2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible Review: Few Cars Turn Heads Quite Like This
It's not the fastest six-figure convertible you can buy. But with concept car looks and a charming V8, it's hard to go wrong here.
"You got money my boy, I like it," the YouTuber said to me, camera mounted on a gimbal, as he cruised past me to wade into a sea of Mazda RX-7s parked off New York's West Side Highway. It was 7's Day NYC, the giant festival of rotary engine cars and their friends held annually on July 7, and once again a mob of Mazda owners and their friends had descended on Times Square, this time in spite of the pandemic—or perhaps because of it, since most of these enthusiasts had been stuck inside for months and were desperate to hang out with their own kind.
I certainly felt the same way. And while the car I was in—the 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible, one of just a handful in America at the time—was not a Mazda, or a rotary, and was bone stock unlike nearly every other car at the event, it still got a lot of attention. Thumbs up. Stares. Smiles of approval. Questions about the engine and the sticker price.
This is not a car you want if the word "subtle" is anywhere in your vocabulary.
"It's not mine," I shouted back to my new friend, reluctant to expound on the logistics of press loaner cars but unwilling to claim any sort of Stolen Lexus Valor. Alas, I don't think he heard me through my mask, or over the roars of tuned engines as they revved off the highway. The LC 500 stood out among the extensively modified RX-7s, R32 Skylines, S2000s, Integras, NSXes and unexpected oddballs like the Toyota Starlet GT Turbo that all showed up to the party. So did the LC 500's $112,000 price tag, which was a far cry from the rest.
It didn't matter. The Lexus was accepted immediately. Loved, even. Embraced by the 1980s and '90s JDM crowd. It's too rare, too weird and too eye-catching not to. And if you're fortunate enough to invest in one, attention is what you're in for.
In some ways, it feels like a modern-day equivalent of Bubble Era Japanese car—expensive, opulent, aimed at a very, very small buyer niche, and with no real discernable business case attached. I think that's why all the FD RX-7 people liked it so much. Game recognize game, and all that. It's a Japanese take on an Aston Martin Volante or a Mercedes SL, except fresher and more unique. And you have to applaud Lexus for putting it out at all in a time when SUVs dominate everything.
The 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible, By The Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $101,000 ($111,920)
- Powertrain: 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 engine | 10-speed automatic transmission | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 471 horsepower
- Torque: 398 pound-feet
- Weight: 4,280 lbs.
- EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city | 25 highway | 18 combined
- Seating Capacity: Four (technically speaking; the back seats are only for small kids or people you don't like)
- The Promise: A V8-powered grand-touring convertible that's different from the rest.
- The Delivery: A few flaws in execution can't invalidate how special and fun it is.
A V8 Stunner
Even with the traffic and parking at a premium, and streets cleared out thanks to a pandemic, and the worst economy anyone's seen in decades, New York is still a haven for very nice cars. Cayennes and Macans abound. Some neighborhoods have a G-Class on every other block. Aston Martin convertibles and Lamborghinis aren't altogether uncommon on the BQE. Sure, TLC-plated Camrys dominate the landscape, but the city's money is apparent in its cars.
In spite of that, the LC 500 constantly turned heads in the week I had it. The droptop, the long, long hood, the sparkling red paint (a $595 option) and the roar of the V8 caught more attention than anything I've tested in a while. if for no other reason than the fact that you don't see many of these around, period. It's amazing Lexus even makes them—only about 1,200 were sold in America last year, period, and I'm surprised the number is that high.
Yet Lexus saw fit not only to keep it going, but to make a convertible version for 2021. I know Toyota's catching hell for outsourcing the new Supra to BMW, but man, the world's biggest car company can sure throw us a bone when it wants to. Even if it loses money on such a project, which it very well might—I guess you can get away with some things when you move that many RAV4s on the regular.
By the way, at least a few quasi-savvy car people asked if it was an LFA or requested I rev the V10 engine they thought it had. When you look at both side-by-side, that confusion is somewhat understandable. But the LC 500 does not have the famously high-revving 10-cylinder motor from Japan's greatest supercar, nor can it match that signature howl. (Few cars can.) Instead, it has a gem of its own under the hood: Lexus's 5.0-liter, naturally aspirated V8, the same one found in the RC F, GS F and the old IS F.
As visually stunning as the LC 500 is, to me, that V8 is the real star of the show just as it was on the RC F I found myself deeply charmed by last year. Naturally aspirated V8s are in such short supply these days, and this motor has the kind of character that's often lacking in turbocharged engines. It sounds wonderful, it's free-revving, it's great at highway cruising and high-speed runs and it's an eager partner in shenanigans. To me, a twin-turbo V6 is just no replacement for this thing. Word is zero to 60 mph takes a little below five seconds; that's understandable given the 4,280-pound curb weight, but in real-world driving it proved to be plenty quick.
