My Car Quest

September 19, 2021

Driving Impression: 2021 Lexus LC500h

The Man in White drives Japan’s ultimate luxury car….

by Wallace Wyss –

Ultimate car. What does that phrase mean? To me, a car that can do everything. In the rarified climate of luxury two door coupes, this car comes close to fitting that description. It is the ultimate in Japanese styling, from a country that has had few design high points (the Toyota 2000GT is the purest design). The Lexus LC500 coupe is a clean “pure” design statement but, in exchange for that, you pay a price in packaging. More about that later.

2021 Lexus LC500h

It is also, being a hybrid, an engineering statement. True, it’s only able to travel in pure electric mode a mere 20 miles (where many plug-in hybrids can top 200 mile ranges, but the point of electric driving motors in this car is that the electric motors unobtrusively kick in to add to gas mileage, in some cases you are doing 70 mph and still under 2000 rpm, so that’s a big advance.

We know the hybrid comes in the coupe but were unable to tell if it is available on the convertible. The price tag is stunning $92,995, add a few options and you go past $100K. Mostly they’ve sold the LC500 in the 471-hp V8-powered version. The fact they have a hybrid version of the coupe is little known.

Yet a few like the idea of paying $4,510 more for the hybrid. You give away 117 horsepower compared to the V8, the hybrid using a Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6 and two electric motors. But you save so much in gas mileage you quickly make up for the higher purchase price.

2021 Lexus LC500h

I was wary of driving this car in its performance mode because CVT (continuously variable transmissions) have not impressed me in the past because most of them are set up to always go for the choice of conjuring up whatever gear ratio will give you the best mileage. But this transmission is two gearboxes in one, using a CVT and an Aisin four-speed automatic to broaden the hybrid operating range, it still reads on the dash you are using 10 gears but those are in effect simulated gear points.

It doesn’t feel like other Lexus and Toyota hybrids that use the familiar Hybrid Synergy Drive setup. When you are using the V6, there’s a sensation of gears shifting, much better than the boring high-rpm drone you usually get in hybrids equipped with CVTs. This one has a “secret” high performance mode. You can shift to the Sport or Sport+ mode, which instantly transforms the car into a performance car and put it in a Manual slot, but, because it uses a CVT, the shifts, I am told, are not crisp as on the non-hybrid LC500 V8, which has a conventional 10-speed automatic.

TWO DRIVETRAINS IN ONE WEIGHS MORE

By taking this belt-and-suspenders approach, combining two drivetrains and two transmissions, the car comes out at 4,521 pounds for the LC500h, 143 pounds more than the LC500 with its V8. But the weight doesn’t slow it down. The zero-to-60-mph time of 4.8 seconds, is only 0.2 second slower than the LC500, and the quarter-mile coming only half a second slower than the V-8’s 13.0 seconds at 112 mph. Those who compare it with a pure sports car, say a Porsche 911S, will find it slower but this car is aimed at a different purpose–more luxury oriented and more gran turismo.

2021 Lexus LC500h

The handling is as good as its V8 counterpart, “nicely weighted steering” a phrase that comes to mind. You have to touch a control to select a different drive mode to get better handling, a tad inconvenient but at least it has this “secret” alternative. The perfect car for a wife to drive in ordinary mode but when he’s driving it alone he can go from Clark Kent to Superman.

Our $100,000 plus test car arrived with a lot of options–$1,440 for 21-inch wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza S001L run-flat tires, a $390 limited-slip differential, and a $5,960 Performance package that brings a carbon-fiber roof, an active rear spoiler, rear-wheel steering, and variable-ratio steering. I think the one that impressed me most was rear wheel steering because every time you made a U-turn it turned sharper than you thought it would. I wish they’d separate it out from a package to get the cost down. G-force capability is 0.91g on the skidpad which I think is fine for a grand touring car. Its stopping speed of 165-foot stop from 70 mph is good, not near the Porsche 911 base car that can stop from 70 mph in 135 feet but remember the Lexus is two drive trains in one. (By the way, the base 911, can hit 1.06g in lateral g-force).

2021 Lexus LC500h

This hybrid is not bought for the great mileage you get in a car built with mileage as the main objective, say a Prius. The LC500h’s EPA ratings are 30/26/35 mpg, far better than the V-8’s 19/16/26 figures. So this hybrid lets you have the sensational styling, and some of the acceleration of the V8 without the poorer mileage. Top speed is a governor-limited 155 mph.

