It's hard not to stare at the Lexus LC, the latest in a series of challenging designs intended to make lovers and haters stop and ask: “What’s going on with Lexus?”
The answer is a not-so-quiet revolution, and it hits something of a crescendo with the launch of this sports car-cum-GT (V8 or hybrid).
The root of this wholesale shift from a quiet, eminently rational brand – to one that is wilfully edgy – stems from the ambitions of Akio Toyoda (company chairman), who has direct Toyota family lineage and has made it his personal mission to make his companies more interesting.
Hence for Lexus, the appointment of a former chief designer as the boss of the brand, an all-new platform architecture and the decision to turn the LF-LC concept of 2012 into a reality is very big news.
Not unreasonably, that might be a bit confusing. Lexus was, after all, the firm that launched itself with the LS 25 years ago and pledged to outdo the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It has done a pretty good – if rarely remarkable – job of battling the German big three, largely on the merits of waftability and customer service. Those tenets are not about to be abandoned, because a new LS is due some time around 2018. But now the time is right to instigate a transformation.
The LC arrives now, bosses say, as Lexus has come of age, and it will have a sportier side to it, too. The Lexus LC 500 is a sports car/GT with a broad remit, aimed somewhere between the Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type, setting its bullseye at top-end versions of the BMW 6 Series and Mercedes-Benz SL. The ‘to do’ list determined that it should be brilliant fun, but driveable every day and, thanks to those arresting looks and the choice of a V8 or hybrid V6 powertrain, should act as a showcase for this different side of Lexus.
Step inside and that sportier side is immediately apparent, because you drop farther than you might expect into the sports seats, themselves a specific design for this dynamically-enhanced Sport Plus model. Your hip then sits closer to the height of your feet on the perfectly-spaced pedals. As a result, movements are telegraphed earlier and more precisely.
This is not meant to be a white-knuckle driver’s car, but one that cossets you by always announcing what’s about to happen. The same motive prompted everything from the material choices and chassis construction through to the suspension settings. Lexus wanted ultra-stiff underpinnings, but with the onset of any chassis flex or suspension movement, engineers also wanted the driver to be enveloped by linear responses at all times.
So the low seating position also benefits the centre of gravity. Combined with the wide stance, pushed-back engine mounting as well as the generous use of carbon-fibre composites and aluminium, there has been a relentless attention to detail in keeping weight low down and carefully distributed 52:48 front-to-rear.
The Sport Plus also benefits from a carbonfibre roof and a Dynamic Pack that includes a variable-ratio steering rack, four-wheel steering that aids turn-in and a limited-slip diff that works with the driver aids.
The result is really rather delicious at pace. This, remember, is a front-engined, rear-drive 2-plus-2 with GT pretensions; it is set up to understeer, but it only does so if you really make a hash of things. In normal, fast-road driving, there is a delicacy to the steering that’s quite addictive. Aided by the rear-wheel movement, there’s a confidence-inspiring sense that the back of the car is moving not just in co-ordination with the front, but to its benefit.
There’s abundant grip and the suspension and diff can handle odd cambers, big, mid-corner bumps and seemingly optimistic throttle applications. What is a firm ride at low speeds becomes supple at pace. The LC brakes quickly and confidently, too, even when you stand on the pedal. It’s just wonderfully easy to find a rhythm.
That the chassis is able to eclipse the powertrain should tell you a lot, because (shock) the 5.0-litre V8 is no shrinking violet. Producing 351kW at 7100rpm and 530Nm of torque at 4800rpm, it’s predictably punchy, but it doesn’t dominate. In anything below Sport S mode (the penultimate of six available settings) it propels you along quickly, but with a soundtrack that’s louder than the engine response is fast. Dial it up, though, and everything becomes crisper and progress more instant.
The secret weapon in its armoury is a new 10-speed direct-shift gearbox. It changes swiftly and does a great job of keeping the engine in its sweet spot between 4000rpm and 5500rpm when you’re pressing on.
Crucially, it’s the first six gears – and chiefly, third to sixth – that do most of the work, the additional ratios only playing for the benefit of refinement and economy. The gearing is evenly spaced, so it promotes a rhythmic flow to progress that merges beautifully with the engine and chassis capabilities to inspire confidence.
You could buy (prices for Australia are yet to be confirmed) the LC on the basis of everything written above and not have a single regret, but there’s more to the car than that. Like the exterior, the cabin is an acquired taste, from its flamboyant inner door surrounds to its button-laden steering wheel and fussy touchpad control for the infotainment system.
The materials and finishing are top-notch, as is the gadget count and quality of flourishes, such as the TFT screens, analogue clock and sound systems. That huge amounts of effort have gone into its finish is not in doubt. That it will be to everyone’s taste perhaps is.
The LC is a triumph. The design may forever be divisive, but few car enthusiasts will take issue with the fundamentals of this quite surprising, highly entertaining car.
4.0 OUT OF 5 STARS
Like: Lovely steering; impressive chassis; high quality
Dislike: Divisive looks; not very quick; pricey
Engine: 4969cc V8, DOHC, 32v
Power: 351kW @ 7100rpm
Torque: 530Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)
Price: $200,000 (est)
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