by Roger Biermann
Over the years, Lexus has garnered a torrent of valuable experience within the realm of luxury hybrid vehicles and now stands as one of the more experienced hybrid manufacturers in the market. This reputation, together with a high standard of in-cabin refinement for which this brand is known, is no better proven than with the 2019 Lexus LC 500h. This grand touring coupe is equipped with a gas/electric 3.5-liter 24-valve Atkinson-cycle V6 engine with dual electric motors producing 354 horsepower, fed through to the rear-wheel-drivetrain via an electronically controlled CVT (with manual shifting optional using steering-mounted paddle shifters). With few direct rivals, comparisons are drawn against the BMW i8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, the former a sports car, and the latter a non-hybrid grand touring coupe making it difficult to gauge the LC 500h against others. Is the 0-60 mph time of 4.7-seconds a sufficient accolade to recommend this as a luxury coupe, or is there more to this one-trim vehicle than performance and fuel economy?
For 2019, the LC 500h is introduced with a range of welcome performance enhancements and new features for the standard configuration. Performance has been strengthened by virtue of a reworked adaptive variable suspension, to deliver improved damping and ride comfort, and by the modified rear engine mounts and augmentation to the steering support bracket. The Lexus Enform infotainment system now supports Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility and has been upgraded with a Wi-Fi hotspot function and the latest voice-control and navigation software. An obsidian exterior color option has also been added to color-palette for this year model.
Sleek styling is a hallmark of the LC, borrowing influence from Lexus's famed LFA supercar. It features 20-inch staggered-width ten-spoke forged alloy wheels with a polished finish, and has arrowhead LED daytime running lights with ultra-compact triple projector LED headlamps, flush-mounted door handles with illumination when opened, and hybrid blue "L" and "500h" badging. The LC is characterized by a dynamic, low body with a menacingly broad stance, featuring four air intakes and rear aero ducts to assist in lift and drag reduction (and add to the sports-car appeal).
Stretching a sleek 187.4-inches in length and standing at 75.6 inches in width, the LC looks and feels like a luxury sports-car. The height of 53 inches lends itself to aerodynamic styling, and compares favorably to rivals in the class; the LC presents classic grand touring dimensions. In motion, the LC runs with a ground clearance of 5.5-in on a 113-in. Wheelbase, slightly longer than most rivals. Weighing in at 4,435 pounds, the LC is heavier than many a two-door GT, rivaling hefty all-wheel-drive offerings of a similar size.
For 2019, the Lexus LC 500h has a palette of nine optional exterior colors. Carried over from the previous year are colors such as Caviar, Smoky Granite Mica, Atomic Silver, Liquid Platinum, Autumn Shimmer, and Infrared - the latter at a cost of $595. Obsidian has been freshly added to the 2019 palette as well. The assertive styling of the LC is best complemented by the striking Infrared, but if you're not willing to spend the additional $595 just for paint, then the Smoky Granite Mica is just as appealing, giving the vehicle an extra dose of elegant avant-garde appeal.
The LC 500h is fitted with a gas/electric combination of a 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V6 engine with dual electric motors and a 1.1-kWh lithium-ion battery. This combination generates 354 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque. Despite the heft of the LC 500h, a 0-60 mph sprint of 4.7 seconds is achievable but is somewhat sluggish compared to true performance GTs like the Aston Martin DB11. Perhaps the LC 500h's party trick lies beyond mere 0-60 times though, as GT cars are seldom built purely for speed, but for comfort, too.
A potent amount of pull is felt almost instantly when applying the gas, with the electric supplementation of power a welcome augmentation of combustion. Whether from a standstill or pursuing a rapid overtake, the LC 500h is happy to oblige. Sadly, the multistage electronically controlled and continuously variable transmission which is paired to a four-speed automatic transmission acts befuddled at the best of times, delivering unintelligent responses that generally feel inconsistent and overly complex. It's a pity, as it dims an otherwise thoroughly impressive powertrain and hides the LC500h's brilliance behind a veil of indecision.
