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Lexus LC 500 vs LC 500h: Is the V8 or hybrid best?

There's a chance the styling of the Lexus LC has you salivating, but which model is best? We have driven the 500 V8 and 500h hybrid for hundreds of miles ─ here's what you need to know, including the price, handling and key differences between the two.

You may remember our Lexus LC review: first drive? If not, fret not. The Japanese manufacturer invited us back for another stint behind the wheel as part of the European launch, driving from Munich to Milan instead of around the countryside of Ibiza.

This provided us with about four hours of driving the hybrid on day one and even more time in the V8 the following day. Over that time we came to our original conclusion, that the V8 is exciting and loud and the hybrid altogether more sensible and good-natured.

But we also noticed just how different both models are, like Jekyll and Hyde or Sherlock and Watson, which got us thinking about how the cars stack up against each other. Because in truth the LC500 has no obvious external competitor.

Having driven the V8 LC 500 and hybrid LC 500h at various trim levels over a lot of miles and in various conditions, we therefore thought we would impart some of our findings. So you know what's what and why.

Lexus LC 500 vs 500h: What's different?

Let us start by introducing the two main differences between the 500 and 500h. The 500 is powered by a 5.0-litre V8 also used in the RC F and GS F. Total horsepower is 471bhp at 7,100rpm and torque is 398lb/ft (540Nm) at 4,800rpm.

The 500h, meanwhile, uses a combination of a 295bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol and an electric synchronous motor. Total engine output is rated at 354bhp and is available from 6,600rpm. Torque comes in at 348Nm at 4,900rpm.

Even with a power deficit of 117bhp, the V8 is only slightly faster because of the instant power delivery of the hybrid's electric motor. 0-62mph takes 4.7 seconds, a mere three-tenths slower than the V8.

There is more of a difference between the top speeds, although 155mph for the hybrid is almost as ridiculous on British roads as the V8's 168mph.

Another key difference is to do with the gearbox. In the V8 you get a 10-speed automatic that offers a very long tenth gear but has similar proportions and weight to the current eight-speed automatic in other Lexus cars.

The LC 500h's 'Multi Stage Hybrid System' is a little more complicated. Imagine a CVT and a four-speed auto held together by a metal pole. That is exactly what the transmission looks like, give or take some screws.

The 10-speed element comes from the fact the CVT offers three speeds and there are three gears plus a final 10th gear. 3x3 = 9+1=10 gears. Think of it as like a bicycle, with 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10 made possible by the equivalent of different sized cogs connected together.

A lithium-ion battery comprised 84 cells keeps the electric motor going. It is 20 per cent smaller than the nickel-metal hydride unit found in the LS and it lives between the rear seats and boot, which is why the 500h loses 20 litres of luggage potential.

Lexus LC 500 vs LC 500h: Performance & handling

By seating the driver low and having a high-up dashboard, the LC500 provides an intimate and purposeful cabin. Electric adjustability of the steering wheel and seats means you can hunker down and put your hips right where the centre of gravity is, enhancing the sporty feel.

Things only get better when you look through the steering wheel toward the dials, which are inspired by the LFA (including the fact they move sideways) and imply a sense that this is no ordinary Lexus. Compared with previous cars, the LC's cabin is much sportier and less confused.

Enough about aesthetics. Underneath the striking body is a front-mid engine arrangement that has a weight distribution of 51:49 in the 500h hybrid and 52:48 in the V8. The new GA-L platform provides the underpinnings, as it will in the forthcoming LS luxury cruiser.

LC is short for 'luxury coupe' and the luxury element is definitely noticeable when the LC starts to move. Both cars are very smooth and the gears change imperceptibly if you keep the revs down, while the size of the thing reminds you it is more of a grand tourer. You really have to think thin sometimes.

But a lack of body roll and the stiff chassis, coupled with a forgiving yet firm ride, make the LC 500 and LC 500h more sport tourers even though the lack of cabin noise suggests otherwise. Almost library levels of quiet are possible in the V8, which is partly because of the active exhaust system with electronic valves.

With a kerb weight as little as 1,935kg for the V8 and 1,985 for the hybrid, the LC is the antithesis of the sports car, although its lightweight steering and generous torque figures contribute to a sense of agility and eagerness that belies the physical proportions.

Push too hard into a corner and the wheels begin to understeer, but it takes some effort for the weight to spoil your efforts, especially when the beefy brakes let you scrub off speed efficiently. Like a lot of modern-day cars, you would need to be very brave to reach the limits on public roads.

The level of feeling from the front wheels is weak, admittedly, but the LC lets you know when you are pushing your luck that bit too hard in other ways, including through the hips and chassis, and that helps inspire confidence and makes it easier for the LC to entertain.

Lexus gave the hybrid a deliberately rhythmic engine noise as it changes gear, using a combination of a sterile CVT and a four-speed automatic to create ten gears. The result is a tedious drone that is comically out of place and particularly pleasant at mid and high revs.