With the V8 the only way you will get good mileage is cruising at 70 mph in 10th gear but get down to the lower gears, you’ll see it plummet to 17 mpg.

2021 Lexus LC500h

ABOUT THE DESIGN…

It is the most dramatic Japanese car I’ve ever driven and I go to back aways, all the way back to my days at Motor Trend in 1965. Here’s my take on the design:

FRONT You either like the big bechromed “maw” (like a shark with many rows of teeth) or you hate it. I like it and the what seem to be triple headlights.

SIDE The finest view is the dramatic coupe roofline with its tasteful placement of chrome trim and flat topped fenders that look like wheel well flares incorporated into the design rather than added on as they look in most performance cars.

REAR A tasteful rear, the only area where you feel the design will “date” fast as horizontal taillights seem to go in and out of style.

INTERIOR No wood on the dash. Call me traditionalist but didn’t the top of the line Lexus coupe a few years ago have fabulous wood? Also the dash switches over to a high performance tach when you rotate what amounts to a go-fast button (actually four settings) high on the dashboard but it’s difficult to see where that button is and read the settings.

The biggest flaw to the interior is the lack of rear seat room. Forget putting passengers back there if they are 6 feet tall. If they are 5 feet tall it’s doable but getting there past the front buckets is a formidable task. So this car can only be regarded as a two seater.

This is the kind of car that takes a full day to acclimate to all the controls–for instance in parking, while backing up, great picture on the screen but we couldn’t find where to have the forward display appear onscreen, almost more important because I am sure one parking lot curb crunch would result in repairs in the thousands to the front spoiler. The forward camera is there but it doesn’t automatically go on screen when parking.

IN SUM… The LC500 and its hybrid kin are genuine stop-in-your-tracks-and-gape for spectators. Bystanders would even shout “What is it?” I don’t know how long this novelty will last.

I think Toyota and Lexus are to be congratulated for allowing so dramatic a design to reach production–the unsullied simplicity of the body is something usually only seen on concept cars and, considering only a few hundred a year are sold, they are brave to build for the future a design that could vault forward to fill empty slots when other automakers fail to build full luxury hybrids (example: Rolls already dropped their two door Wraith coupe from the US market after realizing its internal combustion-only drivetrain is obsolete.) This Lexus is derived from a sedan so we wonder if adding back a few inches of wheelbase would compromise that much of the drama of the coupe styling? I’d say adding six inches of rear legroom would make this car a competitor for the world’s top luxury coupe in all respects.

2021 Lexus LC500h

Going back to the reason for a hybrid–aside from giving you better mileage, there is one reason that doesn’t seem important now but could be if a trend continues. All over the world, in major capitals, they are thinking of outlawing internal combustion cars near the best parts of the city, say the parks, at first only on say weekend mornings but it will spread to even some weekdays. You wouldn’t want to, if you own a $100,000 internal combustion-only car, have to tell your family “No, we can’t drive to the park because gasoline cars are not allowed there on Sundays” etc. With this car you could drive up to the eco-border (I made that phrase up and I fear it may become common) push the electric only button and purr into the eco-zone.

Looking back after I returned it, I realized that this car is what I always dreamed a true luxury grand touring car should be–a car able to waft you along at speed while delivering good mileage but, when called upon, it can instantly become a car able to get “tough” when there’s twists and turns in the road coming up and performance is needed. A car that is cosmetically and build quality-wise beyond reproach and way way beyond what Detroit could achieve.

I think they never thought when they were developing it, that it could ever have a shot of aiming for the top luxury coupe slot in the world. It could still be possible, they got all the ingredients here but aren’t quite there yet…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the co-host of Autotalk, broadcast weekly out of KUCR FM Riverside, CA. As a fine artist, his classic car portraits can be found at Concorso Italiano in Monterey this August. He can be reached about art at Malibucarart@gmail.com

 

 

2021 Lexus LC500h

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Photos by Curtis Bien.
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Driving Impression: 2021 Lexus LC500h
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Driving Impression: 2021 Lexus LC500h
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Looking back I realized that the Lexus LC500h is what I always dreamed a true luxury grand touring car should be.
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