Every time an automaker launches a new model, it’s up to its PR team to convince the automotive media that this new car matters. As autos scribes, we sit through interminable presentations about “dynamic handling,” “emotional design,” or whatever other buzzword is being used to hawk cars at the moment. But every now and then, a car comes along that is truly important (at least to the company that builds them), and the Lexus LC500 is about as important a launch as we’ve seen in 2016.
According to Lexus, the LC came out of a decree from Toyota president Akio Toyoda to his luxury brand: “No more boring cars.” Taking it to heart, this stunning grand tourer is supposed to be the opening salvo in a radical reinvention that will take the company from builder of comfortable cruisers to purveyor of legitimate driver’s cars. We spent some time in Spain with a preproduction LC500, and if that car is any indication of Lexus’ future, then it’s certainly on the right track.
Once you get over its concept car looks, the LC500 feels, drives, and is technologically advanced enough to live up to the hype. Here are five ways that the LC500 (and hybrid LC500h) show that Lexus is getting ready to take things to the next level.
1. It’s real, and it’s fantastic
With its aggressive lines, flared fenders, and out-of-this world lights on the corners, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the LC for a concept car. But that ship sailed about five years ago. The LC is pretty closely based on the LF-LC concept of 2012, and while it isn’t quite as low or as wide as the show car, it’s about as close to a pure design exercise going into production as we’ve seen in a long time.
2. Which is which?
Lexus offers two distinct versions of the LC: the hybrid V6 LC500h, and the plain old LC500, with its romper stomper 5.0 liter V8. The 500h can go in full EV mode up to 87 miles per hour, and uses its hybrid powertrain to deliver both maximum efficiency and maximum performance.
On the other hand, there’s the 500 with its 5.0 liter naturally aspirated V8. Yes, there are more powerful coupes out there, but with 471 horses and 398 pound-feet of torque on tap, there’s plenty of power in this grand tourer. It also comes on quick (think zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds), thanks to a few clever innovations …
3. Ten speeds, and we aren’t talking about a bike
… like a 10-speed automatic transmission. With incredibly close gear ratios and even spacing in between each one, this auto (Note: It isn’t a dual-clutch unit like you’d find on a BMW or Porsche) powers through each gear with what Lexus calls “rhythmic shifting.” As you plant your foot on the accelerator, the power comes on evenly and at precise intervals, as quick as you can snap your fingers. It’s impressively quick and sharp, and in Sport S + mode, it’s probably about as close as you can get to feeling the stages separate on a Saturn V rocket.
The 500h’s unit — or units — is incredibly different, but no less impressive. The “multi stage shift device” pairs three stationary gears with another trio of gears; in theory, it’s not dissimilar to what you’d find on a bike. A 10th gear functions as a CVT-like unit and is mostly used for highway driving. It’s a novel idea that makes this hybrid feel like a true performance car.
4. It ain’t cheap, but it’s attainable
From certain angles, the LC has more than a passing resemblance to the 2010-’12 LFA supercar. But while that car cost nearly $400,000 new, the LC will start at in the mid-$80K range — putting it firmly in Mercedes SL and BMW 6 Series territory. You’ll almost certainly be able to option one for over six figures, but Lexus’ latest halo is within reach of anyone who considers themselves to be well-heeled. As a result, the company expects to sell over 4,000 of them a year.
5. This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship
With a new platform, transmission, and a number of other new-to-Lexus features, it may seem surprising that the company would sink so much money into developing an expensive, low-volume luxury GT car. But the LC is just the first model to use Lexus’ rear-wheel drive GA-L platform. The GA-L (for Global Architecture-Luxury) will make its next appearance at the Detroit Auto Show underpinning the next-generation LS luxury sedan. And with its scalable architecture, we wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up as the basis for other models in the near future — we’d put our money on the midsize GS sedan.
And we wouldn’t be surprised if the LC lineup expands beyond the dynamic duo we already know about. Its two closest rivals, the Mercedes SL and BMW 6 Series, both offer convertible models; with the LS not even offering so much as a functional sunroof (a fixed glass panel is available), we think there’s a pretty strong chance for a droptop in the near future. What’s more, Lexus has been coy about a performance-focused F version. The official company line is “never say never” for now, but we’d be shocked if a fire-breathing, track-ready LC F doesn’t appear in the next few years.