by Ian Wright
You can't talk about the Lexus LC 500 without talking about how it looks. It's rare that a concept car reaches production with minimal changes, but Lexus has managed it. It's a hypnotic head-turner in traffic and pulls attention wherever it goes. Underneath that stunning exterior is a comfortable and luxurious grand touring coupe filled with creativity and attention to detail. Under the hood of the LC 500 is a hand-built naturally aspirated V8 engine that suits the car perfectly. Its 5.0 liters of displacement generates 471 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, giving it plenty of muscle.
Performance isn't limited to power, and while it carries a little more weight than other sports cars in its price bracket, the LC 500 offers a level of grip and handling any enthusiast will appreciate. However, buyers need to understand this isn't a car to take to the track like a Porsche 911. It's designed to go fast and cover a lot of ground comfortably and stylishly. And, if that ground includes twisty back roads, the LC 500 will eat them up and ask for more.
For the 2021 model year, the most significant changes to the Lexus LC 500 Coupe are those you can't see. Outside, little more than revised 20-inch wheels - available in a forged style with a Dark Graphite finish - and two new paint colors have been added, Cadmium Orange and Nori Green Pearl. More notably, Lexus has reduced the LC's unsprung weight by 22 pounds, partially thanks to lighter suspension components. Lexus also promises a smoother ride following adjustments to the electronic absorber controls and improved rigidity of the bound stopper and rear stabilizer. Active Cornering Assist is a new addition, and the transmission receives timing tweaks. In the cabin, Flare Red leather replaces the Rioja Red from our 2020 Lexus LC review, but Bespoke White leather has been dropped. An updated infotainment system sees the welcome addition of Android Auto integration.
5.0-liter V8 Gas
'Desirability' isn't listed on the LC 500's specification sheet as a standard feature, but maybe it should be. It's a gorgeous coupe that manages to grab your attention instantly and from just about every angle, yet it stops short of being garish. It's telling that Lexus has hardly changed anything about the LC's appearance for 2021. Hence, elements like the semi-floating roof remain, as does the large Spindle Grille and elaborate taillights that resemble a machine gun. 20-inch alloy wheels are standard, as are triple-projector LED headlamps. A carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof can be equipped optionally.
The 2021 LC 500 has retained the same dimensions as last year's model, which means a length of 187.4 inches, a wheelbase measuring 113 inches, a width of 75.6 inches excluding the mirrors, and a height of 53 inches. A Porsche 911 is narrower by close to three inches, so you notice the LC's size a bit more around town. Although Lexus says that unsprung mass has been reduced by 22 pounds, the 2021 LC 500 has a higher curb weight of 4,340 lbs - an increase of 60 lbs over last year's model.
This year, Lexus has introduced two new colors to the palette: Cadmium Orange ($595) and a dark green shade worn on our tester called Nori Green Pearl. Both are adventurous but surprisingly appealing choices. Other shades include Ultra White, Liquid Platinum, Atomic Silver, Smoky Granite Mica, Caviar, Obsidian, and Nightfall Mica, all of which won't cost you extra. Infrared and Flare Yellow carry an additional cost of $595, but are two of the finer hues from the eleven-strong color palette.
The LC 500's naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 engine remains unchanged, with outputs of 471 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. As before, the coupe will hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 168 mph. This isn't slow, but the absence of forced induction means that the LC 500 simply can't keep up with even the base Porsche 911 Carrera. Of course, this is only a problem if your commute regularly involves traffic light drag races. If not, you'll more likely revel in the LC 500's smooth delivery and pleasing engine note as it soars past 7,000 rpm. Power goes to the rear wheels only, and all-wheel drive isn't available, but because the V8 has impressive rather than stratospheric outputs, this isn't a problem. We'd happily trade a few tenths of a second in accelerative force for the sheer joy of extending this V8 to its red line.
