Lexus LC500 2017 review


The LC brings with it more than just that arresting exterior. This landmark introduction bloods an all-new vehicle platform for Lexus called GA-L that will go on to sire the next LS limousine and all front-longways-engined, rear-wheel-drive models that follow it. The Japanese firm claims that this is the most rigid, structurally advanced series production car it has yet made, built out of a mix of several grades of steel, aluminium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic.

Power comes from a choice of 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric (LC500h) or 5.0-litre atmospheric V8 (LC500) engines. Both are familiar but they get new transmissions for their application in the LC. The hybrid is teamed with a new multi-stage shift gearbox featuring both a CVT-style epicyclic power split and a four-speed automatic gearbox, while the V8 gets a new ten-speed conventional automatic with a new torque converter and a separate lock-up clutch.

Suspension for the car is by steel coils and adaptive dampers, with multi-link systems featuring both front and rear. The car comes with an open rear differential and 20in cast alloy wheels as standard, but opt for Lexus’ Sport Plus option pack and, among other things, you get a ‘CFRP’ roof panel, a wheel upgrade to 21in forged items, speed-dependent active-ratio four-wheel steering and a Torsen-style limited slip differential.

The LC has a four-seater two-plus-two cabin, but its rear seats aren’t any larger than those of a Porsche 911. You can tell it’s got a stiff superstructure before your backside’s even settled into the leather-and-alcantara driver’s seat because you can close the long, relatively heavy passenger door as hard as you like without feeling so much as the faintest shudder from the surrounding bodywork.

The interior has a blend of apparent quality, opulent material richness and styling flourish that distinguishes the LC from its rivals every bit as clearly as its exterior does. You sit low and snug in the kind of sports seat in which it’s possible to pass a long day at the wheel without even noticing it, and in front of you the car’s dashboard features are stacked up in arcing, leather-wrapped layers. The centre console rises high to meet your elbow at the perfect height. Above that, there’s a rounded shelf on which the car’s heating and ventilation controls can be found, and out of which the steering column seems to sprout. And further up still and at a slightly more discrete distance is a third layer housing the car’s digital instruments, air vents and 10in widescreen infotainment display.

Lexus has gone to remarkable lengths to make this driving environment look and feel special, succeeding greatly in places but not quite everywhere. The car’s digital instrument screen is the same as the one on the LFA supercar; it’s made up of two TFT screens stacked one in front of the other, with the nearer of the two set into a decorative tachometer bezel and ready to slide sideways by a few inches when you want to customise the information visible in front of you. Quite why Lexus didn’t save a few quid by fitting one larger TFT screen with no moving parts and just graphically animate the same visual effects is anyone’s guess. Also, why persevere with a touchpad-operated infotainment system that’s much less easy to use than one with a simpler rotary input device or touchscreen input? Difference is being celebrated here, and fair enough – but surely it needn’t be accepted where it quite plainly makes life harder.

It’s the job of a grand tourer to be relaxing, intuitive and long-striding, after all; not that the LC500’s driving experience always hits those high notes. Some of its quirks you can overlook; others can be embraced as preferences that make this a more engaging car to drive than the typical luxury coupé. But, overall, it’s the LC’s failure to cover distance with that all-important effortless pace and smoothness that leaves you a little unconvinced when you get out of it at the end of a 300-mile day.

That 5.0-litre atmospheric V8 might be second only to the LC’s looks in your list of reasons to buy one, and it’s an absolutely wonderful engine in its wilder moments – when it’s revving between 4500rpm and that 7100rpm cut-out and sounding so deliciously feral. But below 4000rpm, it’s conspicuously short on the torque necessary to move this near-two-tonne car with any urgency. Also, while a ten-speed automatic gearbox ought to be ready with just the right ratio, the LC’s gearbox seldom seems that way. The transmission often needs to drop two or even three ratios in order to shift into the engine’s power band, and it just can’t be relied upon to do that smoothly or decisively enough every time to make the car seem consummate or to put its driver at ease.

The LC handles with very creditable body control and cornering poise. Our test car’s optional active steering was executed with subtlety and left a compelling sense of precision and tactile feedback evident through the rim. The car’s too wide and heavy to do a really good impression of a sports car, but it’s engaging to drive all the same. But its ability to soothe away the miles when the occasion calls for it isn’t quite as good. In order to package the LC as Lexus has, it abandoned the notion of even a space-saver spare wheel very early in the development process. The car is fitted with low-profile runflat tyres, then, which make for a ride that can get fidgety and feels a little wooden over certain surfaces.

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