Photographer: Louis Mandelbaum
Cars

The Lexus LC500 Is Not the Droid You’re Looking For

Yes, this souped-up coupe looks enticing from the outside, but what's inside is not quite up to snuff.  Still, this car is moving Lexus in the right direction.

Lexus is very proud of its new sports coupe.

You may have seen the ads on TV or read the raves in the car rags. The sharp 2018 LC500 V8 is the 5.0-liter, 471-horsepower production version of the LF-LC concept car Lexus sent to Detroit in 2012. It looks sleek, snouty, and as it snakes down the road, it almost looks as if it’s being pulled forward through time.

I drove the $92,995 1  coupe around New York for a week. And while I liked driving it and got a lot of compliments and curiosity from passersby, I have to say: if you have $100,000 to spend on a two-door toy, this isn’t it. The car doesn’t perform to the level you’d expect from a vehicle with a body this ambitious.

The re-designed LC500 looks great, and has garnered many fans in its short time on the public stage.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Fast But Not First

The crux of the problem is twofold. The first issue is that while the LC500’s new 10-speed transmission and rear-wheel-drive are intended to tackle the nuances of acceleration better, they don’t. Some of this has to do with the hefty weight of the car (4,280 pounds compared with 3,263 for the Lexus LFA), and some has to do with Lexus engineering. The shifting feels overly complicated; 10 speeds as you accelerate to 60 are crowded and slow, rather than helpful.

The rear of the LC500 is elegantly contoured.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Zero to 60 mph here is 4.4 seconds. Top speed is 168 mph. The car is quick—faster than the base versions of competitors, such as the Mercedes-Benz SL550 and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage S. But it’s still slower than that fastest versions of the Lexus GS F sedan and the brand’s RC F coupe.

Similar offerings, such as the BMW 650i, the Audi S5 Coupe, and the Jaguar F-type, handle better. On the LC500, the steering feels watered down, the brakes abrupt. An active rear spoiler deploys at speeds above 50 mph, which helps stability, but the nose can wander off if you head into corners too fast. And you tend to lose momentum as you try to speed up again on the outside of a turn. The LC500 feels like a grand touring car—wide and fast, and a little cushy—rather than a sports coupe.

Quirks That Won’t Quit

The other problem here—why you’ll perhaps choose another $100,000 treat for yourself—is the interior of the LC500. Again, the whole thing significantly improves design and quality for Lexus. But there are better options for this particular segment (see: Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar, with their intuitive, beautiful, simpler interior layouts).

The real problem is the bewildering infotainment system and its nest of confounding technological quirks. I am not the only one who thinks this. Ask anyone. Seriously.

The infotainment system in the LC500 can be frustrating.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Thank god the joystick is gone. But we still have to wrangle with the “Remote Touch” controller and mouse pad with a few buttons on the side. A roller thingy assumes most of the functionality here but hops around like a schizophrenic billy goat as you try to select radio and climate settings.

Things get distracting fast. The Bluetooth, while initially satisfactory at connecting to my phone, declined to allow my passengers to sub in their phones. After 30 minutes of three adults, including the driver, attempting this ostensibly easy feat, we arrived at our destination, and the point became moot.

The configuration of the system can be a distraction, with so many things to touch.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Why does Lexus continue with the odd configuration?

“The feedback from our customers is that having a mouse-like interface is intuitive and less distracting than other systems,” a spokesman told me in a written statement when I asked. “We continue to improve the systems functionality and have received positive feedback on its ease-of-use and efficiency.”

It seems they’ve decided they’re committed to the design and are going with it. To me, it's throwing good money after bad. 

At any rate: If you’re set on buying this car for its alluring looks, I won’t stop you. It’s a fine performer, and a strong step forward for Lexus. You’ll have something radically different and even interesting compared with the normal German-led competition. Just don’t expect fireworks—unless you bring up that grille.

Let's talk about that gaping spindle grille Toyota seems intent on keeping around. This is the first Lexus model created from scratch with the grille as the starting point. That feature has long been a polarizing proposition. (One friend said the headlights and grille combo reminded him of “corpse paint;" another called it “forward thinking” and “seductively adult.”) All it takes is looking at the LC500 side by side with the old LFA coupe. The mesh grill on the LC500 is so wide it looks as though someone strapped a flat-screen TV to the front of the car. (How to avoid this visual effect: Order your LC500 with the silver that gleams like a tennis bracelet.)

The LC500 looks good at most angles.
Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

I say this as someone who likes the look of the LC500, especially in silver or white, and with the glass, rather than carbon fiber, roof. I love how the 21-inch forged wheels sit superclose to the wheel arches, and how the whole thing makes a big swoop as you pass your eye over it.

At the front, L-shaped daytime running lights, triple LED headlamps, and vents point away from the grille at an angle that leads to chrome-plated moldings along the sides and blacked-out pillars in the rear. The quarter panels high on the sides of the car flare away from the center while the door panels pull inward; the spindle shape appears again in the rear fascia.

The stance is square and low; the hood is very long; the fenders are flared like the fantasy form of a concept that actually made its way to the production line. (This never happens.)

It’s easy to imagine the LC500 at night cruising the streets of Tokyo, or Hong Kong, or Shanghai, and it looks amazing in real life. People will flag you down to talk about it. This is the freshest design we’ve had from Lexus in years.

The back seat is sizable enough.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
  1. My tester included a Sport Package w/ Carbon Roof, 21” wheels; Limited Slip Differential ($2,650); Color Heads Up Display ($900); and the Mark Levinson Surround System ($1,220) for an estimated as tested price of $100,895. Additional packages are sold individually, but a fully loaded model with the Performance Package costs a little more than $105,000.

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