Using old-school displacement to generate peak outputs of 471 hp and 398 lb-ft, the Lexus' turbo-free 5.0-liter V8 engine is lazier lower down in the rev band; but this only encourages you to take it by the scruff of the neck and drive it hard. As with many naturally aspirated engines, power builds progressively, with none of the spikiness that some turbocharged engines experience. As before, a 10-speed automatic transmission is fitted, but this year sees changes to the gearbox's timing, specifically in the 50-70 percent throttle range, which is where Lexus says most drivers will find themselves. The changes mean that within this throttle range, the V8 revs higher than before, heightening the sensation of power and acceleration.
The first and overriding impression the LC 500 delivers as you pull away is from the engine. It's an eight-cylinder symphony that builds to a crescendo at 7,300 revs before a gear change is necessary, then the orchestra starts winding up again. Even in economy mode, where the engine performs the neat trick of switching into the fuel-saving Atkinson cycle, it sounds like a big V8 should. Twist the mode selector to Sport, and the LC 500 becomes an angry beast. The throttle response tightens up, and the 10-speed auto stretches then hold the gears for you. Use the paddles, and the gear-shift is impeccably smooth and fast.
In regular traffic and driving conditions, the 10-speed automatic transmission could use a little extra refinement. It's far from a deal-breaker, though, as the transition into the next gear is so smooth. Ride quality is as close to impeccable as we've found in a car that also rides on firm suspension. We spent a lot of time on the freeway in our week with the LC 500 and found the suspension dealt with California's most corrugated highways incredibly well.
Off the freeway is where you can give the chassis a workout, and while the Lexus isn't as razor-sharp as, say, the Porsche 911, it's exuberance is infectious. The near 50/50 front-to-rear weight balance and tight chassis keep the visceral enthusiasm in check. The LC 500 is a car you can confidently throw into a corner then kick it out again with a big grin. Lap times be damned, the LC 500 is a fun car to drive hard once you've soaked up the sophisticated style and beauty.
EPA estimates for the LC 500 Coupe stand at 16/25/19 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles, which isn't terrible considering that the Porsche 911 - with a smaller turbocharged six-cylinder engine - achieves a combined rating of 20 mpg. As with most powerful sports cars, the LC 500's economy will vary considerably based on your driving style. The Lexus gets a 21.7-gallon gas tank, so when filled to the brim, a mixed range of around 412 miles will be possible.
We've seen reports of people getting 30 mpg on a long freeway run, and we tried. We didn't get as high as 30 mpg but saw a better than EPA estimated 27. Overall, we came in at 17 mpg, but believe 19 mpg is realistic if you can resist being heavy-footed on the accelerator long enough.
The posh LC 500 interior is a demonstration of how to make the ordinary feel extraordinary. Parts of a cabin that you wouldn't typically pay attention to suddenly take on the appearance of individual pieces of art here; such as the ridged door panels with their handles that appear to be floating, or the perfectly weighted aluminum button you press to gently release the glovebox lid. The ventilation controls also have superb weighting to them, and you don't realize what a difference such a detail makes until you experience it. The mix of leather and Alcantara trim is a tactile delight, and the dashboard stitching is perfect. On the technology front, while the infotainment system remains fussy to operate, it finally gains Android Auto integration. Heated and ventilated front seats are standard as well, as is a forward collision system and dynamic radar cruise control.
Technically, the LC 500 is a four-seater. Realistically, the rear seats are only useful for extra storage or if you're willing to risk back injury while getting a safety seat and toddler back there.
The front seats are the only seats that matter in a sports car like this. And the good news is that the standard seats are exceptionally well designed and comfortable. They're sculpted to keep you in place at high speed, but not confining enough to notice they're doing that. After a multi-hour stint of driving, we found there was still no discomfort.
Legroom up front is a stretch worthy 42 inches, while the back has an optimistic 32.5. The 37.2 inches of headroom is enough for a tall driver despite it being a low car, and the wide doors make getting in and out easy enough. The cabin is surprisingly airy inside, given that it looks like a cockpit from the outside. Like a cockpit, though, visibility is excellent and helps negate the front overhang being an issue when parking.
There are two main color combinations for the LC 500's cabin. Toasted Caramel Leather with Satin Metallic trim is the more grand treatment, while Black Leather with Satin Metallic trim is a sportier alternative. By selecting the optional Touring Package, Circuit Red leather - a new addition this year - becomes available, while certain packages equip sports seats with Alcantara inserts. Regardless of which option you go for, the LC 500 feels meticulously assembled, with a hand-stitched leather-wrapped gearshift lever and a leather-wrapped steering wheel being just two of many details that make for one of the most memorable interiors in this segment.
