The Lexus LC has a unique personality but the V8 and hybrid couldn’t be less alike if they tried, as Ben Griffin found out on a grand tour from Munich to Milan.
A mixture of sleep-deprived and over-confident motoring journalists and precision logistics means something almost always goes wrong on a car launch. Fortunately for Lexus, it was Mother Nature who was to blame for interrupting the European drive of the LC ‘luxury coupe’.
The original plan was to drive from Milan to Munich through the Alps, with some picturesque food stops along the way. Lexus logsitics people had decided the British journalists would use the 500h hybrid on day one and the 500 V8 on day two, the opposite of the Polish and Czech contingent.
Because our flight landed the evening before, we were reasonably fresh for the drive from Munich airport (where incidentally some sort of Audi R8 driving event was going on). Luke warm pastries were consumed, PowerPoint presentations presented, keys handed out.
We let Lexus choose our hybrid model, which ended up being a bog-standard LC 500h in a dark metallic blue. To be honest, anything but the yellow and white we had previously driven in Ibiza was preferable and it was useful to see what a base spec car was like.
Once seated inside, it became immediately apparent this is a car that has been well-thought out. The interior is less confused than your typical Lexus and the dials of the LFA supercar provide a reminder Lexus is no stranger to high-speed motoring, while the electrically adjustable seats let you hunker down until your hips match the centre of gravity.
Our journey began on the German Autobahn, a road famous for its lack of a speed limit. Relatively heavy traffic kept us at a sensible pace, during which the 500h proved remarkably quiet, with the electric motor handling stop and start pace in blisfully quiet fashion as two lanes merged into one.
We began to notice the suspension is more rigid than in some grand tourers, yet the LC never makes a meal of road imperfections. Even at high speeds, it remains settled and unphased – without the retractable spoiler on the top-spec Sport Plus trim level providing a little extra down force.
Lexus engineered the suspension to offer more vertical movement than lateral in an effort to combine comfort and rigidity and you can tell that is the case. Although the real test will be in the UK, where our aging road network is much less forgiving.
On paper, the LC 500h offers up 155mph (167mph for the V8) and as the road emptied it was time to see what it could do. Having switched to Sport+ mode, we felt the car become more willing to maximise all 354bhp, 295 of which comes from a 3.5-litre V6.
It is at this point that we remembered why the 500h struggled to impress. A combination of a CVT, four-speed automatic and a deliberately rhythmic rev pattern through all 10 gears makes for a dreary, repetitive noise that is often at odds with the level of forward motion, making the combined effect somewhat off-putting.
Luckily progress is brisk if a little flat because of the linear torque curve, which makes the 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds believable. Soon we had broken 100kmh and were on the way to 200kmh before the LC’s eagerness started to trail off.
Unfortunately for us, the point at which we hit our top speed was exactly where the Autobahn met a hill. Despite practically pushing the accelerator through the floor, the digital dial stuck 6mph shy of full whack. 149mph (240kmh) was our best effort.
Not long after we peeled off the dual-carriageway as we headed towards Austria and the village of Plansee, where we used the stunning Lake Heiterwang as a backdrop for a brief attempt at photography. Here the winding countryside roads revealed the LC 500h’s more playful side.
Despite weighing up to two tonnes and only slightly less in V8 form, the LC is able to grip hard and efforts to provide controlled flex in the chassis ensure predictable handling traits, which inspired us to go faster. It is only when braking in the big-old 2+2 do you remember how big and heavy it is.
By mounting the engine at the back of the front, Lexus has given the LC a balanced 51:49 weight distribution (52:48 in the V8). That and a low centre of gravity, deliberately placed at hip-level, helps the LC communicate what is going on better than the light steering initially suggests.
Having opted to get the photoshoot of the car done before alpine debris made it much less shiny, we had unknowingly timed our journey perfectly. A loud and ominous grumble somewhere in the distance made us look up from our camera’s viewfinder.
As it turns out, what we had thought little of at the time was actually the sound of quite a lot of rock falling down a mountain, blocking the carefully planned route we needed to follow. With other cars already having to turn round, Lexus was quick to pull us in for a satnav adjustment.
Heading back to Germany on a different road towards the stunning Schloss Neuschwanstein tower, a place that would look at home in a Disney movie, we were able to pick up the pace and see what happens at the edge of grip, which turned out to be easily controllable understeer.
Our lunch stop was the Ludwigs Festpielhaus, which is a theatre and arts centre built in the 90s that lives next to the considerably older Forggensee lake and opposite the Schloss Neushwanstein. Sadly there was little time to enjoy the veal burgers so we jumped back into the 500h and trundled on towards our hotel stop-over in Switzerland.
Even after hundreds of kilometres and towards the end of our journey, the 500h never once felt uncomfortable. Nor did it ever drop below sensible fuel economy figures in the mid-twenties upwards, making us believe that it could achieve somewhere near the 44.1mpg combined.
But we always felt inclined to keep the hybrid in Comfort mode to ensure the revs stayed low and less obtrusive. The price you pay for being green is high in LC land – too high in our humble opinion.
