by Jared Rosenholtz
At the start of the decade, Lexus finally revealed what it had been working on for the previous ten years: the LFA, its flagship supercar meant to take on the might of Ferrari. With a starting price of $375,000 and decade-long development time, when the LFA finally arrived on the market in 2011, it was more expensive and slower than a Ferrari 599. So how then did this overpriced, out-of-date Lexus end up becoming one of the most highly-praised cars of this century?
The LFA's success can mainly be attributed to its astonishing 4.8-liter V10 engine but one automotive journalist in the UK may have also been a major factor. All eyes have turned to Lexus to see if the company is capable of crafting a sequel to one of the most special cars to ever come out of Japan.
Lexus has a new flagship car called the LC 500, and although it cannot match the LFA on sheer power or performance, it does compete at a far lower price point. To find out whether the LC 500 can possibly be the sequel everyone wanted, we tested a 2019 model for the week.
Legendary though the LFA may be, styling was not the car's party piece. Many people disliked the LFA's air scoop, which made it seem like Lexus couldn't fit the hood properly. If you look closely, the LC 500 shares a tiny little gap in the hood (a subtle nod to the LFA). In terms of overall shape, the LC maintains classic sports car proportions (a long nose and short rear deck) while adding in so many unique styling elements it's hard to catch them on one quick glance. Every time you look at the LC from a different angle, you'll notice a new element in its design. My favorite touch is the LED taillights, which look like they continue on into infinity.
Few production cars on the road look like the concept car that preceded them. However, take a look at the LF-LC Concept car from 2012 and you'd be hard pressed to tell it apart from the production LC. Throw in a gorgeous shade of Infrared paint and the LC becomes a true head-turner. The internet has tossed out plenty of criticism towards the signature Lexus Spindle Grille but this is by far the design's best application.
Under that futuristic concept car stying lies an old-school heart - a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 engine producing 471 horsepower at 7,100 rpm and 398 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Although it may not have the same shrieking wail of the LFA's V10, this V8 engine does feel properly special. This engine most reminds me of the S65 V8 from the E90 generation BMW M3, which is one of my favorite engines of all time (high praise for sure). Unlike its turbocharged contemporaries, the LC requires the driver to wring its neck out to over 7,000 rpm to unlock peak power.
A smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic handles shifting duties but can also be hurried in manual mode. I rarely received any flack from the computers when I wanted to shift gears myself, as shifts are handled in just 0.12 seconds (half the time it takes a human to blink). This transmission is one of the best automatics I have ever tested and it deserves to be praised alongside the best dual-clutch units on the market. Only the ZF eight-speed used by BMW can match the smoothness and control of this Lexus 10-speed.
The LC is quite a heavy car at 4,280 pounds but it still manages to hit 60 mph in a scant 4.4 seconds. Plenty of sports cars are quicker but the LC feels more like a Grand Tourer (more on that later). The EPA rates the LC 500 at 16/25/19 mpg city/highway/combined, though its efficiency really depends on how you drive. I placed the car in ECO mode and was able to achieve nearly 30 mpg. When I got bored and mashed the throttle, my efficiency plummeted. During a week of aggressive driving, I averaged 17.6 mpg.
We've also tested the hybrid version of the car, the LC500h. For around $4,000 more, the LC 500h replaces the V8 for a 3.5-liter V6 producing 354 hp when combined with two electric motors. Even with less power, 0-60 mph takes just 4.7 seconds and the fuel economy is improved by around 10 mpg in each category. If you are the type of person who will never pull the downshift paddle in the middle of a crowded area just to demonstrate the V8's roar, you will be better off with the hybrid.
Even the task of getting in the LC 500 feels futuristic. The handles present themselves via motorized mechanisms, enabling you to step inside one of the best interiors in the automotive industry. Whether it be leather, metal, or Alcantara, every piece you touch feels premium and well-executed. The tan interior color of my tester further exaggerates the elegant lines stitched into the seats and door trim.
The dashboard design is minimalist, with most of the controls confined to the Enform infotainment system. This is easily the LC's most glaring weakness, as with most Lexus products. The laptop trackpad-style controller is difficult to use while driving and basic functions like the heated/ventilated seat controls lack physical buttons for quick access. The LC does gain Apple CarPlay for the 2019 model year, though Android Auto is still absent from the Lexus lineup. Toyota has introduced Android Auto to some of its cars, so it's only a matter of time before it trickles over to Lexus.