One gets the impression that Lexus installed a trunk on the LC 500 begrudgingly, because only that would explain its puny size of just 5.4 cubic feet. Your set of golf clubs will have to take the place of a front-seat passenger, then. At a squeeze, two carry-on cases can be accommodated in the trunk, but that's about it.
Although the glovebox lid is perfectly damped and opens with all the class expected of a Lexus, the fanciful show isn't especially worthwhile as there's not much space in there. The door pockets aren't deep enough, either, and neither is the center console. There's only one dedicated drink holder, although the small cubby behind it works as one if needed. In terms of practicality, the LC 500 is much more sports car than GT.
The LC isn't all just posh materials and dashing looks. It's also generously specified with the luxuries expected of a coupe that's encroaching on six figures. Out of the box, the LC has dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, and eight-way power-adjustable front seats with both heating and ventilation. The standard backup camera features dynamic guidelines to make reversing even safer, while lane departure alert with lane keep assist adds peace of mind when commuting on the highway. Further safety items include a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, eight airbags, and blind-spot monitoring. Push-button ignition and an illuminated entry system are standard, although a heated steering wheel and a head-up display will cost extra.
The Lexus LC 500's Infotainment system is the one feature of the car that truly disappoints. The user interface is lackluster, and its useability is flawed. The menu system isn't well thought out, and that's compounded by Lexus's continued insistence on using the laptop-style touchpad to interact with it. Voice control is an alternative to always using the trackpad, but we are some way from the technology being reliable enough to rely upon. On the bright side, the 10.3-inch screen is crisp, and the graphics are fine.
Apple CarPlay is standard, and Amazon Alexa is also supported, and finally, 2021 sees the introduction of Android Auto for a full mobile connectivity suite. SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, and WiFi are also included. The standard sound system uses 12 speakers, and a 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is available and sounds divine.
The 2021 Lexus LC 500 Coupe is all-new, but Lexus' outstanding reputation for quality and reliability should make this a safe bet for long-term ownership. The 2020 model remains recall-free according to the NHTSA.
Lexus' standard basic warranty runs for 50,000 miles or four years, whichever comes first, and a good powertrain warranty covers you for six years or 70,000 miles. Finally, a corrosion perforation warranty runs for six years regardless of miles covered.
Both major safety authorities - the NHTSA and the IIHS - have yet to review the Lexus LC 500, a common occurrence since this is a high-priced and relatively low-volume sports car. However, other Lexus models like the IS 300 have performed well, with the latter achieving a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA. With the LC's many safety features, it should protect occupants effectively in an accident.
The LC 500's eight airbags provide comprehensive protection for the driver and passengers, and the suite includes knee airbags. A range of high-tech driver aids includes a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, dynamic radar cruise control, intelligent high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. A head-up display can be specified optionally, as can intuitive parking assist with sonar sensors to make parking less stressful.
We're now entering the fourth model year for the LC 500, and with the new tweaks under the skin, it just got even better. The LC 500 is a stunning car, so good that the awful Lexus infotainment system isn't a deal-breaker. The Porsche 911 is the obvious comparison, but the LC 500 is its own car. It looks like it drove off a concept car stand at an auto show, but it's a fully realized exercise in design, style, and build quality. It also, incidentally, has a raucous naturally aspirated V8 and handling chops that can be exploited on back roads to great effect. Furthermore, it's packed with features that make it feel more value-filled than rivals like the 911, and its unique appeal means it stands out from the crowd far more than similarly sized sports coupes.
For 2021, the LC 500 costs the same as it did last year with an MSRP of $92,950 before taxes, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $1,025. This is expensive but less than the $99,200 starting price of a base Porsche 911 Carrera. However, with enough options, the LC 500's price can quickly approach the $110,000 mark.