While the powertrain may be flawed, the ride quality in the LC is a true highlight. The luxury coupe is composed, firmly planted, and exceptionally comfortable. The enhanced adaptive variable suspension is adept at absorbing large and small road imperfections, and with revised adaptive damping, handling is implemented with minimal body roll and confident levels of stability and balance. It may not be a true driver's car, but there's still an element of driver-focus to the LC, with continent-crushing refinement and capability.
Although steering in the LC is precise and aptly light, it feels tuned more toward comfort than performance with little road and tire feedback communicated to the driver. The complicated hybrid system frustrates the way the LC alternates between regenerative and standard braking. When driving in high traffic conditions, the brake pedal can feel callous, and engagement can be noticeably inconsistent on occasion.
With its complex but efficient hybrid powertrain, the RWD 2019 LC 500h returns some of the best fuel economy ratings in the class, receiving EPA estimates of 27/35/30 mpg on the city/highway/combined driving cycles. The LC's gas tank can hold a capacity of 22.2-gallons, and only premium unleaded gas is recommended for use in the LC. With a full tank of gas, the LC can travel more than 660 miles under varied driving conditions.
The LC 500h seats four occupants in a reasonably spacious cabin. For a low-slung coupe, ingress and egress are relatively effortless compared to competing vehicles, thanks to long doors that open wide, and a high and wide door sill. The driving position is ergonomic, affording the driver easy reach of the controls and allowing a clear view of the gauges in the dashboard, as well as offering good outward visibility. The seat feels appropriately positioned and supportive, and - as is expected of a sports car - promotes a low position, with a high beltline and armrests. The cabin is rather restrictive in some areas, however, and the bulky transmission tunnel and raked greenhouse sides limit room up front, whilst the rear seats are really only adequate for small children.
At 4.7 cubic feet, all that's going to fit in the LC's small and shallow trunk is a carry on suitcase and maybe a couple of small duffel bags. There is no additional storage compartment below the trunk floor, and even during relatively short drives, the trunk seems to get considerably hot, so it's not recommended you buy milk far from home.
Small-item storage within the cabin is just as limited, with meager door side pockets, a skinny glovebox, and a center armrest compartment that can barely house a smartphone and requires a few actions to get into. The two cup holders up front are impractically located, one being obstructed by overhanging trim and the other hindering access to the touchpad. Fortunately, with the likelihood low of rear passengers being a regular occurence, the rear seat provides extra storage.
The cockpit of the LC is comprehensively equipped, kitted out with a selection of high-end materials and a tinge of alluring style. For the driver, an LFA-inspired instrumentation cluster includes a G-meter, a power-adjustable tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with magnesium paddle shifters, aluminum pedals, and SmartAccess with push-button Start/Stop function. The front seats are power-adjustable, heated and ventilated, and the driver's seat features memory settings as well. Ambient interior lighting adds to the sense of class, whilst an effective dual-zone climate control with climate concierge works to keep passengers comfortable. A power glass roof with a sunshade is also standard. The front seats are upholstered in leather, whilst the rear seats offer simulated (but high-quality) leather options. Available for the LC 500h is a $900 full-color Head-Up Display which projects a range of essential information directly onto the windshield for your convenience.
Infotainment in the Lexus LC 500h comprises a 10.3-inch touchscreen display centrally located in the dash, with a rather clumsy remote touchpad. Fortunately, the superb 12-speaker audio system makes up for the inconveniences of the touchscreen. The scheme is set up with Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0, an advanced Lexus navigation system, integrated SiriusXM satellite and HD radio, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa compatibility, and a complimentary one-year subscription to the Enform Remote app. Bluetooth connectivity and dynamic Voice Command are included, and the media hub holds two USB ports and a 12-volt socket for smartphone device charging and connectivity. New for this year is the Enform in-car Wi-Fi with free 4GB/one-year trial, which is now standard. The LC also receives Lexus Enform Safety and Service Connect, complimentary for the first ten years of ownership, as well as the Lexus Enform Destination Assist.
According to the J.D. Power's predicted reliability scale, the 2019 Lexus LC 500h achieves a class-leading rating of four-and-a-half out of five, which is an exceptional result for the segment. Coverage for the LC includes a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty; the hybrid component is covered for eight-years/100,000-miles. The manufacturer also provides a four-year/unlimited mile Roadside Assistance program. No recalls have been issued for the LC 500h.
