BY STEVE SILER
Sporty and Stylish, the LC500 is the sexiest Lexus in a generation.
I’ve been reviewing cars for over 20 years now, and I remember my first Lexus press car: a 1997 SC300 rendered in Royal Jade pearl, with tan leather seats, a silken V-6 and a delightful manual transmission. Offered from 1992 all the way until 2000, the Lexus “SC” wasn’t exactly sporty (despite the manual transmission) but it was absolutely gorgeous, and, 20 years later, still looks fabulous. Alas, no Lexus since has come close as far as beauty is concerned.
Until now. By summer, the sexiest Lexus in a generation will hit US showrooms, and unlike the SC300 (and even the V-8-powered SC400), the 2018 LC500 will back up its exotic looks with true athleticism, thanks to a new platform, a powerful V-8 and a mandate from the very top that there are no more boring Lexuses.
If the LC500 looks like a show car, that’s because, according to Lexus internals, a show car is all the LC was supposed to be. Designed in Newport Beach, California, at Toyota’s CALTY design studio, the LC was previewed way back in 2012 at the Detroit Auto Show by the low, flat LF-LC concept car, which floated some of the design themes Lexus was toying with for its next-generation products. However, Lexus says that the public reception was so positive—including earning many design awards, something Lexus was not used to—that Toyota President Akio Toyoda himself directed the company to build it. Also influencing the decision was a particularly impactful discussion with potential customers at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance during which Toyota heard that most in attendance considered Lexus products to be rather, well, boring. The sleeping giant was stirred.
And now, the giant is awake—wide awake. The LC looks almost exactly like the concept on which it was based: mixing extreme sports car proportions with taut, restrained surfaces. Notably absent is the frenetic busy-ness that characterizes the styling of many current Lexus models like the RX and NX crossovers. The surface cleanliness allows the exquisite details, from the complex intersecting headlamps elements, the two-way mirrors taillamps that appear to recess deep into the car’s body, and the best application yet of the controversial Lexus spindle grille, to shine that much more brightly. The LC’s design appeals to gearheads and glitterati in equal measure. It is pure couture on wheels.
Inside, the LC’s mix of forms, textures and colors also pushes Lexus to the extreme. The passenger side of the center console rises and curls toward the driver, creating a cockpit-like environment while staying low enough to not make the passenger feel confined. Above that is a touchpad-operated center screen, along with an analog Lexus timepiece and a backlit trim piece, all situated behind a clear panel extending all the way to the passenger door. Stitched leather upholstery covers most surfaces, but the application of suede-like Alcantara on concave surfaces evokes the silk lining of a suit jacket or the inside of a flower petal, especially in one of the contrasting color themes, such as black and red, or blue and orange (yes, blue and orange…with white seats). Speaking of seats, like the similarly priced Porsche Carrera, the LC has back “seats” that don’t seat people as well as they would accommodate small dogs or shopping bags.
Whatever (or whoever) you put back there, make sure it’s fastened in tight. During an early drive program of production-intent LC prototypes on the roads around Sevilla, Spain, as well as on the track at Circuito Monteblanco at the end of 2016, I was able to push this car to its very limit, and realized that not only does the LC-500 accelerate like a rocket—no surprise, given its 471-hp V-8 and quick-shifting 10-speed automatic—it sounds incredible doing so. Cornering grip is outstanding, especially with the optional 21-inch wheels, and steering feel is the best I’ve experienced in any Lexus ever.
A (relatively) fuel-sipping LC500h hybrid will also be available, powered by a 354-hp hybrid powertrain consisting of a 3.5-liter V-6 and two electric motors. The good news is that there is no visual differentiation other than the Lexus “L” badge, which is circumscribed in blue. It wasn’t quite as quick around the track nor as sonorous, but it proved smooth, swift and planted-feeling on the road, which, let’s face it, are where most LCs are destined to remain. Still, the fact that Lexus let us out on the track in a hybrid anything was impressive and testament to this car’s innate sportiness.
Prices for the LC weren’t set at the time of this writing, but the LC500 is expected to start around $90,000, with the tech-laden hybrid likely costing a bit more despite its considerably lower power output. Given that, Lexus expects most to be ordered with that sparkling, snarling V-8, and that’s just fine with us. Make ours red. Or yellow. Or brown. Just make it.
• Base price: est. $90K
• Body style: 2-Door, 2+2-passenger coupe
• Power: 471-hp 5.0-liter V-8, 354-hp 3.5-liter V-6 hybrid
• Transmission: 10-speed automatic with paddle shifters
• Drive wheels: rear
• Fuel economy (city/highway): N/A mpg