After several years of teasing, Lexus finally delivered on its eye-pleasing promise.
The luxury-division of Toyota flaunted the LF-LC concept coupe starting on the 2012 auto show circuit (mark your calendar, the 2018 Chicago Auto Show runs from Saturday, February 10 through Sunday, February 18 2018); eventually morphing into the LC 500, taunting visitors at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show.
Elegantly smooth exterior nuances stay true to the concept's spirit in the all-new 2018 LC 500 (LC denotes Luxury Coupe), built from the ground up with Lexus' GA-L architecture (GA-L denotes Global Architecture, Luxury).
It's a relatively heavy, compact-ish performance-enhanced, rear-drive coupe serving as the 'Halo,' or aspirational vehicle for the Asian luxury brand. Power derives from a 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated (non-turbocharged) V-8 delivering a fun-filled, but far from class leading 471 horsepower and zero-to-60 mph in a tidy 4.8 seconds.
And yes, a hybrid off shoot comes along too. No other luxury automaker offers as many gas-electric hybrids in the 2018 model year as Lexus. Even after the retirement of the diminutive gas-electric CT 200h in 2017, Lexus continues offering a plentiful half-dozen hybrids.
Lexus provided for our driving pleasure the LC 500h (the self-charging hybrid variant sans a plug) incorporating a new multi-stage hybrid system teaming a naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 engine with two electric motors/generators: one drives the rear wheels while the other controls engine speed and engine starts. This system benefits from dual technologies working in tandem, delivering extra electric assist most notable at lower speeds.
The transmission merges together a continuously variable transmissions (CVT) common in hybrids with a traditional four-speed automatic providing the effect of 10 gears easily selectable (if in the mood) by employing steering column paddle shifters and generating much greater drive power when accelerating. It's the first Lexus hybrid able to spin rear tires when punching the accelerator.
The low-to-the-ground LC marks the first Lexus hybrid to employ a lighter weight, 84-cell lithium-ion battery pact. Returning Lexus hybrids soldier on with heavier nickel-metal hydride packs which historically hold electric charges for longer durations. Continuing advancements in lithium-ion batteries have improved charging holds. Combined system output is 354 horsepower.
The lithium-ion battery pack stows between the second row and trunk, reducing and already sparse trunk volume.
It's a head-turner, more at home touring the open road than grinding out time at closed-circuit roads prioritizing a pampering experience rather than neck-snapping physics.
Thrills don't come cheap as the LC 500 hybrid starts at $96,510. Just about all available options packages got thrown into our tester's including a $250 windshield deicer and heated steering wheel, a $1,000 Convenience Package (blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitor), $900 heads-up windshield display and $1,700 Touring Package highlighted by an upmarket sound system for a $101,445 bottom line including a $995 destination charge. The V-8 version checks in at $92,000.
Twenty-inch run-flat tires surround 10-spoke hubs as a temporary spare tire does not make the cut. Rear drive bias and over 4,300 pounds designate LC 500 and LC 500h as seasonal drives; splendid second or third cars. More than once during testing as the New Year approached LC found its rear end fishtailing happily thanks to icy road conditions.
Press the dashboard-bound electronic start button and the hybrid technology comes to life in eerie silence. Expect little engine hum or cranking at first as the whisper quiet electric motors come to attention first.
Vented disc brakes need little pedal engagement to summon predictable stopping action. During this process, LC 500h takes advantage of regenerative braking technology, capturing energy in the lithium-ion battery pack for reuse down the road. Adaptive suspension creates a smooth, less-jarring experience than other muscle coupes insisting every bump must be introduced on a first-name basis.
The rather large 10.3-inch multi-function color display gets tucked inside a deep-set central dash topped by a long brow. It's not touch-sensitive, relying instead on Lexus latest "remote touch interface" technology. Selecting options and/or scrolling involves skating a fingertip up, down and around a flat square surface/rink. Think an iPad Thinkpad surface of yore. Push down on the same flat surface with minimal finger pressure to select a highlighted category or option.
While eye-appealing, RTI can easily fluster. If, for instance, one sports winter-time gloves, the surface suddenly loses sensitivity as finger heat transfer gets muffled. Four quick-key buttons (map, radio, media, back) alleviate some frustration, along with scroll dials for station selection, but eyes spend far too much time away from monitoring the road ahead.
The diminutive Instrument panel largely consists of a circular single gauge with a digital speedometer in the middle flanked by a tachometer scale at the orb's outer edges; until further observation. A push of a steering-wheel button (9 o'clock) sends the orb scurrying about an inch to the right, revealing a secondary listing of digital information. To return the circular orb to its center position, simply press the same steering wheel button.
White stitching adorns the straight-across dash, doors and tush-molded, highly-bolstered bucket seats. A two-person back seat area exists, but is best suited for cargo or pets as full-size adults will marvel at minimal leg room and static side windows.
The shallow storage area below the right-arm elbow rest contains a 12-volt outlet along with a USB and auxiliary port. The armrest cover, hinged at the right flips open when gaining access to the ports. The glove box is also shallow and narrow, stowing a pair of matching gloves comfortably, but not much more. Smartly, an electronic version of the owner's manual is accessible from the multi-function center screen.
As with all Lexus vehicles, a prominent spindle grille adorns the front, merging very nicely with LC 500's design. Expansive head light housing stretches from side fenders to the narrow middle portion of the spindle grille (shaped like a truncated sand-filled hourglass). The circular Lexus "L" logo nestles in the spindle grille middle, sporting a blue tint in hybrid versions. Narrow, flush-mounted electronic door handles protrude from the outboard end after pushing forward the inboard end. Artful tail lights illuminate with a three-dimensional neon-like narrow "Ls." Below, dual inboard exhaust tips get framed in chrome. During daylight hours, chrome-like framing mimics a 'T-shaped" structure.
The long aluminum hood includes two sets of character lines. One stretches from the A pillar's outboard edge to the upper outer corner of the Spindle grille. The second, softer line starts further inboard, traveling in a straighter line towards the spindle grille. Side fenders flair above wheel wells, most prominently, the rear fenders. The weighty driver's door could benefit from a larger interior grab bar, which is part of the passenger door.
Lexus currently markets two high-performance models which don Lexus' 'F' performance suffix: the mid-size GS sedan and RC mid-sized coupe. The "F" in RC-F and GS-F denotes Fuji Speedway, where Lexus conducts much of its high-speed development. Both F-badged offerings and engine upgrades and performance tweaks to existing high-volume products. It's a separate approach from the new LC 500, built from scratch as a limited-volume, top-shelf 'Halo' choice although all three offer the same 5.0-liter, naturally-aspirated V-8 powertrain. Lexus projects approximately 4,800 LC sales per year, with 20 percent projected as hybrids.
At a Glance: 2018 LC 500h
Price as tested: $101,445
Gas Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Battery: Lithium Ion
Combined Horsepower: 354
Wheelbase: 113.0 inches
Overall Length: 197.4 inches
Overall Width: 75.6 inches
Overall Height: 53.0 inches
Fuel economy: 26 mpg/35 mpg
Powertrain Warranty: 72-month 70,000 miles
Curb weight: 4,435 pounds
Recommended fuel: Premium unleaded