2021 Lexus LC500 V8 review

An intoxicating exercise in automotive opulence

2021 Lexus LC500 review
Gallery18
8.0/10Score

Things we like

  • Charismatic naturally aspirated V8
  • Concept car styling
  • Lovely to live with

Not so much

  • Very heavy
  • Clunky infotainment
  • Interior storage

The Lexus LC500 is a car that trades on intangibles, rather than absolutes. As such, it’s a car that has never quite made sense on paper against the bevy of top-tier metal on offer at that end of town.

I must confess that when I was on the way to collect this concept-car-made-real, even I was wondering what the striking coupe could offer that perhaps a slightly dearer 992 Carrera could not.

And that’s the centre of the LC500 fallacy. It’s not as fast or as engaging at the limit as many of its more focused competitors, nor has it ever been the truly cushy cruiser that would see it admired as a bargain-priced Bentley. It instead falls somewhere in between, but it’s far from a master of none.

When listing rivals for the $194,757 flagship Lexus, it proves quite difficult to pinpoint where exactly it sits in the pantheon of performance cars.

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As you’ll find in the current issue of MOTOR, Andy Enright has pitted this bellowing 5.0-litre V8 super coupe against the $173,100 Jaguar F-Type P380 R-Dynamic and the $164,800 Mercedes-AMG E53. But cross-shoppers could also throw in the BMW 840i coupe ($207,900) and aforementioned Porsche 992 Carrera ($236,300) for good measure.

Hitting the starter button sees the 2UR-GSE flare into life as the digital tachometer reaches for the sky, occasionally rewarding you with a subtle ‘whipcrack’ at its peak.

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The all-alloy naturally-aspirated quad-cam 5.0-litre V8 boasts Yamaha-designed cylinder heads, titanium inlet valves and dual-length intakes; and is one of our favourite engines on sale today.

It feels integral to the car’s character and while you can get a V6 hybrid version for as near as much the same price, we can’t help but feel like you’d be losing much of what makes this big coupe so special.

For a car that may not make much sense on paper, things soon seem to coagulate as you drive down the road.

It feels solid, with a graceful interior that wraps around its occupants. Lexus is frequently critiqued for dated interior styling but I find there to be a utilitarian charm to them that throws the garish Germans, with their ambient lighting and brushed metal elements, into stark relief.

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The LC500’s cabin is still beautifully presented, with the asymmetrical door cards rising in front of you to join seamlessly with the sculpted twin-plane dashboard.

There’s something to be said for a beautifully engineered, well-laid-out cabin that still boasts physical buttons and switchgear for everything; and an interior that doesn’t fight for your attention against what’s going on through the windscreen.

The infotainment system may still be a bugbear for many, as Lexus persists with the much-maligned trackpad interface and while other models in the Lexus range have been updated with easier-to-use touchscreens, the LC500’s central display is mounted far beyond arm’s reach. The 2021 update, however, welcomely introduces Android Auto alongside Apple CarPlay compatibility.

On the whole, though, the exotic cabin does a good job of matching the space-age coupe’s exterior dramatics, but adds to your driving experience instead of distracting from it.

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There’s a stack of adjustability in the seat and steering column, and in my preferred settings – seat at its lowest, steering wheel at its closest – you sit low and close to the centre of the wheelbase.

In addressing the original LC’s here-nor-there dynamics, a large focus of the latest model update pertains to further refining of the suspension tune with a more rigid rear anti-roll bar fitted to increase turn-in response, the removal of approximately 10kg of unsprung mass and revised damping that has been given a longer and smoother stroke plus an optimised rebound stopper for increased compliance and road feel.

Around town, the big coupe festoons the most menial of errands and drives with a sense of occasion. The naturally aspirated 351kW V8 is an increasingly endangered species and something to be cherished today. It may lack the histrionic low-down warp-speed rush of its turbocharged contemporaries but prodigious linear mid-range grunt and a not-insignificant 540Nm of torque – peaking at 4800rpm – enable you to extract a higher percentage of the powertrain’s reserves more frequently than many a modern powerhouse. The variable gear ratio steering is typically Lexus, with a slightly doughy on-centre feeling that improves in precision once more lock is wound on.

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Peak power chasers will be reaching for the sky often as the V8's headline figure is delivered at a dizzying 7100rpm, shortly before the digital needle ricochets off the 7200rpm cutout and rewards you with an addictive crackling exhaust overrun.

The versatile 10-speed transmission’s logic is agreeable when left to its own devices and the short gear ratios down low have the desirable upper regions of the rev range well within reach at legal speeds around town.

On a twisty open road, taking paddles into your own hands, the rich driving experience grows more rewarding with speed, up to a point when it doesn’t.

There’s an elephant in the room, or perhaps beneath the LC500’s skin, as the swathes of visible carbonfibre belie a portly kerb weight of 1970kg. While high-end boutique carmakers often quote the notion that 'it’ll cost what it’ll cost', you get the sense that Lexus engineers settled on the ethos of 'it’ll weigh what it’ll weigh'.

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In the LC500’s most focused Sport+ mode, and manually shifting, the big and heavy beast does a good job of disguising its weight if you keep it keyed into the power band above 5500rpm. You will be abruptly reminded of its mass, however, should you ask too much of it and over commit to a corner. The electronic stability control intervenes abruptly as it works hard to contain more than two tonnes of precious metal and driver.

Dial it back to seven- or eight-tenths, and manually clicking up and down gears on a twisting hill route becomes near-spiritual, life-affirming stuff. And that’s where this brawny GT coupe works best.

Lexus’ latest update aims to refocus the LC Coupe’s identity crisis in the eyes of buyers. Its dynamic prowess still pales in comparison to the scalpel-sharp precision of a more expensive 911 but it was never going to steal away that buyer to start with.

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Spend some time with it and you’ll realise that it makes no dissimulation towards being an outright performance car, but it’s a tremendously engaging, rewarding and charming thing all its own.

We’re currently in one of the most transitory ages in motorcar history and it feels like cars have never been more homogenised, with niches of niches increasingly filled with ever more vehicle variants as buyers lust for more tech and more convenience.

In that context, the LC500’s intoxicating duality of futuristic styling and cosseting ownership experience, blended with some of the best aspects of old-school mechanical charm, is truly something to be celebrated.

There’s nothing quite like the Lexus LC500, and while that may have initially been its biggest criticism, we think it should be proudly and unapologetically heralded as its greatest strength.

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Lexus LC500 specs

Engine: 4969cc, V8, DOHC, 32v
Power: 351kW @ 7100rpm
Torque: 540Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 5.0sec (claimed)
Weight: 1970kg
Price: $194,757

8.0/10Score

Things we like

  • Charismatic naturally aspirated V8
  • Concept car styling
  • Lovely to live with

Not so much

  • Very heavy
  • Clunky infotainment
  • Interior storage

 

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