Still, the 3.5-litre's grumble at very low revs is nice and though it sounds like the transmission is busy ignoring the accelerator pedal you do move forward with ample enthusiasm. It is just there are too many gears that the LC finds itself having to change too often.

With the V8, the speed is more immediate and the noise goes from angry and thunderous to a mid-range howl that gets noisier and noiser. Given that full power kicks in late, you find yourself pushing the engine hard even though the 10-speed can also be somewhat hesitant to play ball.

Not that you need to, because the LC 500 is rewarding at most speeds. Though less sharp than some of its nearest competitors, it still comes across as accomplished – a potent mix of opulence, style, performance and grand tour cruising.

Winner: Lexus LC 500

Lexus LC 500 vs LC 500h: Running costs, value and specs

Both the LC 500 and LC 500h cost the same amount as previously mentioned, which means there is more of a focus on what sort of character you want.

Lexus has deliberately kept the spec levels simple. There are only three paid extras (13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, head-up display and metallic paint) in addition to the three trim levels, which features the standard LC (also called Luxury), then Sport and atop the range is Sport Plus.

Your £76,595 for an LC gets you 20-inch wheels, 10-way power adjustable memory seats that are coated in semi-aniline leather and heated and vented, parking sensors, reversing camera, 10.3-inch navigation display, Pioneer audio, DAB digital radio and a glass roof.

Another £4,000 gets you 21-inch forged alloys, carbon fibre roof and huggier sports seats in Alcantara and leather with eight-way adjustability, memory function, ventilation and heating.

A Lexus LC Sport Plus will set you back from £85,895. For this you get a retractable spoiler, Alcantara roof headlining, sun visors, carbon fibre scuff plates and the Lexus Dynamic Handling System.

One of the three parts of Lexus Dynamic Handling is variable gear ratio steering, which basically reduces the sensitivity as you gain speed, dynamic four-wheel steering, which lets all four wheels steer, and a limited-slip differential for helping tame all those horses.

When it comes to efficiency, the 500 has a combined fuel economy figure of 24.6mpg on 20-inch alloys and 24.4mpg in 21s. We saw figures in the late teens during a mixture of fast driving, steep hills and equally as steep descents.

Being a hybrid means the LC 500h is significantly cheaper to run. The electric motor EV-only mode means you can complete shorter drives without using any fuel at all, while the combined fuel economy is 44.1 and 43.5mpg on 20 and 21-inch alloys, respectively.

A big-old V8 is obviously going to be dirtier, too, with CO2 emissions at 263g/km on 20s and 267g/km on 21s. The hybrid manages 145 and 148g/km on 20 and 21s, respectively, making it cheaper to tax.

The hybrid costs £200 in the first year, according to the current 2017 VED rates, and then £130 after that. Going V8 means £2,000 in the first year, then £140 a year. Because both models cost more than £40,000, they also incur the £310-a-year 'nice things tax' for five years.

It is a draw on specs and value, but the 500h is going to be much cheaper to run in the long run and less susceptible to any future eco-restrictions and charges that could well come into play as we head towards the cut-off date of 2040.

Winner: Lexus LC 500h

Lexus LC 500 vs LC 500h: Practicality & design

We have saved the design bit until last because neither car looks different beyond the 500 or 500h badge. That means the same aggressive front-end, the same wide stance and the same head-turning potential. For posing it is about as good as it gets.

But as we said earlier, the addition of the 500h's lithium-ion battery means losing 20 litres of boot space, taking it from 197 to 177 litres. About enough for two medium holdalls, but not a lot else.

With that said, the 2+2 arrangement means children or very small adults can sit in the back or you can use it as another area for luggage, which makes it more akin to the Audi TT.

Because there is no plug-in element of the 500h, it is no more or less convenient than the 500 V8. Simply fuel up at a petrol station as you would normally and away you go.

Winner: Lexus LC 500

Lexus LC 500 vs LC 500h: So which is best?

On paper the Lexus LC 500 is the clear winner because as a sports tourer it should go fast and the V8 and automatic gearbox do that better. There's more noise to get the blood flowing and with rear-wheel steering it becomes the best performer of the range.

Neither offers as much involvement as, say, a Porsche 911 or as much comfort as the aging BMW 6 Series. Even the F-Type, though about as heavy, provides more driver feedback and has more badge appeal.

Yet as a comfortable cruiser with an aggressive and accomplished edge, the LC is refreshingly different. It is as happy relaxing at 70mph on a motorway as it is blasting through the extremely tight corners of the Alps – although its width does provide the odd scary moment.

We doubt those who go for the LC 500h will be too upset because the annoying engine noise can be reduced at moderate pace and it is a much greener and cheaper car to run. Like the Mustang EcoBoost, if the looks are what you care most about you will be one happy customer.

But for petrolheads who want the LC at its most exciting and visceral, the choice is easy. Go V8. Or go home. Because with that engine it shines brightest ─ and ends up being nearly as exhilarating and sharp as it looks.

Overall winner: Lexus LC 500

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