et’s start our look at the 2018 Lexus LC 500 with its signature grille, a design that has been the focus of attention for auto pundits since it first appeared on the 2013 GS.
“Love the LED taillights, headlight signature and for once, the grille,” says Road Test Editor Eric Weiner.
While the spindle grille looks like it’s off a ’61 Plymouth on Lexus SUVs and sedans (or like it’s off a ’58 Buick on the new LS), the big, bold, toothy hunk of chrome somehow fits this sport coupe, leading its sinewy, LFA-derived, Coke-bottle shape. The spindle is bent more severely in the middle, of course, because of the LC’s low hood.
The interior is a “handsome design that’s a notch less futuristic than the exterior,” Weiner thinks, though I usually find interior futurism can only go so far before it becomes annoying, especially in a driver’s car – like a piece of mid-century furniture that looks good, but feels uncomfortable.
While it took me a few drives to warm up to the post-modern-style dash, I found the heavily padded passenger’s knee-crash panel cool and distinctive. Lexus applies a heavy, thick bit of lacquer to carbon-fiber interior trim on the passenger side of the dash, virtually obliterating it. This appears to be the only significant application of carbon-fiber in the 4,280-pound coupe, though if our tester had been equipped with the Performance Package (it came with the Convenience Package and the Touring Package), it would have had a carbon-fiber roof panel.
Your Humble Servant found the center-screen touchpad best to be avoided, while Eric found it “a complete disaster, a nightmare to use. Especially frustrating is the split-screen function, where the outer screen always defaults back to the map even after switching to another page. This is true even when the main part of the screen also is showing.”
Weiner also criticized the interior for “one small cupholder” (see “1998 Porsche”), though he loves the fit and finish.
“Big swaths of Alcantara in the door cards work well with the real aluminum door handles and trim. Lots of leather, very little plastic. In black the LC has a subtlety to it, while the tan interior we’ve seen at auto shows really pops, suiting more flamboyant tastes.”
Those semi-futuristic dashboard controls include a driver-adjustable chassis and throttle. Beside the carbon-fiber roof, what our tester did not have because it did not come with the Performance Package was rear-wheel-steering, a variable-ratio steering rack, deployable rear wing, and Michelin Pilot Super-Sports in place of our car’s Bridgestone Turanza run-flats. It probably didn’t need all of that. Even with the run-flats, the LC 500 displayed a nice balance of good ride and handling characteristics.
Our local cloverleaf revealed subtle differences between the driver-selected chassis settings of “Comfort,” “Sport” and “Sport+.” Even Sport+ provides a nice ride-handling tradeoff, as if all the good that’s left BMW has seeped into the DNA of Toyota-Lexus’ rare sporting models. Each setting provides a bit more compliance at-speed on ramps, which in the case of those like Exit 69, have quickly repaired piecrust expansion strips able to send a go-kart-suspended car skating. Even with its 21-inch wheels, our Lexus LC 500 felt planted, staying on-course as we hit the bumps that seemed to grow like weeds just past the apex of the southbound on-ramp.
Beginning first with “Comfort” mode, I feel the impending understeer, with “Sport” and “Sport+” tightening it up without feeling crashy over Michigan’s infamous roads. The two sport modes also weigh up the steering.
The sport modes make themselves more obvious in the way they hold the 10-speed’s lower gears if you don’t chose to shift yourself. This becomes most obvious in stop-and-go, 45-mph traffic, especially when starting out in “Eco.” This is one of the few manumatics that has enticed me to use the paddle shifters, which provide crisp, aggressive shifts in “Sport” and “Sport+,” though the paddles are attached to the steering wheel, so choose your gear before you turn in. With 417 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque on tap, the LC’s 5.0-liter V-8 gets nice and throaty the higher it revs, and you’ll want to grab for as many one- or two-gear downshifts as possible.
“Good Lord, does the engine sound glorious,” Weiner adds. “Beefy and purposeful at low rpm and positively unchained and alive at higher rpm. The 10-speed is up to the task, always downshifting into the correct gear as I braked hard – great brakes – into corners. But gears one through seven feel too tall, while eight, nine and 10 are all highway gears with overdrive. I usually just manually shifted with the expensive-feeling magnesium paddles, for the best experience.”
So what exactly is the 2018 Lexus LC 500, and should you buy one? Weiner compares it with the Mercedes-AMG GT, though “not as aggressive, twitchy, or up to its performance task, but it’s very predictable and easy to drive fast.”
AMG GT, might be a bit lofty, though. Perhaps it’s closer to the Mercedes-Benz SL’s segment, or even the BMW 6 Series Coupe that will soon become the 8 Series. That’s not at all a bad thing. Like the Benz and the Bimmer, the LC is a car you can drive fast, comfortably, even if nine out of 10 buyers choose them to look good instead of to feel quick.
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