Lexus LC 500 Photo: Ian Whelan
Lexus LC 500 Photo: Ian Whelan

Lexus LC 500

Few autos make it from the concept stage to production with their original styling unscathed. After designers have a chance to bring their artistic vision to life and excite the press, automakers tend to build a more practical and less thrilling version of the car for sale, and some of the magic is lost.

That’s not the case with Lexus’s LC 500. This glamorously styled coupe appears nearly identical to the LF-LC concept that the automaker showed in 2012, which itself drew inspiration from the limited-production 2012 Lexus LFA. That V10 exotic came with the lofty price of $375,000; but the LC, which retains some of the LFA’s flavor, starts at just a fraction of that amount: $92,000. What you get is an eminently more usable automobile—a luxury grand tourer with the soul of a muscle car. The LC’s snarly naturally aspirated V8, rear-wheel drive, and innovative 10-speed automatic transmission add up to something special.

The mesh spindle grille and triple-projector LED headlights flow into a long, smooth, curvy body that feels as if it was borne out of nature and incorporates aluminum and carbon fiber panels for weight savings. The rear echoes the shapes up front and has super cool taillights that show off a three-dimensional infinity mirror effect that I’ve never seen on another car. The styling feels fresh and modern, and that also goes for the interior, which looks concept-car fresh.

Turning the scenery into a blur on long stretches of sweeping road is what the LC excels at most, but it’s formidable and fun on tighter back roads.

The all-aluminum, direct-injected and variable-valve-timing-equipped, 32-valve 5.0 liter V8 produces 471 hp at 7100 rpm and 398 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm. That’s sufficient thrust to move this 4,280-pound beast to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. That may not be supercar fast, but it’s quick enough to thrill you. Put your foot down, and the active exhaust system opens, going from a soft burble to an all-out roar with crackles and pops on the upshifts. Since there are no turbochargers to spool up, throttle response is instant, and there’s a seductive sense of urgency tipping into the throttle at speed. Fuel economy is reasonable at 19 mpg city and highway combined, but Lexus also offers a hybrid version of the car, the LC 500h, that features a V6 and two electric motors and offers total output of 354 hp and 30 mpg combined.

Turning the scenery into a blur on long stretches of sweeping road is what the LC excels at most, but it’s formidable and fun on tighter back roads. You’ll notice the size and weight, but precisely managing the car’s balance with your right foot is easy. I wish there were a bit more feel to the steering, but it is sharp. It’s light in Comfort and Normal modes, but it tightens in the two Sport modes, which also liven up the throttle response, suspension, and exhaust note.

The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on 21-inch forged wheels work with the adjustable, adaptive suspension to put a big contact patch on the road, providing a rock-solid feeling even on rougher surfaces while cornering. The ride always feels pleasant, even on the firmer suspension settings. On long curves at high speeds, the car grips marvelously and predictably, and when you’re powering out of corners, an optional mechanical limited-slip differential helps put the power to the ground. The brakes are steel rather than carbon, but they are massive and have no trouble taking the heat in hard driving. There’s nothing wrong with steel brakes if they’re executed correctly, and on a car that will not likely see time on a racetrack, carbon brakes would be expensive jewelry. Lexus offers a performance package that includes active rear steering and a variable-ratio steering rack, among other enhancements.

The combination of the torquey engine and the torque converter 10-speed transmission allows for effortlessly smooth, nearly silent cruising at low rpm, and when you put your foot down, it keeps the engine in the strongest part of the rev range since it has so many ratios to work with. The gear changes during normal driving conditions are nearly imperceptible. Even when hustling the car, the shifts are smooth and fast. Magnesium paddle shifters on the steering wheel allow for quick manual gear selection, and it is nice to be able to shift between a couple of gears on a twisty road, enjoying the engine’s torque curve while listening to its note change through the revs. However, most often I let the automatic do its job, which it does well, allowing me to pay more attention to other aspects of the experience. It even downshifts with dramatic throttle blips while I’m braking in Sport mode. With an automatic this good, who needs a dual-clutch transmission?

The 2+2 interior is swathed in leather and Alcantara with aluminum accents. Details abound, but I especially like the flowing Alcantara door panels, which blend with the dashboard. The glass roof doesn’t open but is a welcome touch that contributes to the airy feel of the cabin. Our car featured a classic charcoal interior, but Lexus offers colors that show off the lines even more. The sport package’s deeply bolstered Alcantara-covered eight-way sport seats are equipped with heating and cooling, but you can’t adjust the bolsters and lumbar support is only two-way. Still, I found the seats comfortable for long trips, and they held me in place securely during high G maneuvers. The back seats are a bonus, but they’re usable only if the front occupants are on the small side. Trunk space is reasonable, and you shouldn’t have trouble fitting luggage for a weekend away.

Lexus has struck a decent balance between the number of dashboard buttons and functions that require you to navigate the Enform infotainment screen. Thankfully, you can make the essential stereo and climate-control settings through the beautifully crafted knobs and buttons. However, you primarily have to use a touchpad on the center console to interact with the main screen for the car’s settings and the navigation system.

I understand why the designers chose this setup, as it allows the screen to be placed farther up and away on the dashboard, and it eliminates nasty fingerprints. Unfortunately, it can be awkward to use. Even after learning the system, I found it difficult to utilize while in motion. Luckily, the Siri Eyes-Free voice recognition seems to work well, so you may opt to control the system that way. I am surprised that Lexus hasn’t embraced Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which are gaining in popularity. Enform has its own app suite, so it seems that Lexus is aiming to keep users in its own digital ecosystem. On the bright side, the optional 13-speaker Mark Levinson Reference sound system is an aural delight.

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Advanced safety features are standard equipment. Dynamic radar-enhanced cruise control works at all speeds to keep a fixed distance from the car ahead and will even steer to keep the car in its lane. The pre-collision system automatically prepares the brakes for extra force and automatic application upon detection of an imminent impact through radar and a camera, and can detect pedestrians. A pop-up hood is designed to increase clearance between the hood and engine to soften the blow in case of a pedestrian impact. The convenience package’s blind-spot monitoring will also warn of impending cross traffic while you’re backing out of a parking spot.

The Lexus LC 500 is a great new offering in its category. It does everything you’d want a car like this to do: deliver superb comfort, power, and agility—and turn heads. It exudes glamor, and it makes driving an occasion. Open the door, slide in, press the start button, look out over the long hood, and listen to the thrum of that V8. It will be tough not to smile.    


Base price: $92,000
Price as tested: $100,989
Engine: Naturally aspirated 5.0L V8 gasoline engine
Power: 471 hp, 398 lb-ft of torque; 0–60 acceleration; 4.4 seconds
Top speed: 168 mph
Transmission: 10-speed torque convertor automatic with paddle shifting
Curb weight: 4,280 lb
Weight distribution: front: 54; rear: 46
Cargo capacity: 5.4 cu ft
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city/hwy
Warranty: 4 years/50,000-mile basic, 6 years/70,000-mile powertrain
Source: Lexus