2017 Lexus LC500h Review

This car could be potentially perfect – for the perfectly potential audience, that is

By Shahzad Sheikh

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This is an all-new coupe from Lexus, sitting at the top of their currently luxury and performance range with prices starting at AED395,000 for the LC500h hybrid and AED450,000 for the LC500 V8. It’s on a whole new front-engine rear-drive platform that will be used on other new Lexus models going forward.

We tested the LC500h hybrid here with the 3.5-litre V6 which, when combined with the electric motor, produces a combined 354bhp (295bhp with 257lb ft of torque for the engine alone) for a 0-100kph acceleration time of 4.4 seconds.

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Styling

Love at first sight. It’s one of those. I mean look at it! Low, wide, wedge-shaped, multiple planes and contours – it’s as if it’s sucking up the tarmac yet piercing the air at the same time.

There is such a cavalcade of edges and sharp details, none of them necessarily flowing directly into one another as most car designers strive to do. For example how hard do stylists sometimes work to create a continuous character line from a grille, all the way along the flanks and converging into the taillights at the back? Not here though.

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For the Lexus LC they clearly thought, sod that, we’ll put lines wherever we feel like. Which normally would result in a bit of messy confusion of shapes, and a violent visual attack on your acuity. Yet on the LC, it all somehow works, and works really extremely well.

It’s a stunner, particularly in the bright yellow of the test car. The light just goes crazy for this car, refracting, bouncing and gliding gleefully along its many-faceted contours. And yet the whole is a pleasingly cohesive depiction of meaningful might, purposeful poise and swoopy seduction.

Look over the pictures yourself; suffice to say I love its futuristic junior supercar looks.

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Interior styling

Often with a car where clearly a lot of styling love has been bestowed on the outside, the designers seem to run out of ideas when it comes to the inside of the car. Not so in this case.

Driver-orientated dashboard, delightful (if somewhat redundant) protruding pods on the edges of the instrument panel, sliding centre dial, sleek toggle switches for the climate control, large digital screen and a cockpit that curves around you. And look at the interior door handles – no backing insert but bespoke like an exotic car.

It’s as spectacular inside as on the outside with superb materials applied in a solid statement of quality – that is apart from the gear knob that was trying to work itself loose on this particular car. Pre-production woes I’m guessing.

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Okay practicality has been a little bit of a casualty of the aesthetics with only one cup holder, limited size centre cubby box with only a sliding and side-hinged cover opening towards the driver – but an oh-so-wonderfully damped closing action on the slide closed – and no real space to put your iPhone Plus!

But the seats are superb, the driving position is spot on, visibility doesn’t prove to be an issue, and you don’t miss a 360 surround view at all (it only has a reversing camera). Despite how the low nose dives away from you, placing the car doesn’t prove too tricky either. As for the rear passenger space – kids or small adults only I reckon, if you must.

Whilst we’re in here, we must give a mention to the stupendous 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, perfectly tuned for this car with superb bass and clarity, as well as the quick-cooling AC (despite slightly noisy fans), the typically Lexus sound-deadening serenity, and the overall sheer specialness of this cabin.

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Dislikes? Yeah that mousepad is really difficult to use with any accuracy in selecting options on the screen – try to adjust the bass on the sound system and deep thump you’ll hear before anything else is you crashing into the car next to you.

Also the heads-up display – a nice full colour display that I could find no way to adjust for brightness or height rendering it useless to me. There might be a way – there should be – but in the short time I had, I couldn’t figure it out, and that’s a failing of intuitive design.

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On the move

Around Town

Now there’s two parts to this, so let’s start with the first of the two days I had it, in which all my motoring was around town, just cruising and posing it for pictures – mine and others because this is a head-turner like not many other cars and I’m sure it got instagrammed all over the place!

So city driving – smooth ride (although a little more brittle and fidgety than your usual Lexus because it’s set up sporty and not even comfort mode particularly improves that). Plus quiet refinement, imperceptible gear changes through the simulated 10 speeds (more on that in a minute), light easy controls, easy manoeuvrability, surprisingly decent visibility, active cruise control, lane-keep assist, and pretty decent around-town performance.

