FIRST DRIVE: Lexus LC500h
My first go behind the wheel of the left-field Lexus LC500h hybrid.
“Well this is different” – I thought, as I swung-opened the door of the wide, low-slung coupe. As I quite literally descend into the driver’s seat, I take those few precious moments commonly used for invaluable first impressions to truly appreciate the Japanese quirkiness of the - frankly - outlandish Lexus LC500h.
Outlandish? To say the least! Let’s talk design first – the LC500h is so different and so unique, that it could easily be from an another planet. While, yes, Lexus’ design language is not to everyone’s taste, I've always appreciated it – and the interpretation of it in the LC is among the strongest, the most vivid. The plethora of sharp lines and creases that intertwine, the low and wide stance and the seemingly countless tiny details make the LC feel not just outlandish, but extraterrestrial.
And it is extraterrestrial, because it is a sight so rarely seen on the streets. This is not one for the faint of heart – this is a car you notice from afar, and one you cannot avert your eyes from. And when it comes to the details – Lord, where do I even begin? The front is dominated by those multi-dimensional lights that flank the huge, gaping predatory grille, while the width of the thing is further accentuated by the air intakes. The profile is sharply raked by the window lines, and the rear is framed by both the rear light clusters and the (sadly, fake) exhausts. I’m trying to compare the LC500h to any other car – and I’m at a loss – it’s that brave.
This is in fact - Macedonia!
And the same sort of Japanese approach carries on in the interior as well. Yes, yes, we get all the traditional Lexus values that we already expect – so it is all wonderfully made and meticulously put together, but compared to other models of the brand, here things are wound up all the way to 11 – the craftsmanship of the people that made this car is painfully apparent. So before I even start the damn thing, I take a few deep breaths and caress all surfaces and materials around me – and everything is flawless. Come to think of it – flawless is a word used quite often to describe cars made by Lexus.
But then, they’ve decided to take it a step further, and use the same structural design of the body, and carry it on into the cabin. Take those seats for example – not only are they supremely comfortable and supportive, they look sort of sculpted, as if clay and someone’s delicate hands were involved. Contrary to popular trends, the people of Lexus have decided to eschew minimalism in favour of details and craftsmanship – and it slowly becomes obvious that every detail is painstakingly thought out and implemented to enhance this feeling of individuality – but in a good way.
Not the interior colour I'd go for. Flawless, though.
All right – so, let’s get going. I push the button and... Nothing happens? Well, no, not really – things do happen, but not in a way we’re used to. Since this is a Lexus, it’s obviously a hybrid, so apart from the tiny green light telling me that we’re ready to go, we’re sitting in absolute silence. I gently apply some pressure to the throttle pedal, and away we go. Moving in silence never gets old, and it really fits the character of a relaxed GT. Lexus decided to offer the LC with two different drivetrain options – one is driven by a more traditional (well, I say traditional, I mean screaming) 5-litre V8, while the other one is what we’ve got here – a hybrid version powered by a 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 and an electric engine. System output is 355 horsepower and results in a 0-100 dash in 5 seconds flat – so not a slouch by any measure.
The power from the hybrid drivetrain is channeled to the rear wheels through an innovative dual-transmission setup. Basically, Lexus’ engineers have taken the rubberband-like CVT and fitted a more traditional 4-speed autobox to it, then done some voodoo – and what we have as a result are 10 virtual gears that make the drive feel substantially more natural and involving.
Angry, borderline insane.
And the overall result is irritatingly competent – keep the LC in comfort mode and it truly is a big, comfortable, supple GT. I sit low, but visibility is good and the cabin is a quiet, cosseting place to be. The suspension does a great job of dealing with the lumps and bumps of our far-from-perfect streets, even on those oversized 21-inch alloys. Once I get to the open road, I can really feel those GT genes seeping through – this is the stuff this car was made for – devouring kilometers at silly speeds, without the slightest disturbance in the cabin.
But then we approach a road with some twisty bits – you know, corners – and this is where it could all fall apart. I use the twiddly dash-mounted dial to switch the LC in Sport+ mode and I can immediately feel it hunker down – the steering becomes heavier and sharper, the suspension is noticeably firmer and it just feels raring to go. I take a few ‘brave’ pills and even though it has been raining and the roads are utterly slimy, I introduce pedal to carpet and feel the rear end step out when provoked. But it’s never violent – it’s actually rather predictable and easily controllable. Keep things civil, and the LC never really edges either towards understeer or oversteer – it just faithfully follows orders and carries on with a grace that belies its almost 2000 kilogram kerb weight.
Less angry, no less insane.
Cars like this… They have their own story, their own special sort of beauty. Their rarity and character make them attractive, and wherever the LC500h shows up, it will attract glances. This magnetism is unavoidable – the courageous design has paid dividends.
So is the LC500h for everyone? Well, no, of course not - but cars like this were never meant for everyone. They are far too polarizing, far too brave – even arrogant in their eccentricity. But I’ll have to be honest – in my eyes, this is what makes them even more desirable and far more intoxicating. These Japanese... They’re on to something.