Wow! I have never started an automotive article with an exclamation expressing astonishment or admiration. However- wow! It has been a long time since I have seen a car as beautiful as this one. The first time was in my teens as I just stood gawking at a poster of a 1961 Jaguar XK-E (North American Model). Enzo Ferrari called it "the most beautiful car ever made." and I agreed. The next time that happened was at the 2012 Auto Show when the LF-LC concept car was revealed.
The last time I stood entranced was when the new 2018 LC 500 sat on the Willow Springs tarmac, with the sun rising behind this Infiniti Red Coupe. The event was the 2017 Motor Press Guild Track Day, and the keys were in the LC 500, just calling my name to drive this work of art around the track. It has already won a number of design awards including several from the coveted “EyesOn Design.” Based on the same platform as the new LS 500 sedan, the LC 500 sits as the flagship automobile for the Lexus brand as their international grand touring coupe.
And like the first 12-cylinder Jaguar E-Type, this car has the go to match the show. In the gas-only version, Lexus has installed a muscle-car worthy naturally aspirated 5-liter V8 engine.
Based on the engine in the Lexus GS F and the RC F high-performance models, the LC 500 version is tuned to 471 horsepower and 398 lb.-ft. of peak torque. The real story is how such a large displacement engine can rev so effortlessly- using lighter weight forged connecting rods and titanium intake and exhaust valves. The torque-curve launches the LC 500 and runs it all the way up to a 7,300-rpm redline with intoxicating mid-range power.
Even though this coupe can grab 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds, the sound is even more impressive. There is no reason to include a premium sound system with this exhaust growl and burble. There is no sound like a properly resonated V8 engine, and the LC 500 made me smile mile-after-mile. Lexus has accomplished this with a resonance tube that connects the intake to the firewall, plus an electronic exhaust valve which opens in the Sport+ drive mode.
The Lexus LC 500 uses a high-performance 10-speed automatic transmission which always finds the right gear. The manual shift paddles change gears very quickly and give added control. I enjoyed the engine and transmission synchronizing- almost dancing is perfect harmony. When set to Sport or Sport+, the shift points and throttle responses get sharper, while the suspension tightens up the active dampers. The LC 500 can drive like a GT coupe for long-distance road trips, and it can beat most in an autocross event over the weekend.
With similar suspension and handling dynamics, the Lexus LC 500h can get down the road with authority but lacks the muscle of a sports car. The Multi-Stage Hybrid System utilizes an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine and two electric motor/generators. This new system keeps the planetary-type continuously variable transmission from Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive and also adds a unique four-speed automatic transmission.
So why not pay the $5,000+ premium for the hybrid Lexus LC 500h, starting at $96,510? It all comes down to the feel and sound of the V8 engine. A clean-burning naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 is a rare thing these days, and this is the soul of the LC 500. Lexus has not forgotten fuel mileage because they engineered this V8 to switch to an Atkinson-cycle when cruising to enhance fuel efficiency and an Otto-cycle for power when pressed hard.
All this high-tech wizardry pays off in better efficiency. Posted mileage for the LC 500h range from 26 mpg city up to 35 mpg highway. Published miles per gallon for our LC 500 with the gas-powered V8 is 16/26 in city/highway driving. I achieved a very impressive 24.6 mpg over 600 miles. Again, wow!
The exterior needs to be seen in person to appreciate the sculpted aerodynamic lines. Although some do not take to the Lexus “Darth Vader” shaped grills, the LC 500’s unique grill changes design throughout its flow down to the low front splitter. The front end lighting is also unique with L-shaped daytime running lights, and compact triple LED headlamps. Lexus is also using a combination of glass panels and blacked-out rear pillars to create what designers call a floating roof line. Lexus states that the LC 500 and 500h “echo the lines of a traditional Japanese sword.” Optional is a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof in place of the glass.
Functional vents add to the engine and brake cooling. The beauty is not just on the exterior and interior. You have to get on your knees to see the almost entirely smooth undercarriage. Even the mufflers are designed to let air rush under the car to create even more downforce. There is even a super-car active rear spoiler available which automatically deploys when the vehicle goes over 50 mph. Even without this extra aero-trick, the LC 500 went down the Willow Springs big track straightaway at 135 miles per hour without any drama. The only excitement was the adrenaline in me! Top-speed is limited to 168 mph, which I merely report but did not experience.
