Nevermind numbers, Lexus produced one of the grandest grand touring coupes extant
The new LC coupe isn’t concerned with performance numbers, and you shouldn’t be either. Despite some flaws, the LC 500/500h provide a luxury experience nobody else currently does.
I recently posted a video of the 2018 Lexus LC 500 circling Motor Trend’s figure-eight course during our routine testing. One of the comments referred to the roar of the LC 500 hurtling past the camera and laying into the throttle: “I don’t think anyone [who] saw the car in photos/print expected it to sound like that. Expectations: Exceeded!” But that’s not the point of the 2018 Lexus LC 500. Indeed, the quad-cam 5.0-liter V-8 (internally, the 2UR-GSE engine) churns 471 horsepower at a glorious 7,100 rpm and sounds glorious doing so through its multimode exhaust. It’s heartening to know that this engine features low-mass reciprocating parts such as forged connecting rods and titanium intake and exhaust valves. The cylinder heads are equipped with variable valve-timing and, depending on conditions, fuel is injected either directly into the cylinders—allowing for a high compression ratio (12.3:1)—or into the intake ports to enhance low-end response. We can’t argue that this big, muscular V-8 is really one of the last of its kind, and had there been video of senior features editor Jonny Lieberman’s Lexus LC First Drive, you would’ve been able to swoon over it too. You can, however, see the LC 500 and hear its V-8 in senior features editor Jason Cammisa’s Ignition episode over at Motor Trend On Demand right now. But that’s missing the point.
Had Lexus instead dropped the Lexus LFA supercar’s 4.8-liter 552-horsepower V-10 in the nose, it would have A) posted incredible acceleration numbers, B) cost a fortune, and C) utterly shifted the LC into a different, aspirational, near-supercar category. What we discovered after Jonny’s race track romp, our instrumented testing, and Jason’s jaunt to Palm Springs and back is that this is a truly special car but not for the reasons you might be hoping.
Fast is relative
Just look at them. With their show-car sheet metal (in truth it’s an aluminum hood, front fenders, doors, and the trunk is made from carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CRFP) and classic long-hood short-deck grand touring proportions (front mid-engine actually), the LC 500 and the hybrid-powered LC 500h are indisputably gorgeous and look ridiculously fast without turning a wheel. They are those things, but just not as fast as they appear. Comparisons are inevitable, so let’s get them out of the way first.
If you had hopes of the LC 500 matching the performance of either the similarly positioned Mercedes-Benz SL550 or the similarly proportioned V-12 powered Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, you’d be similarly let down. Furthermore if you imagined the LC 500h hybrid chasing down a BMW i8 hybrid with its similar output, you’ll be disappointed again.
It lacks a dedicated launch program (which ordinarily enhances the transmission’s torque converter effectiveness, but here triggers a limp mode), so the 0-60 mph arrives in a stomp-and-go 4.8 seconds in the LC 500, and the quarter mile arrives in 13.2-second at 110.2-mph (177-km/h). Wheelspin is very slight with traction-control disabled. Anything under 5 seconds to 60 mph is “quick” in our book, but not what we’d call sports car quick. (Test driver’s notes reveal that the best run was achieved in Normal mode with the transmission in Drive, rather than Sport+ mode or manual shifting.) These performance results put the Lexus about a half-second behind the Aston Martin V-12 Vantage S. What’s worse is that the LC 500 is almost a second astern of a 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 from four years ago. Curiously, the LC 500 is also slower than the quickest Lexus GS F sedan (by 0.4 sec) and RC F coupe (by 0.5 sec), both with an earlier 467-hp version of the same 2UR-GSE V-8.
So why are these cars not as quick as we’d hoped? For one thing: the ground beneath them. The LC 500’s 4,370-pound (1,982-kg) and LC 500h’s 4,471-pound (2,028-kg) curb weights (as-tested) certainly play a part. The last Lexus LS 460 sedan tipped our 4-corner scales at 4,466 pounds (2,026 kg). Despite attempts to shed pounds, these are heavy cars. Surprisingly, they don’t feel heavy when you drive them. The LC 500’s weight-to-power math works out about the same as that quicker SL 550 we tested when it then made just 429 hp and weighed 4,104 pounds (1,861 kg), so there’s something else messing with the physics here. It boils down to the LC 500’s 10-speed transmission and gear ratios. The LC 500h’s complexities require more explanation.
