Lexus LC500 doesn’t play by the GT rules
Wild coupe straddles lines between luxury, comfort and performance
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.