Vince Pornelos / Kelvin Christian Go | January 22, 2018 14:18
This is perhaps the most challenging review I've had to write yet. And it's not because the Lexus LC500 is bad; in fact, it's exceptional in almost every way. What I'll admit is that -after spending nearly a week with one- I'm a bit star struck.
This all began when I walked up to the LC500 at the basement parking lot of the brand's flagship dealership in the city. As the night guard turned on more of the lights, something about her color stood out; the shade of Radiant Red was reaching out the moment the flourescent lights struck it.
The closer I walked up to it, the more I realized that there was something about her design that just captures the imagination. The purity of look with the concept car she was based on has been preserved in almost all its entirety. Nearly all of the details on this production model have been carried over from the concept; from the silhouette, the lines, the headlights, the grill, the rear, even the way the wheels fill her wheelarches, all are almost direct carryovers from what premiered in Geneva nearly six years ago.
When I was standing next to the door, with the key in my pocket, the flush doorhandles just swiveled out a bit, as if to invite me to hop in and have a seat. And what a seat it is; everywhere I looked, this LC was indeed trying to impress me, even though these shades of brown and beige aren't exactly my favorites. The interior is really intricately-detailed. There are creases and grooves here and there on the leather. The shapes, details, and the form -again- all seem like they were lifted from a futuristic concept. Something tells me the accountants would have had a field day telling the designers off for this, yet somehow, the latter prevailed.
I was almost getting the feeling that she was a car where function has truly followed form, but no; while exceptionally stylish inside, everything felt uncommonly natural, almost like the interior was shaped to make me want to drive. The central infotainment unit is easy to use if you've driven a Lexus before. The gauge cluster rises up from dashboard in a Voltes V kind of way, and are flanked with two protrusions that allow the driver to activate (or deactivate) traction control and select the driving modes for sport or economy. The steering wheel is a treat for the hands and the metal paddleshifters are fantastic on the fingertips. Best of all, the seats aren't of the kind that are intended to hold you as firmly in place like a Ferrari's, but are meant for long distance cruising on great roads with fantastic scenery ahead.
Clearly the LC500 was getting under my skin, so I thought I'd get under hers, wrong as that may sound. What she has beneath her red dress is a big 5.0-liter, 32-valve V8. But there are several things we need to know. First: we won't find any turbos on here; this is 471 horses of pure, naturally-aspirated glory. The engine is actually shared with the RC F and GS F, albeit tuned differently. Second: it comes standard with a 10 speed automatic transmission and, mind you, that's 10 actual gears; no overdrives. Lexus says the LC500's gearbox shifts quickly and smoothly, and has better ratios for quicker acceleration when you want it, and comfortable cruising and improved economy when you need it. Third: it's rear-wheel drive.
Driving her away from the lot, the LC500 is most definitely a comfortable cruiser. That's the surprising bit: many would expect a low-slung coupe -even one made by Lexus- to be compromised when driving on local roads riddled with holes that can shake the fillings off of teeth. But no, the LC is mild mannered about town, and very easy to get along with. And when I adjusted the drive selector to comfort (I was still in normal at the time) it got even better; the response of the powertrain was tamed down to prevent the jerkiness common in stop-and-go traffic. She may be a sporty model but she's still a Lexus, and a Lexus always has to know how to behave.
Once traffic clears up, you can then start to explore what makes her, the LC500, special. This is a car meant for cruising, and it matters not if you're just doing 50 km/h or 100 km/h; the LC500 does it with a very clear sense of comfort and luxury. She belongs on a highway, preferrably with a fantastic view beyond the windscreen as you drive at speed.
And it's done economically. Just by being smooth on the highway at an average of 89 km/h, the LC500 was easily doing 13.4 km/l. The highway economy is unexpected for a big V8, though there isn't really much they could do about city economy given our traffic: 4.6 km/l at a 19 km/h average... not that it matters much for the affluent clientele.
Now don't have anything similar or even close to a French Riviera, but we do have some mountains, and the winding roads they're known for. With Sport S+ engaged, the gauges light up differently, awakening the LC500's powertrain, your senses, and then some. The acceleration from the 2UR-GSE and the 10-speed is quick; 100 km/h is dispatched from a standstill in just over four and a half seconds. The throttle response of an engine without turbos is immediate, giving me -the driver- more confident control via my right foot, and that's what's more important when you're blasting past one corner after the other in a car that's almost 10 million pesos.
One thing about the LC500, however, is her weight. Despite being a low-to-the-ground coupe, she weighs almost two tonnes; just like your Toyota Fortuner. Yet even with the weight factored in, the LC500 makes quick work of even the most challenging blind corners in the mountains east of the metropolis. The chassis, the suspension, the brakes, and the tires never felt overwhelmed even when driven fairly hard, but with a good margin for safety because weight can only be cheated so much. Which brings me to the real point behind the LC500.
On paper, the 470 horsepower, 1900+ kilogram LC500 seems odd, but it's important to remember that she isn't a purpose-built track car, neither is she intended to be a performance car like the F models under Lexus's banner. This is a grand tourer through and through, and as a GT, she has to be elegant both inside and out. She has to be fast and low, but comfortable and with some space for a weekend out of town. This is Japan's answer to the formula of Aston Martin, not a record-breaking thoroughbred to take on Ferrari or Lamborghini; and with our pricing structure that includes tax breaks for any Japan-made vehicle with an engine bigger than 3000cc, the LC500 undercuts its direct competition by millions of pesos. It's almost an unfair advantage.
I've used words like 'she' or 'her' more than 'it' or 'this', and that's because this LC is quite an extraordinary experience. I imagine it's like dating supermodel that's also an exceptional chef... and gets along with your mother.