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What is it?
It’s a luxury GT coupe that, says Lexus, is aimed at the likes of the BMW 650i, Mercedes-Benz S500 Coupé and even the Jaguar F-Type. The first incarnation of the car appeared at the 2012 North American International Auto (NAIAS) show in Detroit as the LF-LC concept where it garnered the show’s EyesOn Design award for best concept. It was that, along with Toyota president Akio Toyoda’s statement that its luxury brand would no longer make “boring cars” that saw the LF-LC make it to production as the LC 500. Which, incidentally won two EyesOn Design award for best production car and interior at this year’s NAIAS show.
Doesn’t look half bad, doesn’t it?
The amount of attention it got from the people of Seville certainly bears that out. Wherever we drove, heads were whipped around and mobile phones pointed. To Lexus’ credit, the production car is very close to the LF-LC study and the result is a low and wide svelte silhouette that hunkers down on its 21-inch wheels. The nose has the latest incarnation of the Lexus spindle grille with angular headlamps that focus your attention on the grille’s mesh structure that expands as it moves from top to bottom.
A floating carbon-fibre-panelled roof draws the eye to the rear where creases in the rear bumper and boot mimic the spindle grille outline with large multi-layered taillamps that use mirrors to give the impression that they are several centimetres deep. It’s the same trick of the eye that happens when you’re in a mirrored lift and your image stretches on into infinity.
The designers have carried those external lines and curves over to an interior that boasts all the luxury touches Lexus is known for. There isn’t a stitch that’s not aligned in those beautifully sculpted sports seats and the buttons and dials are all machined and bevelled in high-grade alloy. Behind the steering wheel, a configurable 8-inch screen has been adapted from the Lexus LFA supercar and to the driver’s left is the 10-inch screen that controls the LC 500’s infotainment system, satnav and climate controls via a haptic touchpad.
If there is any criticism I’d level at this superbly appointed cabin it would be that it’s still a little cluttered by too many buttons and I’d prefer a touchscreen to the haptic pad.
Are there different spec levels?
Internationally the LC 500 is available in different spec levels but we’ll be getting the top spec Sport + package that includes those 21-inch wheels, the carbon-fibre roof, a 10-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, and Lexus LDH (Lexus Dynamic Handing) package with its variable ratio front steering and rear wheel steering system… but I’ll tell you more about that later.
What’s this I hear about a new chassis?
Yes, the LC 500’s big news is that it is the first Lexus to use the company’s new modular GA-L (Global Architecture-Luxury) platform. In rear-wheel drive guise here, it will also underpin the next-generation Lexus LS and, confirmed Lexus chief engineer Koji Sato, future all-wheel drive vehicles. Along with its modularity, said Sato-san, the GA-L platform was designed with the aims of delivering exhilarating driving performance, comfort, and well as safety.
So what’s under that long nose?
Something quite familiar actually. It’s the same 5,0-litre V8 that’s not only in the RC-F coupe and GS-F sedan (both unavailable in SA), but also powers Giniel de Villier’s Toyota Hilux Dakar racer. In LC 500 guise it’s tuned to 349 kW and 530 N.m. Something of a rarity in these days of downsized turbocharged engines, the V8 might not be the model of efficiency, but it delivers all the characteristics we all love in a V8 – that glorious wail (piped into the cabin) and bags of torque.
I hear it has a 10-speed auto… 10-speed? Is that really necessary?
Look, as a piece of engineering, it’s an impressively innovative piece of kit. It’s a 10-speed torque-convertor that has a multiplate system that mimics a dual-clutch set-up in terms of speed but, says Lexus, it is more reliable in terms of wear and tear.
Do you need 10 ratios though? I’m not entirely convinced either to be honest. Whereas systems with fewer ratios will see more of a gap between 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears, this 10-speed sees the box shift very quickly through the range in what Lexus calls “rhythmical shifting”. It’s fine if you’re in full auto mode, but if you’re paddle shifting, you are going to spend a lot of time flexing your fingers.
Okay, the important bit… what is it like to drive then?
I’ll answer that by first telling you what it’s not. It’s not a lightweight, razor-sharp track machine. The LC 500 is a 2 000+ kg GT that’s designed to quickly eat up miles in luxury and comfort. That’s not to say it’s a bit of barge… quite the contrary. Lexus chief engineer Koji Sato has clearly put plenty of thought into the LC 500’s dynamic handling to deliver appropriately GT characteristics.
Lowering and optimising the car’s centre of gravity was a goal and to do that the V8 sits above and mostly behind the front axle. In fact, the LC 500’s centre of gravity is some 90 mm behind the front axle and almost in line with the driver’s hip point. The result is that when you ask it to change direction, the car’s 52:48 weight distribution feels like its pivoting around you.
So how does that rear-wheel steering you mentioned figure in this?
The back wheels turn in the opposite direction (up to two degrees) to the front ones at speeds below 80 km/h, which makes for excellent turn in on low-speed corners. Above 80 km/h the rear wheels turn in the same direction as those in front which makes for high-speed lane-changing stability.
The strategic use of various materials in the chassis – high-strength steel, aluminium, carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), and carbon sheet moulding compound (CSMC) – has also helped create that ideal weight distribution and that low centre of gravity.
I heard you guys were at the Circuito Monteblanco as well.
We were and piloting the LC 500 around this track near Seville confirmed Sato-san’s claims. Instead of hunting lap times, the track provided an opportunity to responsibly test his stated objectives and the LC 500 feels composed and a lot more nimble than I had expected. On the road, it had been supremely refined and comfortable – in fact I’d go so far as to say easily the most refined and comfortable among its competitor set – which made me wonder about its dynamic abilities. However, turn the dial from comfort across to sport+ (changing the transmission mapping, throttle response, steering and suspension damping) and the Lexus was a whole lot of fun; very stable under heavy braking and easily popping its tail out on corner exits if you planted your foot.
Sounds like you liked it.
I did indeed. For its intended purpose and stated target market – 50+ year-old males who appreciate performance, luxury, and have an eye for design – I’d say it’s spot on. Look, that’s not going to be a big target market in SA – whereas it anticipates selling 400 a month in the USA, here I reckon Lexus won’t shift more than two or three a month– but if you are looking for a finely crafted and rare-in-our-market GT, and you have around R1,5-million to spend, then this fits the bill very well.
The LC 500 launches here in June 2017 and you can bet on an even quicker F-Sport derivative and a convertible making an appearance in the near future. Sato-san wouldn’t confirm it, but he practically winked when he said “no comment”.
Fast factsModel: Lexus LC 500
Price: R1,5million (est.)
Engine: 5,0-litre V8, naturally aspirated
Power: 349 kW at 3 800 r/min
Torque: 530 N.m at 1 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: “under 4,5 sec”
Top Speed: 270 km/h
Fuel Consumption: N/A
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: 4 years/100 000 km maintenance plan