Johannesburg - Lexus didn’t just wake up one recent morning and start designing sexy cars. It’s been working very hard over the last few years to reinvent itself as a prestige brand with more of a ‘hip and happening’ vibe targeted at younger customers, and the adoption of edgier styling and the distinctive spindle grille have done a lot to ditch the marque’s formerly middle-aged image.
But it’s almost as if all recent Lexus cars were stepping-stones to get our eyes used to the new visual language so that we may more acutely appreciate its zenith, the new LC 500.
This sports grand tourer is a thing of perfectly proportioned beauty. With a wow factor that looks as if it just rolled straight off a sci-fi movie set, it combines classic long-bonnet-sloping-roof GT proportions with flamboyant edges and scoops, making for a bewitching styling cocktail. Driving it is like arriving at the gig with the hottest girl on your arm.
Additional show-and-tell (in case it were needed) includes a roof made of exposed carbonfibre, a visual nod to the sportiness on offer in this sleek Lexus. The body combines high-strength steels with aluminum and carbon fibre reinforced plastic, and there’s no spare tyre (run-flat tyres are used instead) to help yield an ideal weight distribution.
As much mass as possible is located toward the centre and lower in the chassis to improve the centre of gravity, which reduces the LC 500’s roll angle without making the suspension too stiff and hurting ride comfort. It’s done the job, as this Lexus delivers one of the plushest rides I’ve ever experienced in a car with the word ‘sport’ anywhere in its description. The way it cushions the bumps on less-than-smooth surfaces is exemplary, especially for a car wearing low-profile 21” tyres.
The Lexus LC 500 is a high-performance GT rather than a hard-edged sportscar, a civilised and comfortable machine that can be enticed into playfulness on demand. The rear wheel drive car’s crisp turn-in and roll-resistant handling confirm that the cushy ride isn’t compromised by any mushy feel in the bends. With the adaptive variable suspension, the engineers have nailed an impressive balance between ride comfort and athletic corner-carving.
With most of the high-performance world moving to turbocharged power, Toyota has stuck to its normally-aspirated guns with a 5-litre direct-injection V8 that pounds out 351kW at 7100rpm and 540Nm of torque at 4800rpm. This fairly revvy nature, combined with a racy roar, delivers a more old-school kind of charm that’s missing from some of today’s sound-strangled turbo engines.
The engineers have spent much effort on giving this Lexus an emotive noise. The front air intake is designed as an echo chamber to maximise acoustics, while electronic flaps in the exhausts open and close based on the driver’s use of the throttle and the Drive Mode selected. Drive Mode, at the twirl of a knob, also alters the gearshift and powertrain settings from mild to manic.
It’s a car that invites you to rev it, explore that red line of the tachometer, and perhaps utter a small “hell yeah” under your breath.
Rather than the intense boost that characterises some force-fed engines when they’re in the power band, this one is never peel-your-face-back brutal; just a lusty onset of forward progress.
And though the 6-second 0-100km/h time we achieved at Gauteng altitude (Lexus claims 4.7 secs at sea level) doesn’t rock the richter scale quite like some of today’s turbocharged monsters, the exhaust note certainly does. The 270km/h top speed is impressive too (if rather academic).
The automatic transmission has ten speeds (yes ten), and they’re fired off smooth and slick so the gear-hunting happens unobtrusively. Again, those playful Lexus sound engineers have worked their craft here with the way the car roars and crackles like a giant bonfire during gearchanges in the sportiest of its drive modes. The cold magnesium shift paddles feel great to the touch, like the feel of a cold pillow against your face on a sweltering summer night.
Lusty V8 vibes aside, the car makes no unwanted noises and rolls along with the Lexus-typical refinement we’ve come to know, with the same attention to detail in its high-quality finishes.
The external styling glamour extends into the LC 500’s cabin, which combines top-notch luxury with today’s latest digitalisation. I like the luxury and styling part, with those double-stitched suede seats and general leather-bedecked finery. So too the digital dashboard and infotainment with their large and high-res displays, and the 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
A generously stacked features list includes active safety like a Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with rear cross traffic alert, and semi autonomous driving includes adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist. Standard kit also includes a large colour head-up display, navigation, and driver and passenger seat heater and ventilation.
Controlling the infotainment and ventilation system is another matter however, and the laptop-style touchpad is a finicky, user-unfriendly thing that reminds me of fumbling to unclip my girlfriend’s bra back in my teens. C’mon Lexus, it’s time to join the rest of the world with an easy-to-use touch screen or a mouse-style controller.
This is officially a four-person car but the rear seats, as beautifully styled as they are, are made for Ewoks. Rather treat this as a two-seater and use the back seats as overflow luggage space to the small 197-litre boot.
Priced at R1 729 600, the LC 500 comes with a 4-year/100 000km service plan.
A stunning car, and that beautiful shape holds no false promise as the Lexus LC 500 rides and goes just as good as it looks. It may not be a stopwatch hero with its off-the-line sprints but this car isn’t really predicated on numbers. It’s a visceral driving experience with that ear-tingling roar, stunning styling and finely honed ride-handling making it an all-round sensory pleasure.