There are plenty of parallels between Lexus and a musical one-hit wonder.
Despite years of toil and a large body of work including highs (original LS; IS-F) and lows (ES; CT), the creation of one masterpiece has proved a blessing and a curse.
The LFA supercar showed the dizzying heights the company is capable of, yet continues to cast a shadow over Lexus’s performance offerings as enthusiasts wait for a model that offers a taste of the LFA magic without the $1million price tag.
Recently, however, there have been encouraging signs. The RC F isn’t without its charms, the GS F is a refreshingly different take on the sports sedan genre and it’s pleasing to report the new LC 500 continues this upward trend.
Based on the LF-LC concept car, first revealed at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, the LC 500 is Lexus’s new flagship. At $190,000 it might not be the most expensive model in the range, but in terms of design, technology and dynamics it’s intended to push the boundaries, providing a halo effect and altering the perception of Lexus.
It certainly looks the part. The bold design is likely to split opinion equally between love and hate, but it does look better in the metal and has real presence – you certainly won’t mistake it for anything else.
It’s quite a large car – it’s wider than and almost as long as a BMW 6 Series – but the LFA-like proportions, broad stance and 21-inch wheels hide its size well. According to assistant chief engineer Takashi Watanabe, the LFA provided packaging lessons crucial in retaining the concept car looks and improving weight distribution.
The LC is the first car built on Lexus’s new GA-L (Global Architecture-Luxury) platform, which will underpin all future front-engine, rear-drive products. Lexus claims the LC is the most torsionally rigid car it’s ever built; yes, even stiffer than the carbon LFA.
There’s extensive use of high-strength steel, aluminium panels with carbon-fibre inners and an optional carbon-fibre roof, however at 1935-1970kg (depending on specification) the LC 500 is still extremely heavy.
Lexus vigorously defends the car’s weight, saying the outright figure isn’t as important as where the mass is located (weight distribution is 51:49 front-to-rear), but the fact remains this rear-drive, atmo 2+2 coupe is heavier than the all-wheel drive, twin-turbo Porsche Panamera Turbo sedan.
Nonetheless, Lexus is right. At no point during the drive, not even on the sweeping curves of Phillip Island, does the LC 500 feel like a two-tonne car. It’s surprisingly easy to place, helped by steering that has shed the on-centre dead spot of the RC F and GS F.
Grip levels are strong, as are the brakes, and there’s adjustability in the chassis. Lift the throttle with the car heavily loaded through PI’s tricky turn two and the nose tucks in sharply – despite its heft, this is an enjoyable car to drive on track.
The $15,000 Enhancement Package adds all-wheel steering, leather/Alcantara sports seats, an active rear spoiler and bi-modal exhaust in addition to the aforementioned carbon roof, however we’d probably trade the sharper responses of the all-wheel steering for the more natural feel of the standard car.
The biggest complaint regards the ESP system, which is either on or off with no Sports mode to be found. It doesn’t kill the fun completely but once awoken it savagely restricts power until it deems the situation safe once more.
On a bumpy road it’s more of a hindrance, constantly activating as the LC’s stiff suspension setup has it hopping and jinking around. Body control is good but even in the softest damper mode the ride quickly gets tiresome on rougher stretches, surely not helped by the giant 21s wrapped in stiff-sidewalled run-flat tyres.
But if the chassis setup is more sports car than GT, then the fact the engine is too makes it less of an issue. The 5.0-litre V8 is lifted from the RC F, albeit tweaked for a little more torque, and it’s a great engine.
It’s not massively powerful, but few will find complaint with the LC 500’s speed and none will fault the noise. The new 10-speed auto keeps the engine on song and delivers both cracks from the exhaust on upshifts and theatrical V8 barks on downshifts – it sounds epic.
Combine this characterful drivetrain with sharp dynamics, head-turning looks and a classy, high-quality interior and this is the finest ‘regular’ fast Lexus yet. It won’t be for everyone, but there’s substance beneath the style.
The LC 500 is not a smash hit like the LFA, but it definitely deserves a spot on the charts.
Good: Drivetrain; interior; price
Bad: Ride; weight; ESP
Engine: 4969cc V8, DOHC, 32v
Power: 351kW @ 7100rpm
Torque: 540Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)