Beauty is more than skin deep in LC500

With its fine noise and poise this Lexus grand tourer is a vis­ceral driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TEST - DE­NIS DROPPA

LEXUS didn’t just wake up one re­cent morn­ing and start de­sign­ing sexy cars. It’s been work­ing very hard over the last few years to rein­vent it­self as a pres­tige brand with more of a ‘hip and hap­pen­ing’ vibe tar­geted at younger cus­tomers, and the adop­tion of edgier styling and the dis­tinc­tive spin­dle grille have done a lot to ditch the mar­que’s for­merly mid­dle-aged im­age.

But it’s al­most as if all re­cent Lexus cars were step­ping-stones to get our eyes used to the new vis­ual lan­guage so that we may more acutely ap­pre­ci­ate its zenith, the new LC 500.

This sports grand tourer is a thing of per­fectly pro­por­tioned beauty. With a wow fac­tor that looks as if it just rolled straight off a sci-fi movie set, it com­bines clas­sic long-bon­net-slop­ing-roof GT pro­por­tions with flam­boy­ant edges and scoops, mak­ing for a be­witch­ing styling cock­tail. Driv­ing it is like ar­riv­ing at the gig with the hottest girl on your arm.

Ad­di­tional show-and-tell (in case it were needed) in­cludes a roof made of ex­posed car­bon­fi­bre, a vis­ual nod to the sporti­ness on of­fer in this sleek Lexus. The body com­bines high-strength steels with alu­minum and car­bon fi­bre re­in­forced plas­tic, and there’s no spare tyre (run-flat tyres are used in­stead) to help yield an ideal weight dis­tri­bu­tion.

As much mass as pos­si­ble is lo­cated to­ward the cen­tre and lower in the chas­sis to im­prove the cen­tre of grav­ity, which re­duces the LC 500’s roll an­gle with­out mak­ing the sus­pen­sion too stiff and hurt­ing ride com­fort. It’s done the job, as this Lexus de­liv­ers one of the plush­est rides I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced in a car with the word ‘sport’ any­where in its de­scrip­tion. The way it cush­ions the bumps on less-than-smooth sur­faces is ex­em­plary, es­pe­cially for a car wear­ing low-pro­file 21” tyres.

The Lexus LC 500 is a high-per­for­mance GT rather than a hard­edged sportscar, a civilised and com­fort­able ma­chine that can be en­ticed into play­ful­ness on de­mand. The rear wheel drive car’s crisp turn-in and roll-re­sis­tant han­dling con­firm that the cushy ride isn’t com­pro­mised by any mushy feel in the bends. With the adap­tive vari­able sus­pen­sion, the en­gi­neers have nailed an im­pres­sive bal­ance be­tween ride com­fort and ath­letic cor­ner-carv­ing.

With most of the high-per­for­mance world mov­ing to tur­bocharged power, Toy­ota has stuck to its nor­mally-as­pi­rated guns with a 5-litre di­rect-in­jec­tion V8 that pounds out 351kW at 7100rpm and 540Nm of torque at 4800rpm. This fairly revvy na­ture, com­bined with a racy roar, de­liv­ers a more old-school kind of charm that’s miss­ing from some of to­day’s sound-stran­gled turbo en­gines.

The en­gi­neers have spent much ef­fort on giv­ing this Lexus an emo­tive noise. The front air in­take is de­signed as an echo cham­ber to max­imise acous­tics, while elec­tronic flaps in the ex­hausts open and close based on the driver’s use of the throt­tle and the Drive Mode se­lected. Drive Mode, at the twirl of a knob, also al­ters the gearshift and pow­er­train set­tings from mild to manic.

It’s a car that in­vites you to rev it, ex­plore that red line of the tachome­ter, and per­haps ut­ter a small “hell yeah” un­der your breath. Rather than the in­tense boost that char­ac­terises some force-fed en­gines when they’re in the power band, this one is never peel-your-face-back bru­tal; just a lusty onset of for­ward progress.

And though the 6-sec­ond 0-100km/h time we achieved at Gaut­eng alti­tude (Lexus claims 4.7 secs at sea level) doesn’t rock the richter scale quite like some of to­day’s tur­bocharged mon­sters, the ex­haust note cer­tainly does. The 270km/h top speed is im­pres­sive too (if rather aca­demic).

The au­to­matic trans­mis­sion has ten speeds (yes ten), and they’re fired off smooth and slick so the gear-hunt­ing hap­pens un­ob­tru­sively. Again, those play­ful Lexus sound en­gi­neers have worked their craft here with the way the car roars and crack­les like a gi­ant bon­fire dur­ing gearchanges in the sporti­est of its drive modes. The cold mag­ne­sium shift pad­dles feel great to the touch, like the feel of a cold pil­low against your face on a swel­ter­ing sum­mer night.

Lusty V8 vibes aside, the car makes no un­wanted noises and rolls along with the Lexus-typ­i­cal re­fine­ment we’ve come to know, with the same at­ten­tion to de­tail in its high-qual­ity fin­ishes.

The ex­ter­nal styling glam­our ex­tends into the LC 500’s cabin, which com­bines top-notch lux­ury with to­day’s lat­est dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion. I like the lux­ury and styling part, with those dou­ble-stitched suede seats and gen­eral leather-be­decked fin­ery. So too the dig­i­tal dash­board and in­fo­tain­ment with their large and high-res dis­plays, and the 13-speaker Mark Levin­son au­dio sys­tem.

A gen­er­ously stacked fea­tures list in­cludes ac­tive safety like a Blind Spot Mon­i­tor (BSM) with rear cross traf­fic alert, and semi au­ton­o­mous driv­ing in­cludes adap­tive cruise con­trol and lane keep­ing as­sist. Stan­dard kit also in­cludes a large colour head-up dis­play, nav­i­ga­tion, and driver and pas­sen­ger seat heater and ven­ti­la­tion.

Con­trol­ling the in­fo­tain­ment and ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem is an­other mat­ter how­ever, and the lap­top-style touch­pad is a finicky, user-un­friendly thing that re­minds me of fum­bling to un­clip my girl­friend’s bra back in my teens. C’mon Lexus, it’s time to join the rest of the world with an easy-to-use touch screen or a mouse-style controller.

This is of­fi­cially a four-per­son car but the rear seats, as beau­ti­fully styled as they are, are made for Ewoks. Rather treat this as a two-seater and use the back seats as over­flow lug­gage space to the small 197-litre boot.

Priced at R1 729 600, the LC 500 comes with a 4-year/100 000km ser­vice plan. VER­DICT A stun­ning car, and that beau­ti­ful shape holds no false prom­ise as the Lexus LC 500 rides and goes just as good as it looks. It may not be a stop­watch hero with its off-the-line sprints but this car isn’t re­ally pred­i­cated on num­bers. It’s a vis­ceral driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with that ear-tin­gling roar, stun­ning styling and finely honed ride-han­dling mak­ing it an all-round sen­sory plea­sure.

With curves for Africa, the stun­ning Lexus LC 500 truly has an at­ten­tion-grab­bing shape.

Cabin’s an ap­peal­ing blend of lux­ury and high-tech, but the in­fo­tain­ment con­trols aren’t very user friendly.

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