The instrument binnacle is clean and easy to read with an antilog tachometer and a digital speedometer. The center tach bezel and readout can slide to the right if the driver wants larger gauges for every day cruising. Otherwise, one can keep the speedometer and tachometer front and center for more spirited driving. Lexus took the latest instrument binnacle thin film transistor (TFT) display technology from the Lexus LFA supercar, the substantial digital display from the GS, and created a very user-friendly driver’s center.
Unfortunately, Lexus continues to use the newest touch-pad controller in the center console. If owners can sit in the driveway just long enough to set up the car, all attention can be focused on driving this amazing car, without much distraction at all. The excellent vocal controls can be used for all other infotainment adjustments. Toyota/Lexus continues to offer knobs for volume and other controls. All the driving controls are easy to reach.
Unlike most supercars, the driver’s position has great visibility out the front and both sides. Lexus lowered the instrument panel, the hood line, and the beltline to give a commanding view of the road ahead. Also, the narrow A-pillars give the driver and passenger a feeling of control. The lower seating position does not feel claustrophobic, and the seats are very comfortable and supportive. This coupe is truly a 2+2 coupe, so the rear seats and the cargo space is limited.
If one needs some tunes with all the other wonderful sounds this car produces, there is a standard new 12-speaker Pioneer surround sound system and optional Mark Levinson 13-speaker system which now includes a Clari-Fi music restoration technology. This enhances playback sound by automatically improving the sound quality of compressed, digitized music sources. But enough with all the many amenities one can expect from a Lexus flagship. Back to the driving….
“We spent more than triple the usual amount of R&D time to pursue linear steering and to find the sweet spot for road contact feel,” said LC Chief Engineer Koji Sato. There is an available Lexus Dynamic Handling system (LDH) for those who seek performance. This uses a variable steering and rear steering. With the drivetrain weight being mostly behind the front axles, the LC already drives like a mid-engine coupe. There is a lot of high-strength steel, aluminum, and some carbon fiber used in the LC chassis to keep it lighter and tighter. With no spare tire and the 12v battery to the trunk, Lexus managed a 52:48 weight distribution in the LC 500h and nearly this balance in the LC 500.
Our performance package came with the optional Bridgestone Potenza S001 run-flat tires, sized at 245/40RF21 up front and 275/35RF21 in the rear, wrapped around 21-inch wheels. Even with these performance tires, the ride is never punishing or abrupt. The handling is precise, as are the high-performance brakes. Lexus uses 6-piston front brake calipers and 4-piston rear calipers for very short stops under all conditions.
The LC’s response at initial turn-in is instant. The controlled body motion is precise. The Drive Mode Select features CUSTOM, ECO, COMFORT, SPORT AND SPORT+ settings which conform to the driver’s desire for the road ahead. Based on lessons learned from the LFA supercar, Lexus has given the LC lots of character and linear driving experience. The car goes where you point it and then provides the driver with all the help she/he needs. The LC 500’s electric power steering (EPS) is one of the best, giving the option of a sports car ratio or a GT ratio with a very natural on-center feel.
All of this happens while the passengers are wrapped in the finest leather, Alcantara suede, wood, and soft materials. The interior color schemes are stunning and bright, almost too bright when the sun pours over the dash and reflects into the driver’s eyes. The Bespoke White and Toasted Caramel are new, together with Rioja Red and Black. Takumi craftsmanship and attention to details is evident. Also evident is how quiet the LC 500 is on the highway. Conversations can be as soft as the suede that surrounds the passengers.
Along with all Toyota and Lexus models, the LC includes the Lexus Safety System+. Using a camera and radar to monitor the road, the LC is faster than the driver in deploying a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection. “All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control,” Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Vehicle Sway Warning, and Intelligent High Beam system (IHB) also assist in daily driving. What the driver still needs to do is pay attention and anticipate dangerous situations.
Lexus has fully committed to designing and building a car that is indeed a Grand Touring coupe with a muscle-car heart. It is stunning inside and outside- and continues the excellent build-quality one would expect from Lexus. The LC 500 starts at just over $91,000 and ours came with a performance package, which brought the price to just over $100,000. Not affording the 2018 Lexus LC 500 today, I would sign up for another drive in this Lexus 2-door GT flagship hatchback in a heartbeat. Wow!