort is per­fect for a long high­way cruise and Nor­mal is the right choice for ev­ery­day driv­ing. When the drive is kicked up a cou­ple of notches, pick one of the two sport modes; they ramp things up pro­gres­sively. There is an In­di­vid­ual mode, but frankly, it proved to be re­dun­dant.

The cabin picks up where the ex­te­rior styling leaves off and it is a thing of beauty, for the most part. For­get any no­tion the LC is a two-plus-two; there is a back seat, but it has a paucity of legroom, and head­room for any­one over five-foot-six needs a Jet­son-like bub­ble in the rear wind­shield to ac­com­mo­date them. The back seat does, how­ever, pro­vide some needed ad­di­tional stor­age space. The trunk is shal­low and rated at 132 L, which is just enough for a pair of roller-type carry-on suit­cases. All of this might be con­sid­ered damn­ing, were it not for the fact this car is all about fer­ry­ing two rid­ers around in lux­ury.

The ma­te­ri­als are first rate, with leather or suede cov­er­ing the sur­faces and there’s an ob­vi­ous at­ten­tion to de­tail, an ex­am­ple be­ing the mag­ne­sium pad­dle shifters. Then there’s the driv­ing en­vi­ron­ment. The front-seat sup­port is ex­cel­lent, the driv­ing po­si­tion like­wise and, for a coupe, the sight­lines are clean and un­clut­tered. The rear-view cam­era cer­tainly helps. It also has all the right equip­ment, up to and in­clud­ing a head-up dis­play.

The in­stru­men­ta­tion is novel. It is con­fig­urable, as is be­com­ing the norm to­day, but in a dif­fer­ent way. Press­ing a but­ton on the steer­ing wheels sees the cen­tral speedome­ter slide to the right to re­veal an ac­tive pic­togram that shows how the power sources are in­ter­act­ing. To the right of that and at the top of the cen­tre stack is the large glassed-in screen that houses the in­fo­tain­ment, apps, nav­i­ga­tion and ve­hi­cle setup func­tions.

The dif­fer­ent facets are ac­cessed through Lexus’s Re­mote Touch sys­tem. It has ra­dio con­trols with three hard but­tons for cer­tain func­tions, and a square touch-sen­si­tive pad. The lat­ter is finicky at first, but a lit­tle time us­ing it does make life eas­ier. Even then, to de­scribe it as in­tu­itive would be wrong.

Once too staid for its own good, Lexus has blos­somed and now has a lux­ury coupe that can play with the big boys. The LC 500h has con­cept-car looks, a lav­ishly lux­u­ri­ous in­te­rior and the per­for­mance to back up its style. And the hy­brid does all of this with­out killing your wal­let the gas pump.

DRIV­ING.CA

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