LEXUS LC 500 COUPÉ

Lexus is no stranger to radical design. Their concept cars have always shown bold new styling directions intended (eventually) for their road cars, and the LF-LC, which ultimately spawned the LC 500, was no exception.

Shown first in 2012, the Lexus Future Luxury Concept could have been just another design study from which designers could draw inspiration, here and there. With the exception of a handful of minor changes, the LC 500 debuted as a production model at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Credited as the brainchild of Toyota Motor Corporation president, Akio Toyoda, the LC 500 is a flagship production coupé that echoes the spirit of the hand-built Lexus LFA supercar, which also brings to the LF-LC concept to life in stark sincerity.

AGENT PROVOCATEUR

Creating a production car out of a pure concept – such as the Lexus LF-LC – is not as simple an exercise as one might think. In the case of the LC 500, Lexus needed to establish an entirely new development process combining design and engineering disciplines as never before at the company.

From this process flowed a brand new platform for the LC, called GA–L (Global Architecture – Luxury), which is also intended to form the foundation for the all-new 2018 LS flagship sedan, as well as underpin future front engine, rear-wheel-drive Lexus models.

With this new platform, Lexus has achieved a deliberately lower centre of gravity, which improves agility and increases driving pleasure substantially. Not to mention making more alluring vehicle designs possible.

There is no mistaking the LC 500 for a Lexus – the hallmark spindle grille is unmissable, as are the dynamic character lines that define the car’s silhouette. The grille itself features a unique mesh texture that changes visual tension as it spreads across the front of the car. Independent L-shaped daytime running lights, beneath new ultra-compact Triple LED headlamps, create the distinctive LC front lighting signature. Functional venting aids both aerodynamic stability and cooling.

The tautness of the design extends from the rapidly flaring front, into the pinched waistline, and through to the rear, where very slim tail lamps use mirrors to create a three-dimensional sequence of L-shaped graphics.

The underbody is almost entirely smooth, and even the rear muffler, angled like a diffuser, plays a role in aerodynamic performance. The available active rear spoiler automatically deploys when vehicle speed rises above 80 km/h, reducing lift to enhance high-speed stability.

The pure Lexus theme is carried through into the cabin, where true GT attributes meet typical Lexus interior quality. There is a new multimedia infotainment interface, swathes of Alcantara leather trim, and typical ‘Takumi’ craftsmanship.

Some interior highlights include the integrated door panel design, as well as the attention to detail afforded the hand-stitched gear lever knob, while the unnecessarily large passenger-side air vent could easily have been omitted from the dashboard entirely.

THE LAST OF THE GREAT V8s

Naturally aspirated V8s are a dying breed, and it is likely that we will not see this Lexus masterpiece in any serious role in the Lexus line-up in future – an unfortunate reality of capacity downsizing in an ever more ecologically-conscious world. And while we may believe that all carmakers share a responsibility towards Mother Nature, we’re equally happy to report that the last of the great V8s resides in the LC 500.

Upon startup, exhaling through the variable Active Exhaust, the 5.0-litre rumbles to life with a satisfying growl. Gleaned from the RC F high-performance models, the LC 500 version raises the output to 351 kW and 450 Nm of torque, endowing the LC 500 with sprinting ability from zero to 100 km/h in less than 4.7 seconds.

The intrinsic beauty of this particular engine lies in its continuously rising power curve. Fast revving yet smooth, and sans the uncomfortable urgency that plagues many a large capacity turbo engine nowadays, the big lug easily reaches its maximum power of 351 kW at 7,100 r/min and a torque peak of 540 Nm at 4,800 r/min. You can set the level of the soundtrack by twisting the binnacle-mounted Drive Mode Select System, then hear it reverberate in the cabin through a special resonance tube that connects the intake manifold to the firewall. It’s real sound; there’s no audio-enhanced -fakery here.

NEED FOR 10-SPEED

Anticipating your reaction at the news that the LC 500 debuts the first ten-speed automatic transmission for a luxury car, I can confirm that this car would not be nearly as smooth, or as confidence-inspiring, with any other ‘box.

Smaller and lighter than Lexus’ own 8-speed unit, this new transmission shifts almost as quick as a PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe) while maintaining a relatively smooth shifting pattern thanks to its redesigned automatic torque converter.

You could try your hand at self-shifting via steering-mounted magnesium paddles, should you fancy your chances at doing a better job than Lexus’ artificially intelligent transmission – a world first nonetheless – or you can trust the advanced electronic control system, which monitors everything from acceleration and braking, to lateral g-forces, to make the gear selection for you.

Besides being quicker than any driver (including you), manual mode sometimes detracts from the driving experience. Having ten gears at your disposal might sound like you’re spoilt for choice, but when you’re focusing on the climb up the Franschhoek pass, the last thing you should have to concern yourself with is finding that elusive ‘ideal’ gear.

Combined with the standard Lexus Dynamic Handling system, that coordinates the car’s Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS), Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS) and Electric Power Steering (EPS) functions, the result is ultimate steering response in everyday driving, true to the driver’s inputs, with a high feeling of rear tyre grip and instantaneous response in high-speed cornering.

The limited-slip differential and new Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system add even more confidence to the mix while returning a surprisingly natural feel for the driver.

LAST WORD

Compared to its natural rivals, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé, BMW 6 Series, and Porsche 911, the LC 500 is an excellent first stab attempt at a true grand tourer, and it successfully rivals some of the world’s best. It may not have the power advantage over all of the above, but it makes up for its few shortcomings with looks, a fantastic adaptable driving experience, and loads of desirability.

Priced at R1,729,600, the LC 500 comes standard with a 4-year/100,000 km service plan and Lexus Distance Plan Complete.