Not a perfect 10
If the LC 500’s engine makes 471 peak horsepower at 7,100 rpm, has a reported 168-mph (270-km/h)(electronically limited at the top of 5th gear) top-speed and ten (!) gears, one would hope/guess that those cogs’ ratios would be set rather close to one another to keep the engine on the boil—or at least first through fifth would be short, leaving sixth through 10th with mind-numbing fuel-sipping overdrive ratios. Part of this is true: seventh gear is 1:1, and gears eight-10 are indeed overdrive, but a tall (numerically small) 2.94:1 rear-differential ratio, conspire to take the kick out of what is potentially a spicy recipe. Even accelerating at wide-open throttle, gears one through four linger and pull for an inordinate amount of time. It sounds great, and there’s a definite surge of power as the tachometer sweeps over the 4,000 mark on its way to peak torque output at 4,800 rpm. So why not upshift into that sweet spot every time? Instead, redline upshifts into gears three-five occur downslope of the engine’s torque curve thereby missing out on the surge of torque.
As Jason Cammisa demonstrated with photos of the actual tachometer at various speeds, first gear will take the car over 40 mph (64 km/h), second to 67 mph (108 km/h), third to 89 mph (143 km/h), fourth to 110 mph (177 km/h) as it crosses the quarter-mile mark and shifts to fifth), and there are yet five gears remaining. Honestly. It’s geared like a NASCAR four-speed plus six more. Theoretically, if the LC 500 could push all the way to redline in 10th gear, our calculations reveal it would be going 336 mph (541 km/h). For the car’s true intended purpose (hint: not a dragstrip or Bonneville Salt Flats), these gearing issues matter little. Bear with us.
Hybrid power and a 10-speed of another sort
Using same techniques as above (where Normal mode and Drive proved quickest) and with 354-hp combined output (from the 3.5-liter 295-hp V-6 and unrated-by-Lexus electric motors) the LC 500h needed 5.3 seconds to reach 60 mph and 14.0 seconds to travel a quarter mile at 101.3 mph (163 km/h) in sixth gear. Wheelspin from a dead stop was not possible. Despite similar combined outputs and striking looks, the hybrid Lexus four-seater would be left in the mirrors of the 357-hp BMW i8 because that carbon-intensive two-seat sports car is almost 1,000 pounds (454 kg) lighter. The BMW i8 zips to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds and crosses the 1,320-foot mark in 12.4 seconds at 112.4 mph (181 km/h). No contest.
In a complex orchestra of three power sources (engine and two motor-generators) and two transmissions (a conventional four-speed automatic and a planetary gear set), the LC 500h is uniquely both a series and parallel hybrid. Its programming can also provide 10 forward speeds. The LC 500h is also the first Lexus hybrid to use compact, lightweight lithium-ion batteries enabling LC 500h to operate in EV mode at speeds of up to 87 mph (140 km/h). The battery pack fits between the rear seats and the trunk. As a result, the hybrid loses 0.5 inch in rear seat legroom and 0.7 cubic feet in trunk volume (5.4 to 4.7 cubic feet). Ironically, the LC 500h gets a larger fuel tank (22.2 gallons) to the LC 500’s 21.7 gallons. It sounded backward to us, too, but we double-checked.
And because my test driver brain couldn’t comprehend it, Cammisa’s engineering noggin was kind enough to send me an email explaining the interplay of these systems. I’ve pasted it here for your perusal and amusement:
“Engine power goes first to a two-motor planetary [CVT] like a regular hybrid would. MG1 [Motor-Generator 1] fixes the drive ratio, starts the engine, etc. while MG2 drives the wheels.
From the planetary, power goes to a conventional four-speed automatic [aka “Autobox”]. From there, it goes to the rear differential.
They do this because they’ve programmed the planetary to emulate fixed drive gears and never act like a CVT.
So planetary “gears” one, two, and three use AutoBox gear one.
Gears four, five, and six use Autobox gear two.
Gears seven, eight, and nine use Autobox gear three.
Gear 10 uses Autobox gear four.
If you pay close attention to the three-four shift (and six-seven, and nine-10), you’ll notice they feel different. They feel like a conventional automatic shift, whereas the one-two and two-three transitions feel like a CVT’s virtual ‘shift.’”
Did you get that? It took me a few times, too, but it does seem unnecessarily complex. It does make me admire the Acura NSX hybrid system’s relative simplicity.
Them’s the brakes
In everyday use, the LC 500 and LC 500h’s six-piston front, four-piston rear calipers provide confident feel and predictable response, squeezing 13.3- and 12.1-inch vented discs. The brake pedal requires little effort to initiate slowing, and as the rather soft pedal travels, the braking force is proportional and appropriate. There were no complaints and only praise for the brakes until we hit the track. In our testing, Lexus’ brake-by-wire systems have been known to add a layer of electronics and a slight delay to an ABS panic stop. Notes from testing the LC 500 back this up: “Noticeable delay (even worse than the 500h) between brake application and slowing. Once slowing begins, there’s a lurching front-tire skid/hop that the ABS couldn’t sort out. As the brakes and tires grew hotter, that lurching/skidding went away. However, the distances remained about the same. There’s ample brake cooling, so the fifth stop was essentially the same as the first, but none were what anybody would call short.” From 60 mph, the LC 500 required 114 feet, and the LC 500h required 112 feet, or about 6 feet longer than those competitors mentioned above.
