2021 Lexus LC 500 Review: Forget Owning a Home. Get One of These
You can live in the Lexus LC 500. You can't drive a house.
The average price of a home in the city of Toronto now exceeds $1 million. The median price of a home in Los Angeles County has grown to $750,000. The situation is no better overseas, with the average Sydney home exceeding seven figures and a whole lot of property valuers surveyed in a recent report admitted that residential property has straight-up become "out of reach" for the average Australian. Things are so bad in my hometown of Hong Kong a mere parking space recently traded hands for the equivalent of $1.3 million, while a depressingly large portion of the working class has been reduced to living in "coffin" or "cage" homes which are often no bigger than that aforementioned parking space.
In many if not most major cities in the world, there's a housing crisis going on. The cause of said crisis can be debated all day but the fact of the matter is that for a worryingly vast amount of first-time buyers these days (read: young people), reasonably priced homeownership is a privilege they just weren't born early enough to enjoy. Which brings me to the 2021 Lexus LC 500. As more and more jurisdictions lay out plans to outlaw the sale of internal combustion cars sometime within the next two decades, it saddens me to realize being able to enjoy a car like the LC 500—with its glorious-sounding, naturally aspirated, 5.0-liter V8—will be a blessing that future generations will also have been born too late to enjoy.
Unlike urban real estate, however, the LC 500 isn't actually that expensive. Starting at a little over $94,000 in the U.S. and coming in at under $110,000 as-tested, it's cheaper than the BMW M850i and less expensive than basically any comparable Porsche 911. (It's a sticker price that would also make for a healthy downpayment on a decent starter apartment in a hot housing market).
I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with Lexus' grand tourer and, in the interest of cutting to the chase: It's epic. Would I take it over an appreciating asset I can mortgage and live in? Logically and responsibly speaking, the answer is, of course, no—but the LC 500 is just one of those cars that tends to make you act anything but rational.
The 2021 Lexus LC 500: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $94,075 | ($106,015)
- Powertrain: 5.0-liter V8 | 10-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 471 @ 7,100 rpm
- Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
- EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city | 25 highway | 19 combined
- Curb weight: 4,340 pounds
- Seating capacity: 4
- Cargo space: 5.4 cubic feet
- Quick take: A glorious and beautiful V8 grand tourer that'll make you question your financial priorities.
Is Anything New?
Based on the amount of attention it got during the too-short week that I had it, you’d think this car was some sort of never-before-seen prototype but, in reality, the Lexus LC is a four-year-old car. First introduced as a bafflingly unchanged road-going version of the company's 2012 LF-LC concept car, the LC 500 is Lexus' flagship grand-tourer; a capital-L, capital-C Luxury Coupe made to carry four people across long distances in great style, speed, and comfort.
As it did before, the LC 500 uses a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 to send power to the rear wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission. A hybrid LC 500h is also available but the car tested here is the loud one. The one you want.
For 2021, Lexus (thankfully) hasn't messed with the LC's looks at all but did make a handful of mild engineering tweaks.
For one, it slashed 22 pounds of unsprung weight thanks to lighter aluminum lower suspension arms, lighter suspension stabilizers, coil springs made of a new material, and lighter rear wheels. The front suspension electronic absorber controls were tweaked to increase stroke length, while said stroke was smoothed out, lending to better road feel. The rear stabilizers have been stiffened to improve turn-in and steering linearity while Active Cornering Assist (a.k.a. brake-based torque vectoring) was added to help with mid- to high-speed agility and shift programming on the 10-speed automatic transmission has been revised to make the LC 500 more responsive for more of the time.
The result of all of that tinkering is a Lexus coupe that drives the way it looks: absolutely beautifully. Weighing in at 4,340 pounds, the LC 500 is quite a hefty car but it hasn't let that weight get in the way of it being relatively nimble and, most importantly, a genuinely enjoyable thing to let loose on a winding road.
When The Drive EIC Kyle Cheromcha drove the first-model-year LC 500 back in 2018, he complained of "a slight tendency to understeer that holds you back a bit during aggressive driving." I'm happy to report it looks like all of that fettling on behalf of Lexus' engineers has paid off because there isn't a whiff of understeer on this 2021 version, at least not on the street. (It's either that or Kyle and I have very different ideas of what constitutes "aggressive driving.")
Steering is delicously direct, accurate, and lets in just the right amount of feel and vibration for a car that bills itself as a luxury GT. Brake pedal travel, meanwhile, is solid and short—as it should be in a performance car. The automatic transmission—a 10-speed Aisin unit that, according to the company, is not used in any other Lexus or Toyota product—responds very quickly to pulls of those big magnesium paddles.
