“Love the sound of that V-8!”
“Really like the handling!”
“This thing is a beauty!”
It was all high-fives for the Lexus LC 500 from the boys at M1 Concourse, Michigan’s premiere auto-enthusiasts club, after I brought it out for a few track laps. Yes, Lexus.
For 30 years Toyota’s luxury car brand has impressed with its cold efficiency, reliability and affordability. But it has never stirred the loins. Whetted the lips. Tickled the irrational heartstrings of lust like its American, German and English competitors. Until now.
The LC 500 strutted down the catwalk at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show as the ultimate show car. Tri-LED front headlights, curvy hips, 21-inch wheels. Now it’s stepped down to mingle among us. Unlike its 2010, $350,000 LFA predecessor (edition of just 500), the LC 500 is a true, $100,000, showroom-production sports car priced to take on the best rear-wheel drivers in the game: Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type, Corvette Z06.
Some might quibble with that athletic list, preferring that the sumptuous, scale-crushing, 4,380-pound LC500 be compared to Mercedes AMG SL63 or BMW M6 chariots which also tip the scales at over two tons. But slip inside the LC 500 and the first thing you notice are the two huge “oh-crap” handles on either side of the passenger seat.
Sure, the red leather heated and cooled seats are decadent thrones. And the red alcantara lining of the doors looks like it came out of the Queen of England’s bedroom. And the analog clock seems ripped from a Rolls.
But those twin handles are straight out of the Corvette Z06 track monster. They are a warning that the LC wants to boogie.
Heavy it may be (the quiet interior seems as insulated as a bank vault), but Lexus has baked this soufflé with all the right ingredients: stiff tub, aluminum body, carbon-fiber roof. And a big, honkin’ V-8.
Turn the key and the beast awakens. With an annoyed gurgle, the eight-holer growls to life like a hungry lion. It’s not the obnoxious, car-alarm triggering bark of an F-Type, but it means business. Sweeping through M1’s Turn 3 and 4, the Lexus’ Michelin Pilot Super Sports stick. Big Brembo brakes haul it to earth into the hairpin, then the car rotates (with an assist from rear-steering) on a dime and thunders down the back straight as I flick off lightning shifts from the 10-speed automatic.
The car’s girth is noticeable — it weighs as much as the Dodge Hellcats in M1’s track-school fleet — but this is no boulevard cruiser. If you buy it, track it. M1 instructor and pro racer Aaron Bambach smiled the whole way ’round in his stint, the V-8 howling.
As its first entry in the flagship sports-car space, Lexus has brought a lot to the table. Some of it is undercooked.
The 10-speed is the first in the luxury space, and only the second on the market after the jointly developed, GM-Ford cog-swapper that debuted this year in the Chevy Camaro ZL1 and Ford F-150 Raptor. Like the Camaro, the single-clutch Lexus deca-box snaps off upshifts with the speed of a dual-clutch Porsche PDK. Downshifts use smooth rev-matching.
But the in the lower ratios, the LC500 is not as confident as the Chevy. Downshifts will sometimes happen with a clunk. Out of a stoplight, the car hesitates as the CPU seems to ponder which ratio to engage.
I engaged a playful 455-horse, 8-speed automatic Camaro SS on Telegraph, and the two V-8s in stereo were glorious. But out of green lights, the Lexus was a tick slower despite 16 more horsepower and two more gears. Sure enough, a check of Car and Driver’s zero-60 tests finds the Lexus lags the Camaro to 60 mph – 4.4 seconds versus 3.9. And the SS is less than half the price.
The Camaro invites other comparisons. Both cars locate their V-8 boat anchors well back in the front bay for weight balance with the Lexus achieving an impressive 52/48 split. With its shorter, 108-inch wheelbase, the Lexus rear seats, however, make the Camaro seem roomy. As in the Porsche 911, think of the LC 500 rears as more luggage space.
As for interior display panels, the Lexus takes a back seat to the competition. The instrument screen is clever — the analog speedometer movable depending on how much information you want — but digital systems from Audi and Tesla are vastly superior.
The infotainment system in the LC 500’s case is operated by a touch pad — not the mouse as found in, say, a Lexus GS sedan — but it is equally unworkable. Trying to negotiate the screen when parked is difficult; when moving it’s a road-distraction nightmare. Mrs. Payne tried operating it from the passenger seat and threw her hands up in frustration.
I distracted her by burying the throttle through some twisties so she’d grab the “oh,crap” handles. Which nicely summarizes the LC 500 experience. Whatever its shortcomings — weight, gear hiccups, infotainment — the LC is always forgiven given its looks and sound.
Pictures don’t do the LC 500 justice. Lexus’ polarizing spindle grille has been awkward on many vehicles, especially the huge bug-catchers on the RX and NX utes. But on the LC it’s an extension of the car’s flowing lines. The coupe’s sexy hips define this car, not the grille. Only the pinched rocker panels disrupt the car’s flow, but they are complemented by functional inlets for rear brake cooling.
The defining characteristic of this car, however, is the V-8.
In an age when engine displacement is under attack from government nannies, the LC 500 is a reminder of what a V-8 soundtrack adds to the sports-car experience. A turbocharged V-6 with 600-plus horsepower is expected for the LC’s imminent, top-trim F-Sport model. But sometimes numbers aren’t enough when you’re putting down six figures on a performance automobile.
Feel your pulse quicken when an F-Type lights up. Or the ground shake when a Z06 hammers by. With its libidinous form and V-8 purr, the Lexus will be loved, not just admired.
That’s a high-five for the Lexus brand. Now if we can just get it on a diet.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2018 Lexus LC 500
Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger
(that’s being optimistic) sports car
471 horsepower, 398 pound-feet torque
0-60 mph, 4.4 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 168 mph
EPA est. 16 mpg city/26 mpg highway/19 mpg combined
Lusting for Lexus; a passionate, V-8 apex-carver
Maddening touch pad infotainment controller;
10-speed tranny slow off the line
Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★