Never mind the numbers
What the LC 500/500h’s brakes, engines, and transmissions all do well, nonetheless, is provide low-effort, confident stops and long-legged power. They shift smoothly, even under full acceleration, with very little head-toss or g-spikes. These are restrained, stately, grand touring characteristics and not those of an agitated sports car. There’s no mistaking that the LC is a Lexus in the way it drives. It’s buttery smooth and coddling in Normal, even spirited driving. Most of these cars’ buyers, and we predict there will be many from the public reaction we experienced driving them both for two weeks, won’t give a hoot about 0-60-mph times. They look like a million bucks. The LC 500 sounds fabulous especially from the outside, and that V-8 rumble is even delivered to the cabin with a resonance tube connecting the intake to the firewall. The interior is a magnificent place to spend a day—with one glaring exception.
The fly in the ointment
Where the Lexus missed the luxury mark is with the controller for all things electronic. Thankfully, basic climate controls are simple, hard-button adjusted. Lexus, however, insists on using what it calls its Remote Touch Interface touchpad controller. The joystick is gone, and it’s been replaced with a mouse pad. True, the pad is flanked by a few hard-button big-jump shortcuts (radio, media, map, and back), plus two roller/rockers (seek/track and tune). All other delicate/discrete functions must be accessed/changed with the infuriating touchpad. By the way, that knurled roller labeled tune only scrolls through presets. It doesn’t manually tune. Manually tuning a station (terrestrial or satellite) and saving it to a preset location must be done with the touchpad pointer. Unfortunately, this function is blocked out while the car is in motion because attempting to tune a station feels like a hand-eye dexterity video game. Distracting and attention-demanding doesn’t even begin to describe the ordeal. The cursor jumps across the screen unpredictably, unintentionally landing on and selecting boxes not of your choosing about 50 percent of the time. Not only that, but the menu logic is also flawed. Adjusting the audio system’s equalizer, for instance, took several minutes to locate (and the byzantine path was quickly forgotten). On the plus side, Lexus’ voice-recognition software is quite good, so when we could, we often resorted to that to avoid the touchpad all together.
As magnificent inside as out
There was simply no way around designing an interior as gorgeous as the LC’s exterior. Lexus did. The cockpit looks and feels like capital “L” luxury ought to. With the instrument panel’s latest version of thin film transistor (TFT) display technology—introduced in the Lexus LFA supercar, including its moving central ring—the sweeping lines of the dashboard blend beautifully into the contoured door panels. The leather-wrapped cocoon feeling is unique, even for sporty coupes. Titanium-toned metal elements look lustrous and rich, and beside the standard 10.3-inch TFT infotainment display is a clear panel covering a black one adorned with hundreds of tessellated “L” logos that is striking and elegant to say the least.
An interesting element is that driver’s and passenger’s doors are not mirror images of each other. The passenger’s has an extra grab handle that mimics the one on the center console, giving that person double-fisted bracing opportunity to stay in place. Not that one needs the handles because the seats are not only exceptionally comfortable, but are also uncommonly supportive as well. The construction of them is unusual in that the seatback leather drapes the over the shoulder area and then wraps around the seat back. The effect is almost like a leather hammock, and it is amazing. Although they will more likely be used for dry cleaning, the rear seats are rather comfortable, too. Expectedly tight on headroom, there’s more legroom back there (32.0-32.5 inches) than, say, in a BMW 6 Series (30.5 inches) but not quite as much as in a BMW 6 Series Gran (4-door) Coupe (35.3 inches). Neither the Mercedes-Benz SL nor the Aston Martin Vantage provide a back seat.
Highlights of standard equipment on both LC models include adjustable, adaptive suspension, 20-inch forged alloy wheels, run-flat summer tires, a glass-panel roof, intelligent high-beam LED headlights, LED taillights, a 12-speaker Pioneer surround sound system, navigation, and the Lexus Safety System+ consisting of a precollision warning/auto braking with pedestrian detection, all-speed dynamic cruise control, and lane-departure warning with (light) keep assist. The LC 500 is priced at $92,995 USD, and the LC 500h is at $97,505 USD.
To our LC 500, the Performance Package with Carbon ($10,000 USD) added variable-ratio steering, active rear steering, active rear spoiler, a full Alacanara headliner, carbon sill plates, and eight-way power sport seats. This expensive package also includes the otherwise-$7,000 USD Sport package with Carbon that consists of a CFRP roof, 21-inch wheels, Alcantara panels in the seats (heated and ventilated up front), passenger lumbar adjustment, front/rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor, and a Torsen (mechanical) limit-slip differential. A head-up display ($900 USD) and reasonably priced 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system ($1,220 USD) brought the total to $105,115 USD. Gulp. It’s a small nit to pick, but a blind-spot monitor, parking sensors, and eight-way adjustable seats should be standard at this price and the carbon roof a no-cost option.
