Lexus LC 500 review: Please sir, can we drive it some more?

If anything can make Lexus less ‘Japanese Mercedes’ and more Mark Ronson, it’s the startlingly attractive LC 500. Ben Griffin was among the first to drive the 500 V8 Sport+ and 500h hybrid in Ibiza.

You know that moment when you see someone aesthetically pleasing and then they open their mouth and the illusion is shattered like a cheap plate at a Greek wedding?

That was my concern with the Lexus LC – and the fact it was proving difficult to secure a proper drive only emphasised how we felt.

Our first taste of the LC 500 was to ‘au fait’ ourselves with the controls and that involved a ten-minute cruise up to a car park and back – in the V8 on the way and the hybrid on the way back. Hardly a confidence-inspiring amount of time.

The next day presented us with the first solo drive, but Lexus had setup a few stunts along a short, pre-determined route, including befriending a random Spanish family, being pulled over by a member of the Village People and watching 20 annoyingly healthy people dance around us.

At this point it would have been easier to review the plane we flew in on. Or curl up and die.

Suffice to say, this was an interesting (and by interesting we mean unpleasantly awkward) way to introduce a car designed to make Lexus more trendy – and one made even more surreal by brand ambassador Mark Ronson’s presence.

For a car launch with the tagline ‘experience amazing’, it was strange we were unable to experience anything beyond the hotel’s (truly exquisite) seafood. We wanted Lexus to let the astonishingly pretty LC 500 do the talking but everyone was telling the car to shush.

After much persuasion, however, the reigns of control were loosened. We were given the pre-production V8 for a couple of care-free hours on the last day. So we quickly blasted into the Ibizan country roads, lined with pretty flowers and even prettier secret villas, before Lexus changed its mind.

In truth, we were unsure what to expect. The thing with Lexus is that its cars are either pretty yet ultimately uninvolving’ (RC, NX) or brilliant yet ridiculous (LFA and RC F). Where does the LC 500 fit?

Lexus LC 500 review: What is it?

The Lexus LC 500 is the manufacturer’s first grand tourer, with the LC bit short for ‘luxury coupe’. It is powered by either an old-fashioned V8 or a 3.5-litre V6 hybrid and is based on the GA-L platform, which will also be used in the forthcoming LS luxury cruiser.

The rear-wheel drive LC 500 first appeared as the LF-LC concept back in 2012 and, much to our dismay, was never intended to get off the drawing board ─ let alone reach production in a state impressively similar to what was lurking underneath the show cloth. It’s just a bit taller, really.

Yet here it is, complete with that sizable front grille and what Lexus calls a ‘front mid-engine’ design that is marketing speak for mounting the front engine further back from the front.

The wheels, meanwhile, have been pushed as close to each corner of the body as physically possible and the width stretched to ensure cornering ability and stability.

Those thinking this is a stylish yet flawed wannabe should note the weight distribution is a suitably balanced split of 52 per cent at the front and 48 per cent for the V8 model (51:49 for the hybrid) and the centre of gravity is noticeably low. Exactly where your hip is when sitting inside, actually.

Prices for the LC 500 start from £76,595 and that is for both the V6 hybrid and V8. Hazard a guess at which car has seen the most pre-orders and then be completely unsurprised by the answer.

There are three trim levels available. Sport+ – which we spent the most time in – adds a carbon fibre roof, rear-wheel steering, limited-slip differential, huggier seats and an active rear spoiler that deploys at 80km/h to name a few things. More on that later.

We should note the car we drove was ‘pre-production’, but Lexus said this was only because of homologation. What we saw is what you will get from the production line so there should be no surprises.

Lexus LC 500 review: How does it drive?

The V6 hybrid and its Direct Shift 10-speed automatic (a first for a passenger car) is best at more gentle cruising because higher revs brings with them an unpleasant drone. The pace is solid, but the noise never inspires you to see what it can do.

This is partly to do with the fact the 346bhp powertrain generates a modest 256lb/ft or torque and has the weight of a lithium-ion battery pack to deal with, although on paper it is only three-tenths slower from 0-60mph than the V8.

But the main reason is because the LC 500 has a kerb weight of up to 2,020kg ─ nearly as much as the lightest Range Rover Sport. Or 100kg or so more than a BMW M6. Not often does a Jaguar F-Type look light.

Masking the nature of a CVT was never going to be easy and combining it with a four-speed box to effectively create 10 gears only goes so far. It helps little that engineers deliberately designed to rev noise to be rhythmic, which only heightens the repetitiveness.

The 470bhp 5.0-litre V8 creates a drastically more pleasant noise ─ emphasised by multiple valves that open to make it louder as you approach the 7,300rpm maximum ─ and is far livelier and less muted. Find a tunnel and the noise becomes astonishingly loud and even more pleasing.

Paddle shifters tend to be pointless for all but track work, but the LC 500 V8 benefits from using them. Each rapid change rewards you with a satisfying mechanical clunk where the automatic fumbles around trying to find the correct gear.

The performance is impressive, as 0-60mph time in around 4.4 seconds suggests, but the 540Nm torque output is delivered so smoothly it never feels blistering, emphasising more of a grand tourer experience than a sports car one. With that said, the V8 is still a very fast car.

