2018 Lexus LC 500 Review: A Japanese Gran Turismo With a Futuristic Body and an Old-School Heart
In an era when SUVs are king, Toyota chose to build Lexus a $100,000 sports coupe with a naturally-aspirated V8. Thank God.
Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Lexus LC 500.
It doesn’t make much sense that Lexus spent all the money and time that it did on this car. Not in this day and age, when the market for big, expensive “personal luxury coupes” is pretty much nil. Before Toyota's fancy-pants brand threw its hat into the ring, the category was pretty much relegated to Mercedes-Benz's S-Class Coupe (nee CL-Class) and BMW's 6 Series; nearly every other brand that once trafficked in large coupes at sub-supercar prices had since ditched it for greener—i.e. more profitable—pastures, like $100,000 pickup trucks and leather-lined off-roaders. Such a car, it seems, serves one main purpose in this day and age: to fire up salivary glands and psych the buying public up about the brand, drawing them into showrooms where they'll drop money on a less-expensive, more-profitable vehicle.
But Lexus seemingly hasn't done much to promote the LC as a halo car, either. Plenty of New Yorkers expressed their appreciation for it while I had it - one even had me roll down my window on the FDR to shout his questions and complements at me - but they all seemed surprised to learn of its existence. (One guy thought it was a Tesla until he recognized the style of the tail lamps). Unsurprisingly, the car's sales have reflected that lack of awareness—in June, Lexus moved a mere 161 copies of the swoopy coupe in the United States, roughly one-third as many as it moved a year prior. Porsche, for what it's worth, moved nearly five times as many 911s Stateside in June 2018.
If the LC 500 were simply the beautiful, luxurious car it appears to be at first glance, that alone would be enough to make its under-the-radar presence and lack of sales success a shame. But not only did Lexus build a two-door with an old-fashioned, naturally-aspirated V8 engine and looks that could stop Stevie Wonder...the company made it damn good to drive.
- The body, which has the Coke-bottle shake of a Delta Dart, simply looks outstanding. It's like a concept car that escaped to the streets—which it pretty much is, as one glance at the LF-LC concept that preceded it proves.
- Power is plentiful; the 471-horsepower V8 suits the car’s character well. It’s quick, not explosive. But it can haul ass when asked. (I realized a few days into my time with the car that, with a N/A V8 making a bit more than 450 horses, a 10-speed automatic, and rear-wheel-drive, it basically has the same powertrain setup as the 2018 Ford Mustang.)
- That engine sounds great, too. Lexus has never received enough credit for its naturally-aspirated V8s, and it’s sad to think this will likely be the last of them (at least in a car, instead of an SUV). The LS sedan that shares much of its bones with this car has already swapped its eight-pot for a twin-turbo V6, and any future LC F and GS F models will likely need to seek out turbos of their own to compete with the AMG and RS hordes.
- The instrument panel is chronographic modernism done to perfection. Manufacturers, take note: This is what rethinking the IP for the 21st Century should be. There’s a giant simulacrum of an analog tachometer that changes layout with drive mode in the center, with the speedo rendered as numbers in the midst of it. Below that sits a spot for secondary information—fuel economy, range, tire pressure, g-forces—that vanishes into the tach when not wanted. Fuel, coolant and oil are ringed around the central dial. Or you can press a button on the wheel, and the tach (bordered by a physical ring) slides to the side, creating room on the left for a secondary screen with room for radio info, etc.
- The seat coolers are outstanding. Powerful and instantaneous-acting, they're potent enough to stave off swamp ass and back sweat on even the hottest day.
- Likewise, the front seats may have traded leather for a micro suede-like cloth that looks cheap (at least in the crimson of my test car, where they were the spitting image of the upholstery in my grandmother’s 1989 Chevy Corsica), but is actually stunningly comfy. I did five and a half hours behind the wheel; apart from a need to fill the car’s tank (and drain my own), I never would have needed to stop.
- Indeed, it's a master of both A- and B-roads. The Lexus cruises delightfully on the open highway: Sport mode locks out the top two gears, so on the highway, it’s better to leave it in Normal and make the most of those tall top cogs, letting the engine purr away around 2,000 rpm while blasting down the road at 80-plus mph. Yet the chassis and suspension can team up to hurl you down a winding road with the stability and aplomb of a supercar.
- The size is a detriment on smaller roads. At 75.6 inches wide, the LC stretches across pretty much the entirety of your average country lane, giving you very little in terms of room to spare when the turns come. A gussied-up Toyota 86 this ain't.
- Yet while it's as big as a true four-seater, it doesn't actually have four real seats. My mom and her cousin could barely sit one behind the other; luckily, it was a short drive, but any trip longer than 20 minutes is sure to cause rioting from the backseat occupants.
- The brakes aren’t confidence-inspiring. Don’t stop as hard as the initial bite leads you to believe; more than once, I found myself on too wide a line going into a turn because they didn’t bleed enough speed. And the car tended to shimmy uncomfortably a bit under braking—rather unsettling, considering the car's performance cred. Those pads and calipers may have been beaten up by track use on my tester, though; the brakes were squeaking after 20 minutes of spirited road driving.
- The infotainment system needs to die in a fire. When I climbed into the car after it was dropped off by one of the fleet service employees, the navigation system was still set to our office; I couldn't figure out how to cancel the directions, so I was forced to drive around the block so it could complete its mission. Pairing a phone via Bluetooth requires the extra unnecessary step of "adding" said phone in the Settings menu before pairing it. And the less said about the touchpad, the better. After a couple days, you learn the workarounds well enough to make do—but you shouldn’t have to in a $100,000 luxury car, not when $20,000 cars have systems that work better.
- Also, whoever thought putting a metal volume knob right beneath a giant windshield that lets all that sunlight through is an idiot. Prepare to burn your fingers come summertime.
- The constant beeping in the car when it backs up (a flaw common to many Toyota products) is a bit insulting. It's not a big truck, Lexus.
The 2018 Lexus LC 500, Ranked:
Hauling people: 2/5
Hauling stuff: 3/5
Curb appeal: 5/5
“Wow” factor: 5/5
The Bottom Line:
Who’s this car for? Someone who aspires to an Aston Martin, perhaps, but wants something more reliable and easier to service. Someone who used to buy Corvettes as pleasure cruisers, but now makes more money and doesn’t see the Z06 or ZR1 as appealing. (“It’s got plenty of power—I’d rather spend the money on a better interior!”) Or someone who sees it as an S550 coupe at a discount, or needs more room than a 911 can provide.
But in the end, the people choosing the LC 500 are going against the grain and spending $100,000 on a car—and a sports coupe, at that—over a truck or sport-utility vehicle instead. So instead of nitpicking the car's issues or dissecting its target audience too much...let’s just be grateful they didn’t go for an LX 570 instead. Thanks for keeping the coupes alive, rich folks.
The 2018 Lexus LC 500, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $93,025 ($103,925)
Powertrain: 5.0-liter V8, 471 horsepower, 398 pound-feet of torque; 10-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 16 city, 26 highway
0-60 MPH: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 168 miles per hour
Amount it weighs more than the 2018 Ford Mustang GT it shares its basic powertrain layout with: 420 pounds.