Lexus LC500: The Last Samurai
Who knew a naturally aspirated V8 could be this wild and this refined all at once?
Times are tough for the naturally aspirated V8. While on one hand, the naturally aspirated engine is being hunted down and fitted with turbochargers and superchargers, on the other the V8 itself is constantly being downsized and hybridized. As all new cars strictly follow the regulations that grow tighter each year, the N/A V8 remains a rebellious species in this modern world.
Lexus isn’t exactly a brand that strikes as a pioneer in loud sports cars but rather a top luxury automotive manufacturer. As it turns out, it does both extremely well. Bringing in the best of both worlds, Lexus manages to mix refinement and performance all under one carbon fiber roof. This is what the Lexus LC500 brings to the table: good looks and notable performance all while sounding like a proper muscle car. You may have thought the last of the naturally aspirated V8s would be “Made in the USA” but Japan is doing its part at saving a dying breed and we owe a lot of it to Lexus’ modern approach to the V8, brilliantly showcased in the LC500. An underrated car? Absolutely. A car that deserves more praise and coverage? Indeed. Let’s not waste any more time and jump right in!
The appearance of the LC500 bears the Lexus codes we know so well.
Sharp headlights, angular lines and the defining hourglass shaped spindle grille, yet somehow, it manages to stand out from the rest of the Lexus lineup. Sleek and low to the ground with fascinating flowing lines, the looks of the LC500 captivates our eyes. Its design is all about the details: the lines departing from the spindle grille continue onto the bonnet and help define the entire silhouette. Also, the chrome roofline never rejoins the window frame, creating a flared C-pillar look or a winged eyeliner shape if you prefer.
The oval headlights are daring and architectural. In fact as you look closely, you’ll realise they aren’t oval at all. Creating a form of optical illusion, the arrow-shaped daytime running lights and headlights intertwine to create one oval shape. As for the teardrop lights that serve as blinkers, they help add a whole dramatic touch to the look. Similarly, the taillights are just as captivating. Mirror-like when turned off but create an infinite light tunnel when turned on.
Continuing on the path of design and sophistication, you will notice how all the pieces of design unworthy of being here have disappeared. If you are on the search for that clunky door handle to open the trunk, this may take a second or two. As you can understand, trunk handles aren’t exactly the most flattering design element and in the case of sports coupes, they tend to hide it above the number plate but that isn’t necessarily the standard of elegance Lexus aspires to. Instead, what Lexus came with is a small button, subtly located on the frame of the right tail light. Press it and Open Sesame!
What is also worth noting is the unobtrusive branding of the LC500. You’ll notice the Lexus L shape of the tail lights; an L shape that is also transformed into a 'lightning' pattern that can be found decorating panels both outside and inside the car. You’ll also be welcomed by a discreet Lexus logo as the flushed door handles come out. Discreteness also applies to its body colour, here in a silver paint with strong beige undertones named Sonic Titanium. No great look is complete without the proper shoes and therefore the LC500 is fitted with ¥165,000 (approx. $1,500; £1,100) optional 21 inch wheels with a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires for some proper fun.
The interior of the LC500 is made for the Grand Touring lover.
Grand touring is about journeying, gliding on the highways, flowing through the wind and this idea of “flow” is something that the LC500 shows off very well. The flowing lines of the exterior design are found again on the doors and seats of the LC500’s interior. As for the colour palette, the Flare Red alcantara mixed with black leather creates a rich and dynamic atmosphere.
There is something inherent to Japanese luxury cars, and that is the attention to detail in every single material used. Using metal, leather or alcantara, no details have been overlooked by the Japanese craftsmen… or perhaps just one. We couldn’t figure out why that steering wheel gap was covered with a plastic filler, but the LC500 sets a very high standard for cars of this category that not many manufacturers are able to reciprocate.
As a proper GT car, you get all of the features that makes the long distance travelling enjoyable. The seats are heated and ventilated, the steering wheel is also heated as standard and the LC500 even offers what Lexus calls “Climate Concierge,” a feature that allows the cabin temperature to be monitored via infrared sensors for the best temperature conditions. Though you do get to access the primary climate control features via a set of buttons on the center console, all of the fancy climate features necessitate a bit of your time tinkering with the infotainment as they appear to be relatively hidden in one of the sub menus.
Talking about sub menus, it is with the help of a trackpad that you get to navigate from one menu to the other. You may find yourself intuitively trying to tap the screen at first only to remember that there is no touch screen here. Though the trackpad does not seem to have won the heart of other motoring journalists, we will say that getting used to it does not take long. However, adapting to the Lexus infotainment system may require a bit more time. The menus are overall not as intuitive to use and the interface design could use an upgrade but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available as standard and they make the experience a lot more pleasant. If music is important to you, you may want to opt for the ¥223,300 (approx. $2,000; £1,500) Mark Levinson sound system as the quiet interior allows you to properly enjoy it. It will be perfect for listening to loungy music while sitting in the car, sipping on some coffee with your partner… oh wait! There is only one cup holder.
