Lexus LC500 doesn’t play by the GT rules

Wild coupe strad­dles lines be­tween lux­ury, com­fort and per­for­mance

The Star Early Edition - - NEW MODELS - JESSE ADAMS

AND NOW for some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Lexus, which in re­cent years has shown it can think out­side the polyester grey box with in­creas­ingly more dar­ing de­sign lan­guage, has now gone com­pletely buck wild with a new grand tourer mod­elled to the near­est mil­lime­tre off a gen­uine con­cept car.

The LC500 you see here is an al­most ex­act copy of the LF-LC con­cept which blew minds at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, thanks to its im­pos­si­bly creasy body, hu­mon­gous whale shark grille and pure science fic­tion lights. All things that rarely, if ever, make it through the cut­ting room and into real life pro­duc­tion. Only here they did, and com­pared to other mod­ern-day grand tour­ers the LC looks like some­thing from outer space. It’s prop­erly ex­trater­res­trial.

The LC500 doesn’t con­form with the gen­res we nor­mally cat­e­gorise cars in, and try­ing to pi­geon­hole it as a reg­u­lar GT would be an in­jus­tice. Fact is this is as much a tourer as a Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal, but it’s also as much a sportscar as a Porsche 911 and (al­most) as much a lux­ury flag­ship as a Merc S-Class. If there’s a line, the LC strad­dles it. If we had to pick a true ri­val, BMW’s 650i would be it for price, power and ap­peal com­par­isons, al­though the two are worlds apart in de­sign. Ob­vi­ously.

This car rides on Lexus’ new GA-L chas­sis ar­chi­tec­ture, mean­ing it’s a front-en­gine, rear-drive, four-wheel steer­ing lay­out that will also un­der­pin fu­ture GS and LS sedans. In this ap­pli­ca­tion power comes from a 351kW/540Nm 5-litre V8, pow­er­ing the back axle through a 10-speed auto gear­box. Yip, 10! But I’ll get to that in a minute...

The cabin, like most GTs, is a 2+2 ar­range­ment with a pair of de­li­ciously struc­tured (read com­fort­able) seats up front and two tiny (read un­us­able) perches at the back. Bet­ter to con­sider the rear seats ex­tra cargo ca­pac­ity. Per­fect for a pair of ex­tra week­end togs, but def­i­nitely not hu­man be­ings. Even small ones.

Lexus has em­barked upon a new level of crafts­man­ship with the LC, and af­ter each one’s built at the Mo­tomachi fac­tory in Ja­pan (the same plant where the LFA su­per­car was as­sem­bled) it’s given a on­ceover by a “Takumi” de­tail in­spec­tor. These Takumi are a team of white glove-wear­ing master crafts­men who take OCD to new lev­els, as they check for the tini­est paint blem­ishes, frayed stitches or any other im­per­fec­tion which is cor­rected be­fore a car is shipped.

Inside you’ll find a gear se­lec­tor with leather sourced only from the nape of a cow’s neck, so it matches the lever’s cur­va­ture with­out a wrin­kle. Fifty seat de­signs were dis­carded be­fore Lexus set­tled on the per­fect shape, and each is em­bossed with flow­ing lines that re­sem­ble windswept sand dunes. This ef­fect is car­ried on in the door panel in­serts, and into the rear com­part­ment where, as men­tioned, no one will likely ever sit.

The in­stru­ment clus­ter is, of course, fully digital and like the LFA gets a prom­i­nent cen­tre ring flanked by in­di­vid­ual TFT dis­plays for trip and ve­hi­cle data.

De­tail lev­els are matched out­side, where the tail-lights of­fer a freak­ish il­lu­sion of depth - a look inside seems to stretch way into the cabin, even if we con­firmed the hous­ing is only 7.5cm deep. The LC’s roof is made from glossy car­bon­fi­bre, the in­ners and un­ders of the doors and bootlid of ex­posed car­bon lam­i­nate, and the head­lights are formed from three LED light pods which ap­pear to hover be­hind an in­ter­ga­lac­tic tri­an­gu­lar lens.

The LC500 launched in South Africa last week, and in true lo­cal Lexus fash­ion it comes in one pack­age only. The only choice is colour, of which there are 11 with three in­te­rior op­tions. We get the high­est pos­si­ble spec, which in­cludes a 13-speaker Mark Levin­son sound sys­tem, con­tin­u­ously vari­able steer­ing, a limited slip dif­fer­en­tial, 21inch wheels and the afore­men­tioned car­bon roof in­stead of panoramic glass.

The LC’s abil­ity to al­ter be­tween silent cruiser and rowdy racer is re­mark­able. It’s like a tip-toe­ing bal­le­rina and a beer-chug­ging Nas­car hooli­gan all in one, and at last week’s Cape-based me­dia launch I got the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence both.

A brief trun­dle through the speed­hump and pedes­trian-rid­dled town of Fran­schhoek ex­posed the car’s softer side. Here it hummed along with only its out­ra­geous body­work do­ing the shout­ing, and with its drive mode set to Com­fort, and my right foot set to five per­cent lock the LC500 was a cud­dly puppy dog. A whis­per quiet tourer with a pil­lowy ride.

But then Fran­schhoek Pass hap­pened. Mo­ments af­ter round­ing the last T-junc­tion, and just as the road started to head up into the moun­tains, the big Lexus showed me its al­ter ego. En­gage Sport+ and the thing trans­forms into a snarling pit­bull, hell­bent on maul­ing hair­pins and rip­ping as­phalt.

Be­low 2000rpm that big V8 op­er­ates in in­con­spic­u­ous mode, but give it some room to breathe and its vo­cal chords do their best God of Thun­der im­pres­sion. It’s loud. Ga­zoo Rac­ing Dakar Hilux loud. They use es­sen­tially the same en­gine you know. In­stead of a switch to open the sec­ondary ex­haust flaps, this car con­tin­u­ously adapts ex­haust tone and vol­ume based on driver in­put. So, show it you want to play and the com­puter obliges with a rau­cous note that screams to 7200rpm and pops off the rev lim­iter like a sawn-off ma­chine gun.

Each gear change, whether up or down, is met with a sat­is­fy­ing snap or bang, and even if we know that 10-speed box is there to keep revs at op­ti­mum ef­fi­ciency lev­els when cruis­ing, it of­fers a nice mu­si­cal side ef­fect. Ac­cel­er­ate from 0-120km/h and back to a stop again us­ing the pad­dles, and you get 18 sets of de­li­cious crack­le­pops. Fan­tas­tic.

Zero to 100km/h hap­pens in a claimed 4.7 sec­onds, and that’s with­out the help of launch con­trol. Top speed is set at 270km/h. Power de­liv­ery is im­me­di­ate, as it should be with­out tur­bos, and though it doesn’t have quite the fire­power of a force-fed 650i (let alone an M6) it cer­tainly makes up for it in noise. And then some.

Pric­ing is set at R1 729 600, but all 40 units al­lo­cated to our mar­ket for the year are sold. Un­like the LFA how­ever, pro­duc­tion runs aren’t limited, so more stock should ar­rive in due course.

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It’s hard to cat­e­gorise, but if we had to we’d call the new LC a su­per­tourer.

Note the gear lever, which uses leather from the nape of a cow’s neck.

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