2018 Lexus LC500h – Road Test

Posted on Oct 19, 2017 by
Lexus LC500h
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  • LC500h
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Review Summary:

When Akio Toyoda said he never wanted to hear the word 'boring' used in a sentence together with the word 'Lexus' he really meant it: even if you don't like the new LC500h hybrid it's certainly one of the most unique cars on the market today

Pros

The Lexus LC500h has one of the best interiors in class, and interesting looks that make it stand out from the crowd, as well as quite a bewildering drive system

Cons

Infotainment controller is still completely unintuitive to use, and it's certainly not the most exciting car in the segment to drive. Oh, and the bluetooth is pathetic...

In the premium coupe segment all the Germans offer similar propositions, but the Japanese have hit back with a pretty interesting, and brave choice. Auto Middle East tested the new Lexus LC500h in Dubai…

Hang on, I’m confused. The badge says Lexus, but this is the most un-Lexus Lexus I have ever seen.

The LC500h, as you astutely point out, is unlike anything in the repertoire of the Japanese carmaker who was, until quite recently, the standard bearer of beige-ness in the automotive industry. Then one day, President Akio Toyoda, presumably after getting sick of crappy jibes about his cars like the one above, decided he had had enough. Lexuses were no longer going to be boring, he ordained. The LC500 is the big leap in that direction. And I say leap, because in the flesh it looks way more futuristic than its rivals, the BMW 6 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe.

What I like best about the exterior styling though, is that it’s badass without being fussy: no folds, layers or superfluous “surface treatment”. The rear is dramatic, and the front, depending on your point of view is either a) immensely striking, or b) looks like the car has contracted a horrendously virulent form of eye-infection. To each their own, I guess…

Finally, the design is extremely colour-dependent; you need to buy it in a striking shade, preferably the Flare Yellow of our tester.

This is the hybrid version, so I’m guessing it’s a bit rubbish to drive?

The LC500h is way better than most of the vile hybrid cack I’ve driven over the years. The chassis is superb. It corners flat, the steering is nice and hefty and you can feel the stuff going around you. The typical sensory-deprivation characteristic of Lexus, is all but gone. The chassis is rigid and can take so much more than the hybrid gubbins can throw at it. Bring on the LC F-Sport, I say.

The multi-stage Hybrid system is fiendishly complex and features a 3.5-litre V6 and two electric motors powered by Lexus’s first lithium-ion battery, which sits behind the front seats. The V6 makes 295 horsepower and the electric motors muster up just short of 60 for a total system output of 354 horsepower. So, with a 0-100km/h time of sub-five seconds it’s not blindingly quick, but it never feels ponderous.

The power is channelled to the rear wheels via two gearboxes — a CVT and a four-speed auto, both of which are decidedly not beyond reproach.

So, it’s got two gearboxes… from the 90s… sounds great!

Don’t be quick to judge! Here’s how it goes: The CVT is designed to emulate six ratios, while the auto provides the remaining four, bringing the total tally up to 10. Lexus engineers say that this arrangement gets rid of the rubber-band feeling of a typical CVT, without sacrificing fuel efficiency. But then they would.

The transmission does have a propensity to lunge to high engine revs as the rest of the car catches up, but it is not as pronounced as any CVT I’ve driven. It is in fact, one of the most un-CVT CVTs around. It is not the quickest to react in manual mode, but leave it in full auto and the changes are rapid in Sports+; the characteristic drone of CVTs is barely perceptible. But more importantly it feels futuristic, partly because the power delivery is handled by two different technologies it is very, very unconventional. And that makes it immensely cool. I would have it over a 640i in a heartbeat. It is a phenomenal grand tourer.

Over a 640i? Tell me about the cabin and the thinly veiled Toyota switchgear…

My, you’re cynical today! The interior is in fact the highlight of the LC500. The switchgear is suitably upscale and no, not a whiff of Toyota in there. The cabin is beautifully designed and does not feel as sterile as its German counterparts’. It’s swoopy and gorgeous; in fact I’ll go out on a limb and say it is more special than a similar BMW’s. Not in terms of tech, but purely in terms of aesthetics and how it makes you feel the moment you open the door and get inside. A word of advice, while the door cards have stitched suede inserts, the detailing is lost in darker colours like our tester’s maroon finish. I’d go for a lighter shade. Space in the back is acceptable, too.

Now, on to the thorny question of tech. The touchpad/mouse thing that I first tried on the current IS a few years ago was infuriating to use, so I was hoping this would be an improvement. Nope. It is, and by a considerable distance, once of the most unintuitive input devices in the history of ever. It’s jumpy and inaccurate and plain frustrating. Oh, and another thing that seems to have snuck in from the 90s is the Bluetooth connectivity. It’s quicker to learn to sing, play an instrument, write a song, record it, shop for a record deal, wait for the CD to come out and then play it on the audio player rather than trying to stream it over Bluetooth.

Suddenly you don’t seem to like it so much.

There are aspects of the car that are frustrating, but to be honest the moment you catch a reflection of it in a shop window, you forgive its foibles. It is, and apologies if I’ve mentioned this before, a gorgeous looking thing. And on the move its unconventional power delivery, the noises it makes and the way it feels put it a step ahead of its rivals.

Motoring journalists often bang on about how spec sheets and performance numbers don’t necessarily constitute a great car; the LC500h sums up that sentiment better than any current vehicle. It may seem strange in several conventional ways, but that’s because it’s not a conventional car in several ways. The LC500h, and I say this with conviction, is not just the coolest Lexus on sale today. It is one of the coolest cars on sale today. Period.

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