Built on the stiffest Lexus chassis ever (stiffer than even that of the LFA supercar), the LC as a whole feels substantial, eager, responsive, and thrillingly easy to drive fast. It's also enjoyable at more pedestrian speeds and situations, too, where it's about as unwieldy as a Camry. Visibility is good, as is the Adaptive Variable Suspension, which is appropriately supple when commuting, tied down when attacking corners, and never floaty. Couple that with one of the best, most supportive, and expertly bolstered seats I've ever sat in and one could drive the LC for many hours without complaint. A true grand tourer this is, through and through.
As good as the steering, brakes, and suspension are, though, none of them shine quite as brightly as the LC 500's true party piece: that big, naturally aspirated, 5.0-liter V8, internally called the 2UR-GSE. Essentially the same engine found in the RC F as well as the upcoming IS 500, it makes 471 horsepower, 398 pound-feet of torque, and propels the LC 500 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. It's quick and powerful enough, but nothing all that remarkable, especially at this price point. But the 2UR-GSE was never really about the numbers. It's all about the noise.
Arguably, it sounds great at pretty much all rpms. But really get on it and the music that comes out of this 5.0-liter is nothing short of sublime. It's a gloriously guttural, red-blooded, meaty sound. It's shrill, sonorous, gargly, and aggressively snarly all at the same time. There's a violent, metallic crack on upshifts while downshifts pop off with a tiger-like menace.
Let the thing bounce up against its 7,300-rpm redline and the growling, feline soundtrack is seemingly replaced by a fully automatic firearm. It's HOA-disruptingly loud, astoundingly addictive, extremely evocative, and probably worth the price of entry alone.
Here, take a listen for yourselves.
A Beaut, In and Out
Based on the photos, it should be already apparent the way this thing looks, inside and out, is very much a highlight of the Lexus LC experience.
Styled like an anime Aston Martin, Lexus' gut-twistingly gorgeous GT car garners attention like few other things (car or otherwise) can. Within a week, I've had other motorists honk in traffic just to give me a thumbs up and mouth the words "nice car." One person in a parking lot who hovered around it in amazement and interrogated me about what it was when I approached. There were also, of course, countless other glances and long stares.
All of it is completely understandable. This thing is stunning. I'm not sure I'd go as far as declaring it to be the most good-looking automobile on sale today (actual Aston Martins still exist, after all) but I wouldn't argue against anybody who does.
Meanwhile, this tester's Toasted Caramel interior feels and looks as tasty as it sounds. I loved the supple, creamy leather and the liberal use of soft Alcantara. I loved how everything is laid out and—apart from maybe the steering wheel buttons, which are arranged similarly to those in a Corolla—it all felt very high-quality and special. The rear seats look a bit cramped because they are, but they’re honestly no tighter or roomier than most other 2+2s.
In the U.S. market, this car comes standard with heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate, a glass roof, 20-inch wheels, adaptive suspension, active sport exhaust, and a 10.3-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The options menu looks a little different up here in Canada but the tester Lexus provided had the $13,500 CAD Performance Package which throws in 21-inch wheels, sport seats, Alcantara on the seats and headliner, carbon scuff plates, variable ratio steering, four-wheel active steering, the retractable spoiler, a carbon fiber roof, a limited-slip differential, a Yamaha rear performance damper, and stickier Michelin tires. A must-have, honestly, if you intend to actually drive this car with any sort of enthusiasm.
Now, here's the part of this Lexus review where I must painfully bring up the topic of infotainment.
Like pretty much every other Lexus that hasn't yet made the switch to touchscreens, it isn't great. Featuring a 10.3-inch display, the system is controlled by the company's ever-finnicky touchpad, which is bad. Thankfully, Lexus will finally ditch the touchpad in favor of something far more user-friendly. But until that happens, the current LC makes up for it with a bangin' 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system (an optional feature), as well as hard buttons and switches for some of the most-used commands. It also didn't hurt that those physical controls felt extremely good to use. I especially enjoyed operating the big metallic volume knob that was particularly smooth and substantial to operate and felt ripped out of a high-end hifi. The knurled track toggle and tuning wheel were satisfyingly weighted and clicky, as are the HVAC switches that blend into the LC's luxurious-looking brightwork.
