LEXUS LC500 Japan’s 911 beater?
Lexus used the 911 as a benchmark for its new 470bhp coupe. A sprinkling of LFA magic might help its chances, too.
‘I’m a big fan of the Porsche 911 991 Series. Its driving feel drives me crazy!’ This is Koji Sato, chief engineer on Lexus’s LC project and the man tasked with turning Lexus into a brand keen drivers no longer cross the road to avoid. You’ve got to admire his ambition.
Sato-san tells me his team benchmarked the 911 for steering feel, along with Lexus’s own LFA – that most unlikely of supercars. Of course, Lexus has failed to get anywhere close to the stratospheric heights of the LFA in the six or so years since evo first got behind its wheel (and refused to get out).
A couple of F models have arrived and disappointed, but, this time, well it just might be different. After all, Lexus has had long enough to get it right – the LF-LC concept car was first seen five years ago, while the mainstream LC coupe made its debut a year ago. What have they been doing all this time?
The answer arrives in a car that’s certainly striking, if not beautiful. It’s a real head-turner in some colours, but not all (brown? Really?). And while the front end looks sublime and could’ve been styled by one Dr Jekyll, the rear, with its mishmash of lines, looks like the work of Mr Hyde.
There are some delicious details, though. You’ll struggle to take your eyes off front wings that sit so low over the front tyres that you’d swear you’d hear the sound of rubber meeting metal every time you met a speed-hump (you won’t hear a thing, of course – this is a Lexus, after all). the ultra-compact triple LeD headlamps and 3D LeD tail-lamps are fascinating to look at.
The oversized-spindle grille leads up towards creases on the bonnet that carry on into the cabin, and there are tiny aerofins on the A-pillar to smooth airflow and reduce wind noise. Delightful.
But not as delightful as the news that under that fabulous bonnet is an even more fabulous V8 engine. And you’ll notice we haven’t attached the words ‘twin’ and ‘turbo’ to that, because neither has Lexus. now that’s very un-2017-like. What was Sato-san thinking?
He probably had his boss in mind. Akio Toyoda is not only president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, he’s also Lexus’s chief branding officer and, much more importantly, master driver. Apparently, Japanese Takumi craftsmanship applies not only to the guys who fastidiously stitch the LC’s interior together, but also to the drivers who developed the car – including the boss.
This particular V8 takes the block used in the GS F and RC F models and changes pretty much everything else. The result is 470bhp at 7100rpm and 398lb ft of torque at 4800rpm. There’s also a brand new ten-speed (yes, ten-speed) automatic gearbox and, on Sport+ models, a limited-slip differential, rear-wheel steering and active aerodynamics.
You could choose the rather clever LC500h hybrid model with its 3.5-litre V6 and multi-stage hybrid system (which uses a combination of CVT and a four-speed auto gearbox), but unless you’re a bit of a geek you should stick with the V8. Especially as the hybrid is slower, costs about the same and doesn’t sound anywhere near as good.
That’s another bit of benchmarking for you – seems Sato-san has been doing his research and has modelled the LC’s exhaust note on the sound of a Maserati GT. Any more rivals he’d like to namecheck?
Apparently the BMW 6-series is ‘well balanced’, but there’s not much of a Jaguar F-type in the LC: ‘It’s very quick with agile response, but we don’t want to follow that sort of behaviour,’ he tells me.
Right. But back to that 911 – some might say a strange benchmark when the LC is ‘a contemporary interpretation of the grand tourer’.
Especially when this car is the first to use the new GA-L (Global Architecture Luxury) platform that will also form the basis for next year’s new LS saloon and every other rear-drive Lexus for years to come. But here’s the good news: the LC500 is really rather good – in a grand tourer rather than 911 kind of way. And Lexus clearly knows it, letting us loose on the Circuito Monteblanco in southern Spain.
Circuits and road-going GTs aren’t always happy bedfellows, but the V8 makes a decent fist of the twists, turns and short straights of Monteblanco, especially given the LC’s 1970kg kerb weight.
Keep the revs high and the engine punches you nicely out of the tighter corners, while the soundtrack gets increasingly intoxicating as the revs rise. With the car in Sport+ mode, there’s a little slip from the rear wheels before electronic aids rein you back, and in the Sport+ model, with its LSD and rear-steer, you can keep a tighter line through the bends and get the power on earlier to greater effect. You still need to keep the revs up, otherwise you’ll have to wait a moment too long for the full hit of power to arrive.
In manual mode, using the paddle-shifters, the ten-speed gearbox reacts quickly – the single multi-plate clutch performs on a par with a double-clutch gearbox, claims Lexus, but without the wear.
The first nine gears are evenly spread for more ‘rhythmic’ shifting (third and fourth cover the same bandwidth as third in the RC F’s eight-speed ’box) and sure enough you can punch swiftly through the gears with very little kick as the ratios swap. The final, tenth gear acts as an overdrive to calm everything down when cruising.
The steering could do with slightly sharper reactions and a bit more feel. There’s a slight dead spot just off-centre – probably to allow for the ‘sneeze factor’ on the autobahn – but after that it gives a nicely linear response to inputs, if not the feel to put you intimately in touch with the track. A 911 this is not. Sorry Sato-san.
Away from the track, the LC’s GT promise shines brighter. The double-joint wishbones at the top and bottom of the front suspension (angled slightly to move the cast-aluminium suspension towers inboard to help achieve that incredibly low bodywork over the wheels) and the multi-link rear provide a good balance of ride comfort and cornering balance in whichever mode you choose – Normal, Comfort, Eco, Sport or Sport+, with the last one just fine for us. Extra bracing around the engine bay mitigates the weight over the nose to good effect, too.
Keeping the revs high for the best response (and the best noise), it’s easy to strike up a rhythm through a series of bends on our test route in the Andalusian hills. Rewarding, too – for a grand tourer.
In true Lexus style, the LC is eerily quiet at a cruise (that tenth ratio undoubtedly helps) enabling you to experience the premium Mark Levinson audio system – or Pioneer unit (remember them?) on lesser models. The Takumi craftsmanship is evident throughout the cabin, nowhere more so than on the sweeping door panels, which feature what appears to be a floating handle – a minimalist delight.
Sadly, the dash and steering wheel are an ergonomic mess, with buttons littered about like popcorn on a cinema floor. The horns sticking out of the instrument binnacle, with controls for the driving modes on one side and the traction control on the other, look like the designers forgot to include a few more buttons elsewhere. Lexus would do well to benchmark BMW’s iDrive system for vehicle and infotainment controls.
The instrument display is rather more successful, with an LFA-style single circular dial that slides sideways to reveal further information on a TFT screen. Thankfully, that’s not the only thing that reminds us of the LFA. There is a little LFA magic about the way the LC intrigues and rewards. Like the LFA, it’s not absolutely perfect but, equally like the LFA, it’s an unlikely and tempting alternative to the more obvious choices.
Above: interior is beautifully finished but has some clumsy details – witness the controls protruding from the instrument binnacle. Right: main attraction is the 5-litre, 470bhp, naturally aspirated V8, which just loves to rev.
+ Glorious engine, rewarding chassis for a GT car
– Slightly numb steering, messy ergonomics
Power 470bhp @ 7100rpm DIN
Torque 398lb ft @ 4800rpm DIN
0-60mph 4.4sec (claimed)
Top speed 168mph (claimed)
Weight 1935kg (247bhp/ton)
Basic price £85,000 (est)
‘The Sport+ version’s limited-slip diff allows you to get the power on earlier and to greater effect’