Bravo, Lexus. While many try, few carmakers are able to shepherd a model along the road from show-stopping concept to road-going sculpture quite the way Lexus has managed with the 2017 Lexus LC 500.
Too many concept cars are presented to the world as a beautiful butterfly before transitioning to production form as a hairy caterpillar. Not this one.
Lexus' LF-LC concept car was the star of the last Australian International Motor Show hosted by Sydney in 2012, when California-based designer Edward Lee told TMR the LF-LC was not a potential production car, but a beacon of style intended to make people emotionally attracted to Lexus.
It's fair to say the concept car met its target.
Vehicle Style: Large Coupe
Price: Approximately $200,000 (plus on-road costs),
Engine/trans: 351kW/540Nm 5.0 litre V8 petrol (LC 500), 220kW/348Nm (+44kW) 3.5 litre V6 petrol-hybrid (LC 500h) | 10sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: TBC
Lexus' new flagship LC 500 coupe is a stunner, bringing proportions and details that stay true to the original ideal.
Its shape necessitated innovation from engineers working hard to execute exquisite LED headlights that are physically the shallowest of their kind, relying on a new 'contact lens' to focus their gaze on the road, while the tail-lamps' beguiling depth is achieved through an infinity effect made possible by one-way mirrors - a detail that emerged in the original LF-LC concept.
While it is a little taller and narrower than its concept cousin, the LC is still a large car that trips the scales just under two tonnes.
An incredibly important car for the company, it represents the brand's future in both design and engineering, as its all-new chassis will form the core of rear-wheel-drive luxury sedans ranging from the BMW 3 Series-rivalling Lexus IS to the full-sized Lexus LS; a Mercedes S-Class alternative.
ON THE ROAD
The new platform places the engine behind the front wheels in a similar midship arrangement to the Mercedes-AMG GT, using a blend of high-strength steel and composites to offer the stiffest bodyshell in Lexus' history. Clever suspension packaging allows the coupe to retain slinky bodywork and pumped-up 21-inch wheels while maintaining the level of ride comfort expected from Lexus, as well as poise we haven't seen from the brand since its $800,000 V10-powered LFA supercar ceased production in 2012.
Koji Sato, chief engineer for the LC, worked closely with LFA's project leader to perfect the new model over a process reportedly three times more thorough than the average gestation for a new Lexus. The new car's steering and V8 exhaust represent the most evident areas of collusion between the pair, as the LC 500 has crisp, well-weighted and accurate steering unlike any Lexus I've driven, as well as its fruitiest engine note in years.
The new LC will be available in two forms when it arrives locally in the second quarter of 2017, the 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 and 3.5-litre V6 hybrid LC 500h that both drive the rear wheels through 10-speed automatic transmissions.
Normally at home under the bonnet of the RC F coupe and GS F sedan, the V8 makes 351kW of power at a stirring 7100rpm and 540Nm at a less-impressive 4800rpm. Not interested in sacrificing throttle response and aural pleasure for the sake of power or economy, Sato's crew shunned the trend for turbocharging while focusing on how the engine makes you feel.
Blessed with a soaring soundtrack and linear torque curve, the LC 500 has a feel-good factor to rival the likes of Porsche's 911 or Maserati GranTurismo, by no means overpowered models that offer adequate thrust in easily decanted quantities.
While it won't smear black lines on the road like vegemite on buttered toast the way a Mercedes-AMG might, the Lexus' predictable and rewarding qualities lend more confidence than some German rivals, particularly on damp roads. The big coupe feels incredible on the open road, soaking up miles at a determined clip while the V8 sings its perfect tune.
That motor's Aisin-sourced 10-speed transmission - a first for a luxury car - is well-coupled to the high-revving motor, extending the engine's reach with close-stacked ratios that are a pleasure to negotiate via solid magnesium shift paddles.
Perfectly innocuous around town in its Normal drive mode, the LC 500 comes alive in a Sport + setting that blips the throttle gratuitously with every downchange, ripping through up shifts with a pleasant little thump that reminds you of the forces at play.
Overdriven in its top three gears, the LC 500 is whisper-quiet at a cruise, using around 10.8L/100km and 1400rpm at a 120km/h cruise on Spanish highways.
Able to reach 100km/h in 4.7 seconds, the V8 is easily the driver's pick in the LC range, as it is lighter, punchier and more responsive than the underwhelming hybrid driveline of the LC 500h.
Combining Toyota's long-serving 220kW 3.5-litre V6 with a 44kW hybrid motor similar to that used in other Lexus hybrids, the LC500h brings true innovation in the form of a new transmission that combines an electronic variable-ratio CVT unit with a four-speed automatic transmission intended not quite successfully - to eradicate the elastic-band sloppiness of continuously variable transmissions.
Presenting in practical form as a 10-speed proposition, the unit operates in a similar form to a nine-speed bicycle with the CVT serving as a front derailleur that offers low, medium and high-range ratios for three of the four-speed automatic's gears, reserving the fourth ratio as an overdrive for high-speed cruising.
In any case, the hybrid driveline is slower, sounds ordinary and lacks the V8's intimate connection between the throttle and rear axle while weighing significantly more than its conventional rival. Sato-san says the V8 is the pick of the pair, and Lexus Australia expects up to 80 per cent of customers to choose the V8.
As they should.
Australian customers should also tick the option box for the LC 500's enhancement pack, which elevates an already gorgeous cabin into exotic car territory. Cloaked in semi-aniline leather, rich Alcantara and deep-pile carpets, the Lexus feels more like a Ferrari than a Japanese luxury car, deeply impressing with its combination of materials and execution.
TMR FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Lexus has not finalised Australian prices and specifications for the LC, though a V8 model with all the gear is likely to sit on the dear side of $200,000.
That's a lot of money, though it's justified by the design and thoughtfulness wrapped up in the car.
Built in the same Motomachi factory as the now-defunct LFA, the LC is the work of elite Takumi, the Japanese term for masters of their craft who have dedicated their lives to the attention to details necessary to tackle the world's best luxury cars.
It's a seriously impressive car, this, one that holds Lexus in good stead for coming years. Bravo, indeed.
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