One weak point I can't really defend, however, is the jarringly low-rent backup camera. It's disgustingly blurry, does not feature guidelines that move as you steer, and would feel unbecoming even on a Toyota RAV4, to say nothing of Lexus' six-figure flagship. Another screen-related no-no are the heated/cooled seating and heated steering wheel controls that have been buried in an infotainment menu. Locating them requires scrolling through options and forces you to take your eyes off the road.
Although to be fair, the LC does give you the option to set all of that stuff to Auto, letting the Lexus climate concierge (yes, the car actually calls it that) keep you comfortable. But if you need to change anything because, I don't know, the weather changed, then you're back at square one.
If I had to come up with analogs, they would probably be the BMW 8 Series, Jaguar F-Type... and, er, not much else, really. There's always the Porsche 911 if all you want is a fast, usable, and impeccably-engineered 2+2. The Nissan GT-R is also an option if, for some reason, you're dead-set on buying Japanese.
If money is no object, stuff like the Aston Martin DB11 and even the Ferrari Roma are similar in spirit and perhaps some of the only cars on the planet to truly rival the LC on outright beauty.
If it sounds like I'm struggling to come up with true competitors to the LC 500, that's because in my mind, this Lexus stands alone. It's the only car I can think of that still uses a naturally aspirated V8, sounds this good, is a straight-up showstopper when it comes to curb appeal, and still manages to keep its starting price in the five digits. Also, the LC is rare. Lexus sold a total of 1,325 of 'em last year in the U.S., so if you get one, you'll almost certainly be the only person on the block to do so. That's gotta count for something, right?
There's an auto writing cliché where an especially soulful or characterful car is described as "more than the sum of its parts." While I'm tempted to use this phrase to describe the Lexus LC 500 because it feels quite succinct, I'm hesitant. But not because it is an auto writing cliché but mostly because I feel like it would discredit the "parts" in question.
The Lexus LC 500 is an exceptional and excellent car. It handles well and is comfortable, luxurious, and capable in pretty much all situations. It's knee-wobblingly, stomach-churningly beautiful to behold and a genuine joy to sit in. It's a work of passion and art and belts out one of the best automotive soundtracks out there right now. It's spilling with character and, this being a Lexus, is also extremely well-built and will likely last a long time.
Most cars are conceived very much like and as machines. Machines that take you from one place to another. A practical and temporary dwelling while you make your way from work to home. The LC 500 feels different. It feels like a musical instrument. (Okay, fine, it’s still more Yamaha than Stradivarius, but still.) Its engine note doesn’t just "get louder." It swells. Its interior feels like it was built for folks who are very much used to things that have been crafted rather than assembled, the exterior looks like it was made to grace a concert hall stage, and it's definitely got a voice that's big and magnificent enough to fill one.
There's even an art and grace to the way it moves down a road and it's amazing to think that all of this came out of the same corporation that gave us the Prius, still builds a minivan, and chose to team up with BMW rather than build a new Supra on its own.
Lexus got so much right with the LC 500 such that, when you're behind the wheel, the flaws that it does have seem deeply insignificant. Coming away from a drive in this car and griping about its spec-sheet deficiencies or its fiddly infotainment system is a bit like walking out of Sukiyabashi Jiro only to complain about the small portions and the font they printed the menu with. I'm not sure I'd know what to tell such a person other than that they've completely missed the point. And KFC is that way.
Earlier this year, despite my '90s birthdate and relatively modest upbringing, I was fortunate enough to get my name and my name only onto the ownership papers of a reasonably nice condo in a reasonably nice neighborhood within the city limits of Toronto without accepting a dime from the Bank of Mom and Dad or having a significant other to pool resources with. (This was possible thanks, in part, to pandemic-induced price-cooling, low interest rates, and ballooning savings after every avocado toast restaurant in the land was forced to shut down. Not an uncommon story.) I don't bring this up to brag, but to merely make a point: I've experienced property ownership. And I've now experienced the LC 500. Guess which one made me smile more.
Lexus' flagship V8 two-door really is one of the great motoring experiences of the era and, from behind the wheel, I could not think of a better way to blow $100,000. And if you're willing to go used, early models can be found listed for low-$80,000s and even high-$70,000s, as long as you're willing to put up with a bit more understeer during aggressive driving and forego the new car smell.
If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. Enjoy it. Take care of it. Keep it around for a very long time and, eventually, pass it onto your children. Maybe it'll even do them more good than that nest egg you have going—which, at this rate, probably won't even be enough for a broom closet in San Francisco by the time they graduate college.
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