Our test car included the optional Performance Package, adding Alcantara sport seats with eight-way power adjustment. Don't be put off by the "sport seat" moniker because these chairs are remarkably comfortable but lack massage like some competitors.
You wouldn't expect a two-door luxury coupe like the LC to be remarkably practical but the car doesn't fall completely flat on its face. Aside from only having one designated cup holder in the cabin, the LC has plenty of storage space thanks to large pockets in the doors and generously-sized center armest.
The rear seats also function fairly well as storage because we doubt LC owners will ever put a person back there. If you do plan to put adults in the back seat, you should be courteous enough to have a chiropractor on speed dial. The trunk, like the rear seats, isn't massive with only 5.4 cubic feet of storage. For comparison, the "frunk" of a Porsche 911 offers around five cubic feet of storage.
While it may look like a sports car from certain angles, the Lexus LC is a Grand Tourer. A GT car is classically defined as a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive coupe with a two-seater or 2+2 layout capable of high speed and long-distance driving. GT cars aren't focused solely on raw speed but are designed to tackle long highway trips with the occasional detour on a curvy mountain road.
The steering has a nice, light feel with a bit of a dead spot on center. The Performance Package adds variable-gear-ratio steering, which can change depending on the driving mode. The rack doesn't tense up to become unbearable even in Sport+ mode, making it better suited to long highway stints and spirited drives on a backroad than hot laps on a race track.
Lexus has tuned the adaptive variable suspension to perfection, so it rides beautifully even over rough pavement. Even with 21-inch wheels wrapped in Bridgestone run-flat tires, we never felt the need to brace for impact when driving on torn up backroads. As a concession to comfort, the LC does lean a bit through the corners, though not enough to ruin the driving enjoyment.
When Lexus builds the hardcore LC-F, we expect the body roll to be eliminated. Don't mistake the LC's supple suspension as weakness through the bends. Along with a limited-slip differential and rear-wheel steering, the LC dances through the bends and is easy to slide without having to call for a tow truck to pull you out of a ditch.
To get the most out of the LC, we suggest going into Sport+ mode, ditching the traction control, and preparing your ears to be incinerated by the roar of the 5.0-liter V8. The LC begs to be revved out, as the V8's power lies high in the rev range. When it's time to bring the LC to a screeching halt, the LC calls upon massive six-piston front brakes, and four-pots in the rear.
If you come into the Lexus LC 500 expecting a track toy, you may be disappointed. Lexus has focused on building a superior all-rounder to be driven mostly on the road with the ability to hang out its tush with delicate control of the throttle. If you want a track-focused Lexus, the new RC F Track Edition may be more your speed.
The most remarkable element of the LC 500 isn't its stunning concept car looks or its miraculous V8 engine - it is Lexus' fabled reliability. Even though this is a six-figure luxury coupe with immense performance potential, the interior was devoid of any squeaks or rattles and will likely look just as lovely after 15 years of use. While the LC's European competitors should be easy to own during their warranty period, we'd place a considerable wager on this car being more reliable in the long term.
The LC 500 isn't cheap, with a starting price of $92,900. If the LC500h hybrid sounds appealing, it is available starting at $96,810. Our test car was fitted with a few options including the convenience package with intuitive park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring ($1,000), 21-inch forged wheels ($2,650), a head-up display ($900), a limited-slip differential ($350), Mark Levinson Premium Audio system ($1,220), premium paint ($595), and the Performance Package with Alcantara sport seats, carbon fiber roof, active rear spoiler, Alcantara headliner, and carbon fiber door sills ($5,960).
As-tested, this Infrared 2019 LC 500 came in at $105,940 including a $1,025 destination fee. While this may seem like a lot, a similarly-powerful Mercedes SL 550 costs $21,000 more. A Maserati GranTurismo? $58,000 more. The Aston Martin DB11? It's nearly twice as much. The LC 500 may not be "affordable" but compared to its European rivals, it actually stands as a relative bargain.
It may seem crazy to compare a Lexus to a hand-built Aston Martin but after driving both, the DB11 did not feel like twice the car the LC was. Sure the Aston has around 30 more horses under the hood and 100 more lb-ft of torque but the Lexus was quieter and more comfortable on the road. The Lexus may not garner the same awe-struck stares of the Aston but it's pretty darn close. And while it lacks the prestige of Aston Martin, in almost every category the Japanese grand tourer stands toe-to-toe with the British GT car - at half the price no less. For this reason, it earns a score of Must Buy - now, bring on the LC-F.