Lexus LC500

Futuristic flagship coupe gives us good reason to salute

STEPHEN CORBY

in FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

WITH its concept-car-like futurismo exterior, the new Lexus LC500 may look more fashionable than frightening, but its timidation factor hits you from the very first moment you stab the lovely, metallic Start button. The glorious noise of the naturally aspirated V8 fills the cabin and makes your pulse race.

Earlier in the day we’d also come to appreciate how cleverly Lexus silences the shouting of the V8 – and all other external noises – when you slip into cruising mode on a freeway. The luxuriant ride in the Comfort setting and the low NVH really reflect the duality chief engineer Koji Sato has attempted to achieve with the LC: high-end luxury and sportiness in one car.

Happily, the steering of the LC has the kind of forceful feedback and muscularity this car needs, and is so much better than every other Lexus currently on sale.

Yet the one area of the LC that can’t be ignored is weight. Yes, it is available with carbonfibre in its construction (see sidebar) and it has an aluminium bonnet and doors, but the structure of the all-new GA-L platform – which will underpin every new frontengined, rear-drive Lexus product – is largely high-tensile steel, and that, combined with lashings of luxury gear inside, adds up to one heavy coupe.

It’s a factor that slightly blunts the car’s performance, particularly when compared to turbo-tweaked offerings from the Germans, and one that you’re always aware of when throwing it around, or standing on the brakes.

That was certainly something we got plenty of practice at on a track in Spain, after breasting 220km/h at the end of a wet main straight – it really can get up and go, with its 351kW atmo V8 good for zero to 100km/h in 4.7sec – and entering the braking zone like a bellowing hippo being cannon-fired into a waterhole.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the brakes, and while the sounds the engine makes under frantic downshifting are superb, what was most impressive was how muscularly communicative the steering was. No matter what the driving conditions, it’s great to be given such direct, linear feedback through the wheel.

Of course, attempting to get 550Nm to the wet bitumen through the rear tyres alone was always going to be colourful, but what I didn’t expect it to be, particularly in such a heavy and presumably ponderous vehicle, was fun. Yet I honestly couldn’t get enough of it, particularly as the track started to dry out.

On public roads, the LC is really quite impressive, and sits nicely flat with its rigid chassis communicated through a perfect driving position.

The one part of the LC that’s slightly questionable is the new, world-first 10-speed torqueconverter automatic gearbox. Out on the open road, we occasionally found the software struggling to decide which of its many cogs to choose, and reacting with a noisy and noticeable shunt when asked to accelerate quickly from a trailing throttle.

When we pointed this out there was a sudden revelation that the cars we were driving might be pre-production. Let’s hope it’s an issue that’s fixed before the car goes on sale, because it’s one blemish on an otherwise muchimproved, and more involving, Lexus experience.

Yes, the new look will be a bit too modern for some of the brand’s more sedate customers, but if Lexus wants to grow it has to stretch itself beyond the golf club car park. And this car, even with a circa $200,000 tag, will do it.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight Economy 0-100km/h Price On sale Lexus LC500 4969cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v 351kW @ 7100rpm 540Nm @ 4800rpm 10-speed automatic 1970kg 11.0L/100km (estimated) 4.7sec (claimed) $200,000 (estimated) May

PLUS & MINUS Design; sense of quality; steering; V8 soundtrack; r Vast weight; could be a bit quicker; pointless hybrid option ide; refinement

CARBON ECONOMY 01 Carbonfibre abounds – even the door trims are made of CFRP – but a carbonfibre roof and door sills are available only to buyers who opt for the Enhancement Package (price TBC) that also adds a pop-up rear spoiler.

SPROUTING STALKS 02 The centre console uses stalks on either side of the instrument panel for vehicle-mode selection.

Quality is exemplary, with highgrade leather and Alcantara, perfect stitching and expensivefeeling switchgear.

PIED PIPER 03 The glorious noise of the naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 is poured into the cabin through a specially shaped ‘sound generator’ tube, which apparently only enhances the barping bellows rather than artificially creating them.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW 650i Coupe $231,615

Similar in size and packaging to the Lexus. Bruising 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged bent-eight outmuscles the Lexus, but doesn’t sound as rich and engaging, and there’s a likely price premium.

Jaguar F-Type R Coupe $228,905

Strictly a two-seater, so zero kid-carrying option to compete with the plus-two Lexus coupe.

Supercharged 5.0-litre V8 towels the Lexus for power, however, and smashes it for torque. But F-Type is much less lovely inside.

Hybrid? No thanks

Yes, the LC500h is sporty, but the fact is, if you drive the 3.6-litre V6-hybrid 500h back to back with the V8 version and still want the hybrid, you’re a very confused human being. If you’re that worried about petrol prices, how can you afford a car that will hover around $200,000?

And if Lexus thinks it can get away with charging more for the more complex, less quick and comparatively awful sounding hybrid version, it has gone bonkers as well. Lexus Australia estimates it might make up one quarter of LC sales.

I estimate they’ve got to be joking.