Lexus pushes passion, performance with debut of LC 500

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Toyota Motor Co. CEO Akio Toyoda doesn’t like plain vanilla. Not when it comes to car design, anyway. He’s been trying to spice things up at Toyota and its sibling brands, and if the new Lexus LC 500 is any indication, the grandson of Toyota’s founder is finally getting what he’s been asking for.

The long-awaited production version of the Lexus LF-LC Concept coupe is making its long-awaited debut at the 2016 North American International Auto Show, and according to the Japanese luxury maker, the sports coupe is “the strongest statement yet about Lexus’ future product direction.”

But the LC 500 is more than just a styling exercise. The 2-door offers plenty of cutting-edge technology and, for a brand that has traditionally been focused on high-mileage hybrids, it shifts focus to performance, with a 467-horsepower V-8 under its sculpted hood.

The first thing you’re likely to notice about the LC 500 is the way it picks up on the distinctive — if controversial — Lexus spindle grille, here given a mesh 3D treatment and then framed by slit-like LED headlamps. The coupe’s long hood flows into a steeply raked windshield. The roofline, in turn, wraps into an abbreviated, high rear deck. The standard roof, incidentally, is glass, but buyers will be offered an optional carbon-fiber top.

The overall look of the 2017 Lexus LC 500 is low, wide and a bit menacing. The four-seater measures 187.4 inches, nose-to-tail. It’s 75.6 inches wide, and 53 inches in height.

Inside, there’s a driver-oriented cockpit layout, with a low seating position. To deliver a “seductive atmosphere,” Lexus says it focused heavily on details such as the size and angle of the steering wheel, the feel and positioning of the magnesium alloy paddle shifters, and the use of leather and Alcantara.

Traditionally, Toyota and its various brands have put engineering in the forefront, often forcing designers to compromise on their vision. With the LC 500, Lexus rethought that approach.

“Design and engineering sides worked together on issues and obstacles that were overcome one by one. I feel we achieved something greater than simply preserving the spirit of the concept’s design,” said Chief Engineer Koji Sato.

The Lexus LC 500 is the first car to use the brand’s new premium rear-wheel-drive luxury platform. Much of the development effort focused on keeping the platform low and well centered. The result is a front mid-ship layout with the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 punching power through a 10-speed automatic gearbox to the rear wheels — the first ever, Lexus notes, in a luxury automobile.