First drive: Lexus LC 500 Convertible offers a beautiful break from the norm
The LC 500 Convertible is a great way to stand out and have fun if you don’t want to become yet another Porsche 911 owner. - By Nick Francis
It’s funny how, as kids, we all wanted to look the same for fear of being left out in the cold by the pack. We pestered our parents for the same pair of trainers worn by 80% of our classmates, the same branded sweatshirts. We even had the same haircuts. Looking at old school photos, the only things differentiating myself from my peers are the things our mama’s gave us: fat, thin, short, tall. Ginger or blond. We looked like we were in a cult, a cult which stipulates a strict dress code of Adidas hoodies and Kickers boots.
Then, almost overnight, it’s no longer cool to swim with the shoal. In fact, it’s the opposite. From that watershed moment, the pursuit of individuality grows gradually as we age, much like the size of jeans we can fit into. By the time you’re old enough to afford the £90,775 asking price for the new Lexus LC 500 Convertible, you have well and truly shed the sheep mentality. And therein lies its appeal.
In terms of looks at least, there’s nothing like it on the road. It’s concept car-pretty, work-of-art-like, with a heavy aroma of the sublime LFA supercar wafting from its flowing lines. T’was always thus of course: ever since the LC 500 Coupe launched in 2017 it’s been one of the best looking grand tourers, nae, best-looking cars, on the road. Whether dropping the lid tickles your fuzzy feelings is a matter of taste, I’m sure many will still prefer the hardtop, but the convertible at least broadens the range and, with the UK having Europe’s keenest appetite for soft tops, Lexus could be onto a winner.
The LC 500 Coupe has received a few mild tweaks and updates for MY2021, while the LC Convertible is all-new. Of course, in the hardtop, there’s the option of the LC 500h hybrid, but the convertible is V8 only for now. As a reminder, the V8 we’re talking about is a 5-litre jobbie good for 467bhp and a 0-62mph time of five seconds dead. It pushes onto a limited top speed of 168mph, and power is controlled through a ten-speed auto ‘box. These things remain unchanged from the original.
As with most drop-tops, more or less the only thing you won’t see on coupe is that retractable roof. It opens and closes in 15 seconds at speeds up to 31mph, which is decent but far from the quickest, and engineers added an extra fold to the canvass so it can store more neatly behind the two back seats (they’re more of a gesture than actual places to sit, but hey-ho). As a result, room in the boot has shrunk to a measly 149 litres from the coupe’s 172 litres, but to criticise this car on its lack of cargo capability would be like complaining that the Mona Lisa doesn’t make for a very good coaster for your coffee mug.
In theory, the dynamics of the car should have changed, with the addition of the roof’s electric motor and the necessary work to compensate for the loss in chassis rigidity caused by losing the upper pillars. Panels have been reinforced to make sure it doesn’t disintegrate like wet tissue paper the moment you show it a fast corner or vibrate like a jelly in an earthquake over notchy ground, and automatic roll bars which deploy from the parcel shelf should the car go belly-up have also been fitted. The convertible is around 90kg heavier than the coupe, but you would need to drive both models back-to-back on the same track or stretch of road to really test if there’s any difference, which I haven’t. Translation: customers won’t notice.
What I can tell you is, the car is superbly balanced, which is partly due to the lower centre of gravity afforded by lopping off the hard hat. On the road, especially fast ones, the LC Convertible is intoxicating. It feels stable all the way through a corner, encouraging you to get on the power early for the exit with its sure-footedness, and while it isn’t as clinically accurate as, say, an Aston Martin Vantage, you can’t help but wish you were driving it somewhere where it can be truly unshackled.
That said, the steering, while direct and responsive, doesn’t offer much in the way of communication with the road, it’s robotic in its efficiency but, being Japanese, you kinda expect it to feel more digital than analogue. Despite the size of its output, the engine feels strong and urgent rather than fast and frenetic, which makes the LC Convertible seem very grown-up, mature, classy. Rather than the arresting neck snap you get from something with an AMG badge on its backside, the LC jumps to it happily enough but builds to deliver its full 530Nm torque at 4,800rpm, offering dollops of mid-range shunt which refuses to wane as you jump up the cogs.
As you would expect, various drive modes marshal both the adaptive dampers and throttle map, and in Comfort mode, the LC Convertible becomes quite the comfy cruiser, even on 21-inch wheels, although they were conspicuously loud on the sandpaper surface of the M25.
A lot of people buy a convertible because they think pedestrians ought to be allowed to admire how expensive their haircut and sunglasses are, but in the case of the LC Convertible, the best thing about going topless is the auditory experience. There’s a V8 in its trousers, after all. While, in the words of Lexus’s PR guru, ‘Lexus doesn’t do a loud button’ there is some trickery afoot to make sure the soundtrack befits a car of this cost, even with the roof closed. A system called Active Noise Control purifies the engine note heard from inside the cabin, filtering out messy, low-frequency sounds, which are monitored by a microphone fitted in the roof.
The result is a glorious, throbbing V8 soundtrack which never intrudes at low speeds, but booms once the pedal is squeezed with intent: again, this is a very grown-up car.
A car which looks as beautiful from the outside as the LC 500 does deserve an interior to match, and I’m pleased to say it more or less manages it. Or more accurately, it looks sublime but lets itself down slightly when it comes to functionality. Apparently, Lexus is on the cusp of banishing its touchpad to the ‘should have tried harder’ bin for eternity, but it has still snuck it into this model. Anyone who reads reviews of Lexus cars regularly will be bored of hearing about how goddamn annoying and fiddly it is, but it is, so I’m afraid you have to read it again. It spoils what is otherwise a wonderful vista of soft-touch fabrics and interesting design cues which have come straight from Lexus’ Omotenashi (to serve and be considerate of needs) look book. A 10.3-inch infotainment screen hosts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the seats feel like they were made from wax and heated before you sat down, moulding to every lump and bump of your back. Even the drive selector is pleasingly hefty and shifts in and out of drive and reverse with a satisfyingly soft ‘thunk’.
The LC 500 range comes in a choice of trims and offers a host of optional extras. Lexus admits it learned a lesson when it first launched the car, in that offering a generous bundle of standard kit denies the customer the chance to spend money they don’t need to. At this end of the market, buyers want the option to spec it up, which they can do most simply by optioning the Sport Plus pack. The pack bumps the price to £96,625 but lumps in those 21-inch wheels (they are an optional extra on the base model, which comes with 20s as standard) but crucially adds a Torsen limited-slip differential. Disclaimer: I haven’t driven the base model to compare. The pack also adds seats with neck warmers and carbon fibre scuff plates.
But for those who like to get busy with the credit card, a head-up display, premium Mark Levinson sound system and some metallic paint jobs are also available at a cost. Choices, choices, choices.
When you’re in the market for a £90K-plus car, I can only imagine it must be nerve-wracking to deviate from the universally renowned crowd-pleasers like the Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type, it’s a lot of money on the line. If you’re lucky enough to be in that predicament, take it from me: you won’t be disappointed if you take a chance on the LC 500. And the convertible offers something even less common, for now.