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Apart from the brakes which take getting used too (presumably because of the regenerative braking on this hybrid which means you either end up applying too much or too little). Otherwise it’s actually a dream to drive and very easy to handle.

After several hours behind the wheel on a hot sweaty night out shooting the car around Dubai, I got home totally calm and relaxed and really rather hopelessly smitten with the Lexus LC. ‘Almost’ hopelessly I should say.

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Hitting the twisties

Engaging Active Cruise and barrelling down the highway with ease towards one of my favourite driving roads I was fizzing with excitement like I haven’t been for a while. This is a great car, so well thought out, brilliantly conceived and superbly put together, so just how awesome is it going to be when I put it into Sports or even Sports Plus and flip the transmission lever into Manual mode?

Well it accelerates reasonably well, though let’s not forget this is a V6, and while the electric motor helps a bit off the line, then you have to wait for the torque to build. It’s out of puff by the 6500rpm redline. At that end of the scale, the engine makes a passably sporty thrum, although it’s a little droney getting there.

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This isn’t helped by that 10-speed automatic transmission, which isn’t actually a 10-speed at all. This explains why sliding the lever to sequential mode was a bit pointless because whilst you can sometimes select a lower gear (although it frequently locks you out if it thinks the revs are too high) the upchanges happen automatically anyway.

Also there’s no snappiness to the changes, they’re fairly slushy even in Sports Plus, and that maybe because this isn’t a 10-speed in reality, it’s actually a four-speed torque convertor auto embedded into CVT and actually uses virtual gears between those four to space out the ratios. These are widely spaced and clearly tuned for economy.

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Which it is incredibly effective at – because having picked it up showing 11.4L/100km, by the time we gave it back, despite all the hard peddling, the economy had actually improved to 10.8L/100km. On a full tank it should an astonishing range of 900km!

With decent front-rear weight distribution the LC serves up good grip and decent direction changes. In sharper corners at lower speeds there’s an odd transition from under to sudden oversteer which I was going to put down to rear-steering and variable ratio steering, until I learned that this car doesn’t have them. They’re an option pack. So then I guess it might be the pendulum effect of having the weight of the batteries in the back – hence a not very deep boot – and an engine place behind the front axle.

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It’s not an issue though, and can actually make the car feel lively fun chucking about town. At higher speeds though I really wished for more feedback and response from the steering wheel, which it could really have done with in light of this hybrid set up.

And then you remember – ah of course, it is just a hybrid. It’s not a muscle car, and that means that if you approach the car with the wrong expectations (as I did) you won’t understand it. However if you realise that this car is cleverly aimed at target audiences, you’ll applaud the foresight demonstrated by this lovely Lexus.

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Verdict

When I said somewhere above about this being a brilliantly conceived Lexus, I wasn’t actually wrong, even if I meant something else. I was personalising the car, seeing in it what I wanted it to be.

But it’s cleverer than that. It is in fact perfectly tailored to its target audience. That is city-dwelling super-cool, out-and-about hipster types and fashionistas for whom being able to snap that Thousand-Plus-Like generating #CarSelfie is absolutely crucial.

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The LC500h hybrid is easy and comfortable to drive and live with, looks like it just landed from Venus, has a thrilling interior, and the sort of economy that leaves you never ever worried about running out of gas or volts. It keeps you comfy and cool at all times and belts out your favourite tunes in enviable harmony.

And harmony is a good word to use with this car – because it is very harmonious. It’s just not very frisky.

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It’s a perfect companion for the daily commute and the blast up and down motorways, it’s a sublime grand tourer. What it’s not, is a hard edged ‘get out of bed real early on a Friday morning and go for a thrash in the mountains’ sort of car.

And having so hopelessly fallen for its styling, it’s a bit a wrench to admit that it’s not for me personally. Maybe that will be the V8 though. Fingers crossed. Can’t wait to try that one!

 

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