The steering is a tad too light and feels detached from the wheels, but there is enough heft as you go from one direction to another to create a sense of agility and the chassis is good at communicating how close to the edge you are in other ways. On the flip-side, it is very easy to drive around town.

This is especially true if you get the Sport+ package, which adds rear-wheel steer. The standard car is nimble enough, but the sense of urgency when you provide a small turn of the wheel is much greater when the rear wheels are helping you. It definitely enhances the cornering ability of the LC 500.

Comfort comes before agility when it comes to the multi-link front and rear suspension setup, but there is surprisingly little body roll. Bumps, meanwhile, are soaked up better than expected to the point where it is hard to tell it has run flat tyres and 21-inch alloys.

Over a five-hour drive, we experienced absolutely zero discomfort. Even in Sport and Sport+ modes, the LC 500 is such a comfortable and smooth machine. Switch to comfort mode and the hybrid is near-silent and the V8 only a little bit more noisy, which makes it perfect for stints on the motorway.

At lower speeds the LC 500 experience can be a bit flat. But the LC 500’s precision tendencies make fast cornering far more rewarding as the pace builds. Put in a bit of effort and it starts to come alive, especially as it manages to trick you into thinking it is more agile than it actually is.

Understeer is seemingly the default, even with the 4-Wheel Active Steering on the Sport+ model, but a twitchy back end on the hot tarmac suggests it could do the sideways thing, too. And you would really need to push hard to reach the edge. Hard enough to make a trip to A&E very possible.

Of the two models, the V8 model in Sport+ trim provides a more visceral, less predictable experience that better suits how it looks. But the 500h’s ability to glide away from the lights in near-silence gives it a futuristic, almost BMW i8-esque edge that eco-motorists may appreciate.

Lexus LC 500 review: What is it like inside?

A pleasing mixture of luxury and sporty, that’s what. Switching between driving modes sees the circular dial move left or right, as it does in the LFA, while the handle between the passenger and driver’s seat does a good impression of the Jaguar F-Type.

You can expect the same intricate detailing and the same craftsmanship as you get in other ‘Lexi’. A few lesser quality elements here and there such as the steering wheel buttons shatter the illusion, but overall it is a cabin that is comfortable and memorable in equal measure.

It is worth noting the blue and orange we had in the hybrid car is a part of the Launch Edition and is by far the most interesting, but the standard red, ochre and black still look the part.

The 2+2 arrangement of the LC 500 and LC 500h means there are two rear seats, the dimensions of which allow for more leg room than in, say, an Audi TT RS. But only children will want to sit back there.

Boot space is somewhat limited for a grand tourer. The V8 has 197 litres, while the hybrid loses 20 litres to the battery needed to power the electric motor. But then the aforementioned rear seats can provide extra space for things.

Lexus LC 500 review: What about running costs, value and price?

The Lexus LC 500 costs from £76,595. The Sport model is an extra £4,000 and for that you get 21-inch forged alloy wheels (up from 20s), a carbon fibre roof (instead of the glass), Alcantara and leather upholstery and eight-way power adjustable seats.

Sport+, meanwhile, is another £5,300 and adds four-wheel steering, limited-slip differential, Variable Gear Ratio Steering, retractable rear spoiler, carbon fibre scuff plates and Alcantara is applied to the sun visors, pillars and headlining.

A useful upgrade is the colour head-up display, which costs an extra £995. Metallic paint is £675 and you will need to pay that for the unique ‘Flare Yellow’, which is rather fetching if you ask us. And by fetching we mean eye-searingly loud.

Even at the lowest level, the Lexus LC comes across as a luxury item. There is no real need to go for higher packages, except if you want the most exciting drive. In that instance, the rear-wheel steer and V8 combination is best – not to mention our favourite.

Lexus LC 500 review: What about safety and technology?

Lexus likes to cram in the technology, although the level is behind that of your latest generation of BMWs. You get a Pioneer system with 12 speakers or can upgrade to a fancier Mark Levinson system with one extra speaker and greater music detail for £1,000.

The Mark Levinson system provides good but not great sound quality, partly because the small cabin means the speakers have much less space to breathe, but also because the ‘Surround’ mode makes it sound artificial. Best to switch it off for a more pleasing and balanced sound.

The LC 500 also comes with safety systems galore, including a pop-up hood for helping negate pedestrian injuries, eight airbags, autonomous emergency braking between 10kmh (6mph) and 80kmh (49mph) and the ability to read road signs and display the speed limit in the digital dials.

Lexus LC 500 review: Should I buy one, then?

Those expecting a baby LFA will be disappointed because the LC 500 is more of a comfortable cruiser than a savage track monster – even if the looks try to suggest otherwise. But when served with a V8 it is unusually exciting for a Lexus.

It took some effort to get to know the car, admittedly, particularly the somewhat reserved hybrid. But there is something special about the whole package that makes you feel good at the wheel, something that makes it more of a driver’s car.

So is the Lexus LC 500 marriage material? It is too early to tell, but we came away from the launch wanting more of it. Which is more than can be said of the random dancing.

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