Launching an all-new halo car to sit atop your lineup can be a double edged sword for automakers. For example, let’s look at Lexus — the Lexus of about seven years ago, that is. After a decade of development, it launched a supercar, the LFA, in 2010. The LFA was a brilliant performance car, but it also cost nearly $400,000, and shared virtually nothing with the rest of the Lexus lineup. Did it bring attention to the brand? Of course. But its unobtainable, one-off status meant it did little to change the public’s perception of it.
Well, the new LC500 grand tourer is here, and like the LFA, it’s about to top the Lexus lineup, and looks out-of-this world. But among the many differences between the two cars, the LC will mark the beginning of a new chapter for the entire brand. While it may bear a passing resemblance to the old supercar, from a marketing position, the LC has more in common with Lexus’ first luxury coupe, the SC300/400, than the LFA. And that should be a very good thing.
In the 1990s, the SC was a boldly styled, cutting-edge grand tourer. Over a quarter century later, the LC looks poised to fill that role perfectly. For some prospective buyers, that could be music to their ears. For others, it may not be enough — at least not yet. So after recently spending some time with the preproduction LC500 and 500h hybrid, here’s who should — and shouldn’t — buy Lexus’ latest range-topper.
Here’s who should buy the LC500:
For the past decade or so, high end luxury models regardless of segment have been sold on comfort, style, and power — three things the LC500 has in spades. Keep in mind: The LC500 is a proper grand tourer, but with a starting price in the high five-figure range (though creeping over the $100K mark fully-optioned), it’s likely the most attractive world-class GT car available for the money. Compared to its closest rivals, the Mercedes-Benz SL and BMW 6 Series, it looks like it’s from another planet, and makes the Germans seem like ancient history. Hell, it has all the panache inside and out that luxury coupes three times its price have. Lexus’ designers and engineers have done a brilliant job taking the LF-LC concept of 2012 and transforming it into a production car that still looks like it could still go another round on the auto show circuit.
Aside from the gorgeous sheetmetal and fantastic interior, the LC is the first car to be built on Lexus’ all-new GA-L platform. The rear-wheel drive GA-L (short for Global Architecture – Luxury) is a stiff, capable, and most importantly, scalable architecture that will underpin the next-generation LS sedan. Combined with a lightweight multi-link suspension up front and five-link out back, as well as a naturally-aspirated 5.0 liter V8, the LC500 is one hell of a contender. The 471 horse V8 isn’t be the most powerful in its segment, but its direct throttle response, seriously impressive 10-speed automatic transmission, and sonorous engine note more than make up for it. If you’re lusting after something like a Maserati GranTurismo, Aston Martin DB11, or Bentley Continental, but can’t quite muster the funds, you won’t be disappointed in an LC500. Really, it might even be the better choice in the end.
Another edge the LC has on the market is the hybrid model, the LC500h. With it comes a 3.5 liter V6 paired to a single motor and what Lexus calls the world’s first “Multi Stage Hybrid System.” This is essentially two transmissions working in tandem — in theory not too different than bicycle gears — for nine forward gears, and a 10th that acts like a CVT at highway speeds. The system does an admirable job simulating a traditional transmission. Altogether, the LC500h can run up to 87 miles per hour in pure EV mode, and its 354 total horsepower helps the big coupe scramble from zero to 60 in around five seconds.
But the hybrid feels compromised compared to the V8-powered model, and from there, it’s easy to get a picture of who might pass on the top-dog Lexus.
And here’s who shouldn’t buy the LC500:
Luxury coupes aren’t the volume sellers they were back in the ’70s. At this point, they’re expensive, exclusive status symbols; cars for people who demand the best, and usually go out of their way to make sure you know they demand the best. From a styling, comfort, and handling standpoint, we think the Lexus has this market cornered. It does too — the company projects selling around 400 LCs a month once they hit dealerships next spring. But Mercedes and BMW offer two things that Lexus doesn’t yet: A convertible model, and a track-ready performance version.
It’s true that the Germans aren’t getting rich off of M6 Coupe and AMG SL 63 and 65 sales, but their very existence says a lot about their performance priorities. Even if customers aren’t in the market for the hottest ones, some are attracted to these models just because those options exist. Lexus has proven that it can keep up with BMW M and AMG with its IS F, GS F, and RC F models. But without a red hot LC500 (or even a drop top), the sad truth is that there’s a certain type of prospective buyer who will skip over the car because it “isn’t as fast as a (insert rival here)” — even though there’s no real reason why they’ll ever need anything more than 471 horsepower. Despite being noncommittal so far, we hope Lexus comes out with an LC500 F sooner rather than later.
As for the LC500h: While it’s likely the most impressive performance hybrid this side of the LaFerrari/Porsche 918/McLaren P1 set, it still feels compromised — especially if you’ve driven the V8 model too. Don’t get us wrong; it’s quiet, incredibly well mannered, and handles like a dream. But it doesn’t have that seemingly limitless power reserve that a true grand tourer should have — something the V8 in the LC500 delivers in spades. If you’re looking for more show than go, or are a Silicon Valley type where having an environmentally conscious car is important, then the LC500h is a fine choice. But as long as you know what the V8-powered car offers, you’ll be missing out.