Our LC 500h had just two options: the head-up display and a Touring Package ($4,000 USD) that includes the Mark Levinson sound system, partial Alcantara headliner (due to the glass roof), semianiline (premium) leather seats, headed/ventilated front seats with passenger lumbar, blind-spot monitor, and parking sensors. Grand total was $102,405 USD.
Drive either the LC 500 or LC 500h against the clock or bench race them against their perceived competitors, and you’ll conclude Lexus comes up short—and it does if that’s your thing. This is no LFA successor and it wasn’t intended to be. We have learned, however, that there is an LC F in the works, likely with a twin-turbo V-8 good for 600 hp on the way. As they sit today, there really are no like-to-like competitors to the 2018 Lexus LC 500/500h, four-seat grand touring luxury coupes, at this moment. And that’s fine with us.
Drive to Palm Springs, Aspen, Scottsdale, or the Hamptons, and suddenly the coded message in the name of this long-legged grand touring car makes sense. It is a Luxury Coupe 5.00. (We wish hybrid were called the LC 350h because that’s what it is.) Despite their 20-21-inch wheels, short sidewalls, and run-flat tires, the LC’s aluminum-intensive and adaptive suspension soaks up bumps and thumps like a luxury sedan does. Their buttery steering systems offer a comfortable, relaxed, if somewhat distant, feel of the road as it glides beneath the car. Other than the tighter turning radius it provides, we’re not yet convinced our LC 500’s optional variable-ratio steering and rear-steer options added or detracted from the driving experience or were truly worth the extra cost. The interior—infotainment niggling aside—is a fabulous place to spend time, either behind the wheel or as a passenger. Sight lines through the front glass are grand, and the near-silent running at a casual clip (with the V-8 burbling compounding the pleasure) make these great grand tourers. Their trunks are large enough, their fuel ranges are vast enough, and their sound systems are exceptional enough to turn any road trip into a genuine occasion.
Lexus has built a car for the well-heeled traveler who would rather drive and enjoy the hundreds of miles to arrive at a five-star hotel or chalet rather than suffer airport and rental car lines. We get this car. We just hope its performance numbers don’t get in the way of you getting it too.
|2018 Lexus LC 500||2018 Lexus LC 500h|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE/MOTOR TYPE||Atkinson-cycle 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||Atkinson-cycle 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads, plus 2 permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motors|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||303.2 cu in/4,969 cc||210.9 cu in/3,456 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||471 hp @ 7,100 rpm*||295 hp @ 6,600 rpm; plus 100-hp (est) electric motors; 354 hp combined|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||398 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm||257 lb-ft @ 4,900 rpm; plus 150-lb-ft (est) electric motors; 350 lb-ft (est) combined|
|REDLINE||7,000 rpm||6,600 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||9.3 lb/hp||12.6 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION(S)||10-speed automatic||4-speed auto + cont variable auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.3-in vented disc; 12.1-in vented disc, ABS||13.3-in vented disc; 12.1-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.5 x 21-in; 9.5 x 21-in, forged aluminum||8.5 x 20-in; 9.5 x 20-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/40R21 96Y; 275/35R21 99Y Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP||245/45R20 99Y; 275/40R20 102Y Bridgestone Turanza T005|
|WHEELBASE||113.0 in||113.0 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.2/64.4 in||64.2/64.4 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||187.4 x 75.6 x 53.0 in||187.4 x 75.6 x 53.0 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||34.8 ft||35.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,370 lb||4,471 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||53/47%||52/48%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||36.8/32.2 in||37.2/32.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.0/32.5 in||42.0/32.0 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.5/48.9 in||56.5/48.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||5.4 cu ft||4.7 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.9 sec||2.2 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.2||2.7|
|QUARTER MILE||13.2 sec @ 110.2 mph||14.0 sec @ 101.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||114 ft||112 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.94 g (avg)||0.88 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.7 sec @ 0.80 g (avg)||26.0 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,300 rpm||1,200 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$105,115||$102,405|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||6 yrs/70,000 miles||6 yrs/70,000 miles (8 yrs/100,000 miles hybrid comp/batteries)|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||4 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.7 gal||22.2 gal|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||18.9/30.0/22.7 mpg||31.3/36.9/33.6 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||16/26/19 mpg (est)||25/35/30 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||211/130 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)||135/96 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.00 lb/mile (est)||0.68 lb/mile (est)|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
|*Power peak is beyond the indicated redline; fuel shutoff is at 7,200 rpm|