Besides the hybrid LC 500h which we review separately, there is just one LC 500 Coupe to choose from. It's fitted with the sonorous 5.0-liter V8 engine which produces 471 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque, and sends power to the rear wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission. A Torsen limited-slip rear differential with Yamaha performance dampers are optional.
Outside, the LC 500 has triple projector LED headlamps, 20-inch wheels, and flush-type door handles. The cabin is finished in a mix of leather and Alcantara. Both front seats are power-adjustable, heated, and ventilated. Along with an eight-inch LCD TFT instrument cluster, there is also a 10.3-inch infotainment screen which now includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 12-speaker standard audio system is complemented by HD Radio and SiriusXM. Safety technologies extend to blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, and lane keep assist, in addition to eight standard airbags.
Four main packages are offered to upgrade the LC 500 Coupe with either additional equipment or improved dynamics, starting with the $2,360 Sport Package with Glass Roof. It adds sport seats with Alcantara inserts, a glass roof, a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, performance brake pads, and staggered-width 20-inch alloy wheels in a unique design. The Sport Package with Carbon Roof includes the same features but substitutes the glass roof for a carbon fiber roof - selecting either of these packages also requires adding special wheels for a further $1,210. The $2,540 Touring Package equips semi-aniline leather front seats, a 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, and a heated steering wheel, among other upgrades. By far the most expensive upgrade comes via the $9,570 Dynamic Handling Package which adds active rear steering, a speed-activated rear wing, a limited-slip rear differential, 21-inch wheels, a carbon fiber roof, and sports seats.
Individual options that allow for more flexibility include the limited-slip rear differential and Yamaha performance dampers for $460, a head-up display for $900, and the 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system for $1,220.
Our test model was heavily based on 2020's Inspiration special edition, but there are very few of them in the US and don't offer any enhancements to the chassis, and many of the upgrades are available for 2021 without needing to spend extra on exclusivity. With just one model available, it's simply a case of choosing the package that suits how the LC 500 is to be enjoyed. We would go for the Sports package with the glass roof as we don't see the LC 500 as a track weapon, which makes the carbon fiber roof very much over the top. The Torsen limited-slip rear differential tightens things up perfectly for the back roads, and the Sports seat keeps the driver and passenger in place. The Dynamic Handling Package also seems over the top, but for those serious about enjoying the sports car side of the LC 500, we can't blame them at all for ticking that box.
The Touring Package is worth considering for long-distance drivers, but we don't feel it's essential. It is part of the Touring Package, but even if you don't add any packages, we whole-heartedly recommend ticking the box for the Mark Levinson sound system - it's that good.
The Porsche 911 is still fresh from a complete redesign, although as has often been the case with the venerable sports car, it doesn't look all that different from several prior generations of the 911. At $99,200, the base Carrera is more expensive than the Lexus. Despite being down on both power and torque, the Porsche's turbocharged six-cylinder engine allows the 911 to hit 60 faster than the heavier Lexus. Through the corners, the 911 is the clear winner with its flawless body control and steering. The 911 also has a better touchscreen infotainment system. However, the Lexus looks and feels more special with its arresting looks and exquisite cabin, and its naturally aspirated V8 makes a wonderful noise. It's also better-equipped, with Porsche charging an arm and a leg for many of the safety features that the Lexus gets as standard. The numbers will say that the 911 is the victor, but it simply can't compete with the theater of the charming LC as an everyday GT.
The RC F is a more hardcore performance car than the LC 500, trading in some of the latter's beauty for brash features like a large rear wing and upgrades like a carbon fiber hood for the available Track Edition. With the RC F's V8 engine generating similar power but tasked with carrying less weight, the RC F is faster off the line and feels a bit more agile, with a standard limited-slip rear differential which is optional on the LC 500. After all, this is a coupe that has the BMW M4 in its sights. The RC F has an impeccably built interior, but the LC 500 has an even more beautifully designed layout. Both are saddled with infotainment systems that remain tricky to use on the move. Overall, we prefer the more sophisticated LC 500 - it feels like Lexus operating in its sweet spot, whereas the RC F tries harder to chase competitors that have more experience in making high-performance sports coupes. That said, the nearly $30,000 price difference between the base RC F and LC 500 can't be ignored.