Style, substance to fore in new Lexus

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The new Lexus LC500 - a boldly executed and deeply appealing luxury sports coupe. Photos David Thomson

There's every chance the latest LC500 could be the last throw of the V8 dice for Lexus. David Thomson sees if his lucky number comes up behind the wheel.

It's a quiet Sunday morning, somewhere in rural Otago, and two keen motoring types are out for a run in a very special Lexus.

It's an eye-catchingly sleek machine, but that's only part of what marks the LC500 out for attention. Equally memorably, the mighty and relentless punch of its 351kW/540Nm non-turbo five-litre V8 engine under hard acceleration is accompanied by a banshee howl that echoes off the hills as the vehicle flashes by.

The turn-around point for our there-and-back dash is a sportsground car park on the outskirts of the nearest small town. A small group gathered there have certainly heard us coming, as they are already looking our way as we power into view.

A couple of taps on the paddle shift gearbox elicit another of the LC500's aural party tricks - raucous barking downshifts - as I apply the brakes to scrub off speed before executing a neat 180-degree turn.

Official figures suggest that the LC500 will sprint from 0-100kmh in around 4.5 seconds when the most aggressive Sport Plus drive mode is engaged. That seems about right as we head back the way we came, tapping up through the gears this time, and letting the engine wind out to a little over 7000rpm in second.

There are plenty more gears to come by the way: 3rd, 4th and 5th, 6th and 7th, 8th and 9th. Even, presumably to outdo some German rivals with nine-speed transmissions, 10th. So many gears, in fact, that when left to its own devices, the LC500 will routinely skip two or three when shifting up and down under light to moderate throttle openings.

But this particular jaunt isn't about light to moderate throttle openings, or the kind of economy-focused driving that will see the test car achieve its 11.6l/100km standard cycle fuel economy return. Rather, it's about running for a time in Sport and Sport Plus modes, to taste the full performance on offer.

To be credible as a luxury grand tourer and sports machine, that performance must cover not only how the LC500 goes in a straight line, but also how it handles demanding twists and turns.

Tipping the scales at 1960 kilos and measuring more than 4.7m, the LC500 is too large and heavy to feel truly nimble. Rather than dance around corners, it muscles through them, albeit with an utterly surefooted aplomb. Helped by a clever rear-wheel steering system, it also provides all of the positive balance and characterful adjustability you'd expect from a powerful rear-drive coupe.

Ride quality is fairly firm in the most aggressive drive modes, but even in the comfort setting the test car made jiggly work of the gravel drive to my friend's place. Such are the trade-offs inherent in tuning the suspension for a sleek, performance-focused coupe.

Safely parked outside said friend's house after our intoxicating dash, it was time to pause and ponder the origins of this quite recent additional to the Lexus range.

Although launched only last year, the LC500 (and its much greener LC500h hybrid sibling) has its origins in a bold 2012 design, the LF-LC Concept.

Styled by a Lexus design team in California, this concept caused such a stir on the international motor show circuit that the green light was given for a production version.

The vital engineering underpinnings were provided by Japan, comprising most importantly the GA-L rear-drive luxury car platform (also used by the latest Lexus LS saloon), adaptive sports suspension, the first 10-speed automatic transmission to be fitted to a luxury car, and a powertrain choice between a new generation petrol-electric hybrid or the pure-petrol five-litre V8 fitted to the test car.

The V8 engine is actually a further development of the motor already seen under the bonnet of the Lexus RC F and GS F performance cars in 348kW/530Nm guise. Power and torque are increased marginally for the LC500, to 351kW and 540Nm respectively.

Whether Lexus will produce a successor to this engine as motoring becomes increasingly focussed on economy remains to be seen.

A steely determination to produce a road car that differed as little as possible from the show car in its appearance is one of the keys to the LC500's good looks. It is notably narrow-waisted, which is an element of show car styling that doesn't often make it to a production machine.

The exterior detailing is exquisite, with many subtly creased and scalloped panels, especially around the car's haunches. Clever door handles that sit flush against the panels, and the rear edges of the chrome-plated strips on the roof are, apparently, intended to echo the lines of a traditional Japanese samurai sword. A power-activated rear spoiler is the most obvious of several exterior features designed to improve the car's stability at speed.

Inside, the boot is shallow but adequate for a couple on a grand touring weekend away. The rear seats, of which there are two, offer limited accommodation. Our family's teenager scrunched in the back for a brief town run, and though not especially tall, he had to fold himself up to fit.

Of course, interior-wise, the LC500 is all about making the front of the cabin a special place to be. It is beautifully executed in this regard, with quality evident in all aspects of finish, right down to a hand-stitched leather steering wheel.

Standard features include a head-up display, and instrument cluster that changes what it displays when different drive modes are selected. Memory power seats, keyless entry and start, a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, 13-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio, radar cruise control, lane change assist, blind-spot monitoring and LED lights are also included in the standard specification.

There is a large centre display screen, but rather than being a touchscreen, it uses the Lexus remote touch haptic controller to scroll and select. Although improved over time, this system remains fiddly and unintuitive to use.

A couple of other foibles are the curious absence of heated and chilled seats on a $215,000 luxury car, and a valet function that somehow triggered on test, leaving me unable to open the boot until a friend with more advanced internet skills than I managed to find the unlocking solution on the web. The location of the drive mode controller - on the side of the instrument binnacle - is another curiosity that detracts from a driving position that has the fundamentals spot-on.

These small niggles are, in truth, quite easily forgiven, because the LC500 is such a commendable car in so many other respects. Above all else, it looks a million dollars, and delivers performance and a soundtrack to match.

 

Style, substance to fore in new Lexus
At a Glance

LEXUS LC500

For: Striking good looks, magnificent engine, fine handing

Against: Sometimes jiggly ride, unintuitive ICT interface

Verdict: A boldly executed and deeply appealing luxury sports coupe

SPECIFICATIONS

Price (as tested): $215,000

Engine: 4969cc 32-valve quad cam VVTi V8, maximum power 351kW@7100rpm, maximum torque 540Nm@4800rpm

Transmission: 10-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Safety: Not yet NCAP tested

Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 245/40 R21 front and 275/35 R21 rear tyres

Fuel and economy: 95 Octane or higher petrol, 11.6 litres per 100km on standard cycle, capacity 56 litres

Emissions: CO2 267g/km on combined cycle

Dimensions: Length 4770mm, width 1920mm, height 1345mm