Neither of the government safety agencies has rated the LC 500h, or even the regular LC for crashworthiness, however, with high levels of standard safety equipment we expect both models to perform well when tests are conducted. There are eight airbags incorporated throughout the cabin as standard; additionally, the LC 500h features a rearview backup camera and the Lexus Safety System+ which is comprised of a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Lane Keep Assist, and intelligent high beams.
The 2019 Lexus LC 500h is an exceptional luxury hybrid coupe, with its beautifully designed, eye-catching exterior and high-quality interior, it represents consummate craftsmanship for this segment. At its price point, the LC 500h is well-equipped with substantial amounts of luxury features and advanced driver assists, which culminate in great value for money in relation to direct rivals. It has received a class-leading predicted reliability rating from J.D.Power and is equipped with a range of significant safety features. On top of that, the LC 500h is also one of the most fuel-efficient hybrids in the class, yet still manages to perform with sports-car-like agility and handling. There are also a host of exciting optional packages and standalone items available to customize the LC 500h to suit individual preference. The only negatives to note for the LC 500h is the clumsy and unintuitive infotainment touchpad which could be vastly improved by means of equipping a touchscreen display instead. It may be expensive, but it's a quality piece of machine, one that looks as special as it makes you feel.
With an MSRP of $96,810 for the single trim LC 500h, this is relatively average for the luxury sports-car segment; most rivals check in at around $100,000 as well, although the rival BMW i8 is priced significantly higher. The LC 500h MSRP is exclusive of Lexus' delivery, processing and handling fee of $1,025, and excludes taxes, title and license fees. Dealer prices and incentives may vary and dealers may include exclusive accessory options.
3.5-liter V6 Hybrid
The LC 500h is a standalone Lexus variant with no other trim levels available. At this base level, it performs superlatively and is adorned with an extensive range of features as standard. Depending on one's favored appeal, the LC 500h can be equipped with the tech, comfort and convenience-oriented $1,790 Touring Package, which equips the LC 500h with Semi-aniline leather-trimmed front seats and an Alcantara headliner, whilst upgrading the infotainment setup to feature the Premium Mark Levinson Surround Sound Audio System. It also adds a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Intuitive Parking Assist. For the more keener driver, the Sport Package embellishes the LC 500h with Alcantara-trimmed sport seats with eight-way power support, and a carbon roof or glass ceiling, priced at $2,960 and $1,400 respectively. A $5,960 Performance Package can also be optioned, which enhances the LC with active rear steering, variable gear-ratio steering, a speed-activated rear wing, carbon fiber door scuff plates, a carbon-fiber roof, eight-way power front sport seats with Alcantara inserts, and an Alcantara headliner.
At around $50,000 more than the 2019 Lexus LC 500h, the 2019 BMW i8 is positioned quite similarly in terms of value and performance - which seems odd, considering the giant pricing gap. That said, however, the 500h outguns the i8 in its maximum range on a full tank of fuel, which at 666-miles is more than double what the i8's offers on combined driving cycles - the BMW focusing on a purer driving experience rather than outright economy. The 500h also takes the lead in its long list of standard features, which include advanced driver assists and safety elements, as well as available packages and standalone additions which offer the flexibility of customization. On the other hand, the i8, built around a lightweight carbon-composite frame is more sports car than GT, which is why it lacks features and comfort. The BMW i8 is more of a technological marvel, a stepping stone to full electrification, whereas the LC 500h is merely a less thirsty LC. If you want a GT car, get the Lexus, but if you want a sports car, get the i8.
What difference does a lower case letter 'h' make between the two Lexus LC variants? From outward appearance, not much, as they're near identical in look and price, and both proffer similar performance. But it's the manner in which they do so that differs, with the hybrid quieter in its demeanor. It may provide proper performance, but it lacks the theater of a big V8 and the soundtrack that accompanies it. What it does give you is impressive gas mileage, with a combined 30 mpg some 10 mpg higher than the combustion only model. It's these savings at the pumps that matter, and for someone who wants all the style and grace of the LC, but with less of the environmental impact, it's a solid alternative. But these cars are about emotion, which is why we say, if you're going for a GT, go all out and get the V8. Use the saving off the initial price for extra fuel at the pumps.