DO YOU KNOW what a Lexus LC500 is? Sure, some of you might be able to picture the car, and a smaller subset might even have an idea of the asking price, but I’d be surprised if many of you otherwise well informed readers could pin down exactly what sort of car it is other than a big coupe. And that’s it’s problem.
The old LC500 coupe always had a bit of an identity issue. For the most part, it was too aggro to be a properly wafty GT coupe, so never really cut it as a half-price Bentley Continental GT. On the other hand, there were plenty of rivals for its $200k asking price that were better at surgically dissecting a set of twisties. That it could do both tasks acceptably well wasn’t enough of a drawcard. Now Lexus offers the LC500 as a convertible.
Under the bonnet is the same 4969cc 32-valve V8. The same Yamaha-tuned cylinder head, dual-length intakes, titanium inlet valves. The same ability to switch between conventional Otto and efficient Atkinson cycles by holding the intake valves open during the initial stage of the compression stroke. In short, it’s a delightfully exotic piece of engineering and anything with this powerplant is fundamentally worthy. That’s a good start.
In order to assess a convertible, it helps to drop the roof and I’m not sure how to do this. It’s a point of pride among road testers that we can figure most things out, and there have only been two occasions in the last few years where I had to give up and consult the manual because I’d run out of ideas.
The first was trying to pair a phone to a Lexus LC500 when its bank of saved devices was full, sitting in a rainy car park in a slough of despond, wondering how MARTIN GRUNDLE IPHONE and six of his cohorts had this figured out and I didn’t. The second was trying to drop the hood on this LC500 convertible. What’s more, having seen the solution, I could have owned this car for a year and never figured out where the switch was.
After scouring every part of the console, lower dash, steering wheel, roof and even the infotainment system, the manual notes that the hood mechanism was located beneath the cushioned palm pad just aft of the track pad. To access it, you flick down a button on a rear sliding cubby, then hook your finger beneath the palm rest and flip it forwards, revealing the hood switch and the master switch for the windows.
So beautifully engineered are the chunky metal hinges that there’s zero play in it and the fit is so perfect that you’d never think the pad was a lid just by feel. It’s such a gloriously Lexus solution; slightly oddball but engineered like nothing else.
The four-layer hood itself takes a relatively brisk 15 seconds to raise or lower and operates at speeds of up to 50km/h, taking that moment of mild panic out of stop-light operations. It’s a relatively compact arrangement which allows for the packaging of roof, vestigial rear seats and 149 litres of boot space. Lexus claims that there’s 11mm less headroom for front seat passengers than the coupe, but even taller drivers won’t struggle for room here. The seats are mounted low, and there’s a stack of adjustability for both seat and steering column, but given the overall length of this rakish cabrio, your hip point, as a result, tends to be surprisingly far forward.
There’s not a great deal of storage space in the adventurously styled cabin, and both you and your passenger will have to fight over the modest single cupholder. Most of the touchpoints are extravagantly finished in leather and solid-feeling metal, although the fat column stalks feel disappointingly mainstream. The infuriating infotainment system at least now features smartphone mirroring so that you can bypass the worst excesses of its native interface. The 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo fitted is one of the best in any production car.
Hood up, road noise is insulated almost as well as the coupe. What’s more, the car looks pretty good with the roof up, the squat turret looking not unlike that of the old Aston Martin V8 Vantage drop top.
Hood down, the tiny rear wind deflector only works to around 60km/h so there is more buffeting than in some rivals, but a ‘Climate Concierge’ system knows when the hood is down and automatically directs warming air to your neck.
Stung by criticism from some quarters that the old LC was too firm for the GT role and too soft to be a convincing sportster, Lexus has revised the suspension setup. The heroic 21-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, extra rigidity in the rear anti-roll bar and reduction in unsprung weight would appear to focus the vehicle's dynamics a little more but Lexus has balanced that with a smoother damping stroke.
Use of aluminium componentry has removed weight from the suspension structures and Lexus has wisely traded that for additional chassis bracing. As a result, this drop top is acceptably stiff in torsion and ride quality in comfort mode is acceptable but never limo-like. At 2035kg though, you have some significant mass that needs shifting in any given plane.
Up the pace and body control goes to pieces a little, so switch into Sport S+, attempt to flick the gear lever into manual mode without snagging neutral and you can then ping up and down through the ratios with respectable composure. One advantage of a ten-speed box is that second gear will run into the 7200rpm redline at 108km/h, with third still legal in the 5000rpm+ fun zone.
It’s an acoustically rich engine, building seamlessly to an extravagant crescendo before butting the limiter with a staccato rat-a-tat more reminiscent of the GAU-8 cannon fitted into the front of an A-10 tankbuster. It’s a shame that peak power is reached within 100rpm of the redline, because you’ll find that rev limiter pretty often. Despite the aural payback, it never gathers speed at a truly hedonistic rate, so it feels eminently useable on road.
The Lexus LC500 Convertible emerges as something intriguingly removed from the mainstream. It’s charming, interesting and would be extremely easy to live with, thanks in part to Lexus’ after-sales care package. Ownership nets you three years of the new Encore Platinum Owner Benefits, which includes a pick-up-and-delivery for servicing and Lexus on Demand so you can just jump into another Lexus model at dealerships and major airports.
A good looking, charismatic convertible that’s effortless to drive and which runs a smoothing hand over the petty annoyances of car ownership? There’s a lot to like about this LC and what’s more, it might just make more sense than the coupe. Never thought I’d hear myself say that.
2021 Lexus LC500 Convertible specs
Engine: 4969cc, V8, DOHC, 32v
Power: 351kW @ 7100rpm
Torque: 540Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 5.0sec (claimed)