It's more spirited to drive than that porky weight lets on. The steering is light and accurate, body roll is minimal, and the ride is on the firmer side of comfortable. Even in Sport+ mode, it's not enough to light your hair on fire, but the whole package is enough to move with force, have some fun in the corners and not punish you too hard when it does. Some may ding it for not having AMG levels of ferocity, but I think it has just the right of athleticism for what it's trying to be. It's balanced, and balance is hard to pull off these days.
Something Special Inside, With Some Frustrations
Of course, looks and speed only tell some of the story with a proper grand tourer. The idea is to be comfortable in your opulence. What's the point in spending this much money on a convertible if it's going to kick your ass every day?
Truly, the LC 500 is something to behold inside—and as you step into it. There are so many unique touches throughout, from the pop-out door handles to the "waves" on the inner part of the door to the Lexus "L" badges on the headrests and the ornate leather-wrapped steering wheel. It's a cut above everything else Lexus makes; everything feels truly bespoke inside, not what you'd expect from a mass-market manufacturer that made its bones on parts- and platform-sharing. The 7s Day guys frequently remarked on just how much leather was inside this car. And all of that is offset by tasteful brushed aluminum and high-grade plastics.
It's nice inside, to put it simply. One of the nicest interiors you can get right now, at any price.
The tradeoffs are endemic to a lot of Lexus models out right now, though. Expect a lot of ergonomic weirdness, especially where the infotainment system is concerned. First of all, I couldn't even find the switch to drop the top at first—it's buried in a leather-wrapped panel below the trackpad that flips up when you need it. I suppose that was fine, after I figured it out.
What I had more trouble figuring out was Lexus's trackpad system, which I have always hated and continue to hate here. The car eschews a touch screen for an imprecise mouse-like trackpad and cursor system, one that's incredibly frustrating when you're parked and downright dangerous when you're trying to operate very basic functions when driving. I found myself just using my phone for navigation functions, which is not something I feel I should have to do on a six-figure luxury car in 2020.
You slide your finger along the trackpad to move a cursor on the screen to pre-set menus on the interface, then click when you've found what you want. That's the idea, at least. I had continual trouble getting the cursor to go to the menu I wanted, to follow my finger's commands properly, and to stay where I wanted it to say. It's cumbersome to use for basic functions, like dealing in navigation addresses or tweaking car settings. Automakers need to stop trying to re-think the tablet and smartphones that everyone in the world has become used to.
Lexus is finally moving off that system and back to touch screens. They must have realized just how irritating the old setup was. It's a good move, but not enough to save the interface on the LC 500, I'm afraid.
Another more minor frustration was the automatic gear selector's layout, which feels aped from a Prius, because that's exactly what you want in your fancy, expensive grand tourer. You pop it to the left and up or down for reverse and drive, respectively, then down again for manual shift mode. In practice, using it is clunkier than that sentence makes it seem, and slows down your attempts at quick three-point turns more than you'd like.
I'm of two minds about it, in the end. On one hand, if you're fortunate enough to be considering LC 500 Convertible ownership in this economy, you need to think long and hard about whether you can live with that trackpad and infotainment system, day in and day out. On the other hand, this is almost certainly destined to be someone's second (or third, or fourth) car, a weekend and evening cruiser, a road trip machine—not their daily driver.
If that's the case, you may be willing to overlook the LC's technological issues and just embrace its many other good qualities. It does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, at least. Then again, for this price, it had better.
The LC 500 Convertible starts at $101,000. My tester had $10,000 in options, including the $5,290 Touring Package that boasted even nicer leather front seats, a 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, "climate concierge" with upper-body heating and more. Siri Eyes Free, a heads-up display, adaptive dampers, a Torsen limited-slip differential and automatic high beams rounded up the spec list. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, you do feel like you get a lot.
Issues with the infotainment system aside, the LC 500 is a winner in my book. In many ways, we find ourselves in the most boring automotive landscape in history. Cars are faster, safer, cleaner and more efficient than ever, but so many of them are expensive pickup trucks or crossover SUVs that all look and feel the same. So many cars that are truly interesting have been wiped away so automakers can focus on profits and the inevitable shift to electricity.
The LC 500, especially in convertible form, is weird. It's different. It's also comfortable, powerful and so striking that people can't take their eyes off it. It's not at all what you'd expect from Toyota or its luxury division, and not something you're often likely to even see on the roads. I'm just glad this thing exists, period, but I was also very pleased to be behind the wheel. For the few remaining grand tourer buyers out there looking to truly stand out, this is a solid way to do it.
A bunch of tuned RX-7 drivers think it's cool. What more do you want?