At least, that is, if you ignore the aesthetics. Multiple road users attempted to video the car and there was one point where we almost had to peel someone’s face off the passenger window because they were so interested in the thing. V8 or not, the attention it gets is abnormally high for any car and that will be enough for some buyers.
Five hours, 500km later and 5,000 stares later, we made our way up the lengthy drive of the Waldhaus hotel in Flims. We stepped out of the car as if we had just driven to the shops, testament to how comfortable the LC is and what an impressive job the engineers have done.
But our drive had only heightened the desire to get back to the V8.
V8 for the win
Presumably, there was some sort of beautiful sunrise over the nearby mountain range, but our plan was to maximise both our sleep and pain au chocolat intake before embarking so we left around 9:30 am. Having asked for a grey car, we ended up in something black with red leather.
Though the wrong colour for a variety of reasons, almost all of which to do with filming, we quickly decided this was one of the better combinations. Properly stiking, in fact. As luck would have it, we were also in the Sport+ model, which meant rear-wheel steering and a retractable spoiler.
The latter proved somewhat redundant at the speeds we could reach on public roads, but the Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS), as Lexus calls it, provided a reassuringly direct turn-in and the edge of grip is harder to reach.
Coupled with the V8 noise (it’s the same engine in the RC F and GS F) and active exhaust system, which has electronically controlled valves to manage the volume, making progress through the winding hills of Julier Pass was exhilarating and loud in equal measure. The sort of traits you expect from a proper grand tourer.
The 500 V8’s acceleration is that much more savage, even though it is only three-tenths faster from 0-62mph, and the roar is so fierce that driving like an idiot comes way too naturally. You would have to be an accountant to find the V8 Sport+ boring on the right roads.
There are some niggles, mind you, such as the 10-speed automatic transmission, which can be a bit slow to react and sometimes the manual shift appears to ignore your commands. But then the Sport and Sport+ modes are a good enough fix because they hold onto gears with the sort of enthusiasm a Jack Russel has for a tennis ball, providing the maximum output of 471bhp almost all the time.
Because of the earlier rock slide, we ended up being one of relatively few cars to actually make it to the lunch stop, which was at a restaurant that has managed to hold a Michelin star since 1997. As much as we wanted seconds of the local frusili dish though, which was the strongest shade of purple known to man, it was time to make our way to Milan airport.
This was easier said than done because, as it turns out, cyclists have zero spatial awareness in Europe and having to keep the LC’s colossal 1,920mm width from pushing other cars over the edge proved somewhat tiresome.
As the mountain roads continued to provide horseshoe corners, fatigue started to raise its head and so we dropped the LC back into Comfort to give the V8 time to unwind. Even though it is a loud engine that gets louder and more potent as you approach the red line, it settles down to an almost inaudible state and that makes it almost as preferable as the hybrid for long journeys.
This is especially true with the Mark Levinson 13-speaker system – one of only three paid upgrades, the other two being metallic paint and a head-up display – which can easily drown out tyre and wind noise (of which there is little in the first place) but it isn’t the best sound system we have heard.
With the prospect of more boring dual-carriageway cruising nudging closer, we decided to focus on the Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS), another element of the Sport+ package. The idea is that it becomes less sensitive to steering input as the speed increases.
In theory, the system sounds obtrusive and unnecessary. In practice, however, it feels natural, with the front tyres able to provide enough feedback to let you know when to ease off, but also ensures there is no need to perform micro-steers to stay straight at higher speeds.
As we approached Milan airport, we found ourselves thinking more highly of the LC. Where the 500h had provided competent but sterile motoring, the V8 gave us a memorable experience. Enough to hook us, but also with some reservations of how smooth it will be in old Blighty.
The closest thing to the LFA?
As we said before in our first drive, those expecting an LFA 2.0 will be disappointed. The LC is a sporty grand tourer with seats in the back for people without legs and sharp styling. The LFA was a V10 monster of a supercar that cared more about setting lap times.
But with the V8 and Sport+ package in tow you end up with a genuinely exhilarating car that sits in its own space – somewhere between a BMW 6 Series, Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type. Just different enough to avoid harsh scrutiny yet pleasing and visually exciting enough to make it worth considering.
If anything, we should count our blessings the LC exists at all. With the UK’s 2040 combustion engine ban on the horizon, big V8s will only become less common and new cars will have to be electrified in one way or another. That potentially makes the LC 500 a fond farewell. But it’s also more than that.
We were seated next to Toyota vice president of Europe, Alain Uyttenhoven, during our evening meal at the Waldhaus restaurant. Besides chatting about skiing, Brexit and Call of Duty, we asked about when we will see a true LFA replacement and what it would entail.
“It may not be a supercar at all,” he said diplomatically, before suggesting it would likely be a “different” proposition altogether. We suggested an electric supercar would make the most sense given the way the industry is heading, which he admitted was a “possibility”.
With that in mind, it appears the LC is the closest thing to the legendary LFA your Brexit-damaged pennies will ever be able to buy. A somewhat depressing thought? In some ways, yes. But at least the LC does considerably more right than wrong. If you pick the right model, of course.