When it comes to technology, there are lots of benefits to being a Japanese car manufacturer as you get to join forces with local experts. Partnered up with Panasonic, Lexus brings in Nanoe technology to the interior of the LC500, in order to greatly enhance the cabin quality, allowing the air to be purified of any undesirable particles (pollen, 2.5 pollutants, dust, germs, odors). If purified air isn’t the epitome of luxury, we don’t know what is!
Though many may disagree with this one, we do believe the LC500 scores some points with the backseats. Generalizing sporty coupes’ backseats as some mere extra storage space is easy, but the LC500 backseats are more capacious than what you’d get in a 911 or even a GT-R. If the front passengers are feeling generous enough to move their seats forward, you will be able to fit two humans no taller than 170cm.
Now onto the pièce de résistance!
The 5.0L naturally aspirated V8 that makes the soul of the LC500. Sucking in the atmosphere, this V8 produces 471 hp and 398 lb-ft. It achieves a 0-100 km/h in a little above 4.4 seconds and though some of the competition may display more impressive figures, the LC500 truly manages to win your heart by revealing its unique character. Almost contradicting its chic and sophisticated appearance, the first grunt you get from firing up the engine says it all: it keeps this old-school spirit we like underneath its modern cover.
Once you break through the 4,000 rpm barrier the car keeps pushing for more and intensifies its drive until you reach 7,100 rpm. It is indeed pretty early to reach the limit, but the machine gun sound you get as the revs bounce off the limiter truly completes the auditory experience. When you have all of this beautiful sound at your disposal, you can only be guilty of abusing the downshifting paddle just for the pleasure of listening to that beautiful NA V8, again and again.
The steering is smooth but firm, and responsive. Complemented by a stiff yet balanced chassis, the LC500 bites into the tarmac and corners really well. You don’t need to go fast to enjoy the car’s firing personality. Low speeds and high revs is all you need for a bit of loud cornering fun: give it an extra kick in order to feel the rear give you a playful slip. Fear not, despite its 1,930 kg (4,200 lb) weight the LC500 stays quite nimble.
The LC500’s Sport Mode offers you a wild ride by stiffening the suspensions and sharpening the throttle response but all of this action is what you get in the lower gears of the LC500’s 10-speed gearbox. What happens then, after the 6th gear? No, the LC500 doesn’t enter a new dimension but we might as well say it does. “10-speed” may almost sound like a ridiculous number but the potential of this gearbox is absolutely mind-blowing. The higher gears from 7 to 10 are the key elements into transforming this roaring V8 into a car so efficient that the bipolar personality of the LC500 will shock more than one. The cruising experience offered by the LC500 and its gearbox is from another world. As you enter the highway, the gears climb up to 10 and before you know it, you are gliding over the concrete in your quiet luxury pod. Make no mistake, the V8 will cost you fuel at every red light in the city, but on the highway, this smartly engineered gearbox truly redefines the boundaries of grand touring.
There is no question here,
the LC500 is one brilliant piece of engineering from Japan. Despite a few minor drawbacks, the LC500 is the living proof that bold Japanese engineering is still alive. Japan doesn’t roll out sports cars nearly as often as other manufacturers but whatever gem that does come out is very likely to be minutiously crafted to perfection. Some may complain that the LC500 is expensive. And we’ll give it to you, ¥13,500,000 (approx. $125,000; £90,000) can be pretty heavy on your bank account. However, this standard package is a very generous one and even the ¥520,300 (approx. $4,800; £3,500) worth of options on this particular car remain very reasonable. Quite the opposite from European makers and their endless list of options worth a kei car (price equivalent: a used Fiat 500, to anyone who didn’t get the reference!).
The LC500’s interior is a first class cocoon with comfortable seats and luxury materials or in other words, the perfect interior for you to sit in and wonder what is left of the naturally aspirated V8’s legacy. N/A V8s may seem like something from the past but Lexus has proven to us that smart engineering is all you need to make it just as efficient as all of the modern turbocharged engines. This isn’t an affordable car you’re looking at and some may likely prioritise performance figures but its wild and versatile personality is truly bewitching. The sound itself is enough to cheer you up.
The LC500 isn’t the only one bearing the precious, yet a decade old Toyota 2UR-GSE engine, but we believe neither the RCF nor the upcoming IS 500 have or will have the same level of refinement and presence as the LC500. As the rumors go, whatever succeeds the LC500 probably won’t have a naturally aspirated engine potentially making the LC500 one of the last of its kind. Why every performance coupe lover isn’t owning one of these is a mystery to us.