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2018 Lexus LC500: A concept car brought to life

2018 Lexus LC 500h (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

I remember the first time I saw the Lexus LF-LC concept way back in 2012. I was mesmerized, standing in front of the turntable at the Chicago Auto Show as it spun in slow circles with light glinting off its sparkling paint.

What I really couldn’t get over was the fact it was built by Lexus.

The LF-LC, revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in 2012, showed up at auto shows again and again over the next few years, and there was a constant stream of gawkers at every turntable.

Lexus never intended the LF-LC to be a production vehicle. Until it did.

The world might have tilted a bit when Akio Toyoda introduced the 2018 LC500 at the Detroit Auto Show in 2016. Shock and awe is the best way I can describe the media reaction.


Not only was Lexus going to build this stunning vehicle, but it also didn’t change the lines or proportions too drastically from the LF-LC concept.

Now available as a 2018 model, the Lexus LC500 is beautifully sculpted and a joy to drive.

Design

Whether you love or hate the pinch-nose grille on the LC500, there is no denying this super car is a head turner. More than once during the test week, I had people yell out: Nice car. More often, they simply stared, mouth slightly agape, head turning slowly to follow the path of the car.

One guy even told me: That’s the most beautiful car Lexus has ever made.

I tend to agree.

The long, lean lines flow from nose to tail, drawing the eye in a sweeping line around the vehicle. The attention to detail surrounding the LC is phenomenal from the repetitive “L” design motif in pretty much every element of the vehicle to the pop-out door handle with the emblazoned Lexus emblem.

The interior manages to be both sport and luxury at the same time with bolstered sport seats and a tight driver-focused cockpit, as well as simple but intricate details on the dash.


Ride & Handling

The test vehicle was the LC500h, thus it was equipped with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine and the Lexus multi-stage hybrid system. Total system output is 354 horsepower.

This version of the LC is more quiet and refined, and the handling and acceleration reflect that. The overall experience of with the LC500h in everyday driving is smooth.

The beauty of this vehicle, however, is the Drive Mode Select system that allows you to move from Eco to Sport S + with the twist of a dial. The whole demeanor of the vehicle changes, with throttle response quickening and steering becoming stiffer. The exhaust note even gets louder.

For highway driving, I wouldn’t put it in any other mode.

However, most of my driving was in the city, so I left it in Comfort or Eco modes most of the time. While I appreciated the hybrid boost and the fact the engine could shut off without affecting the HVAC systems, I thought the hybrid system itself was a bit meh.


I tried to put it in EV-only mode several times and it said the battery didn’t have enough charge. And when the car would flip itself into EV mode – like at a stoplight -- the slightest pressure from my foot on the accelerator engaged the gasoline engine. And I really, really tried to accelerate slowly to see if I could keep it in EV mode and get up to 30 mph. I could not – at least not within a reasonable amount of time.

Now, with even pressure on the gas pedal, when I did get up to speed, it would flip back to EV mode as long as I maintained speed.

Alternately, the LC500 is equipped with a 5.0-liter V-8 engine that delivers 417 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque.

While that is a significant horsepower difference, consider the 0-to-60 mph times. The LC500 can accomplish the sprint in 4.4 seconds, and the LC500h does it in 4.7.

I have previously driven the LC500, and while the differences are subtle, they are noticeable from the gut-flipping instantaneous acceleration to the throatier exhaust note.


Fuel economy

EPA estimates that the LC500h should get 26 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on highway. Pretty impressive numbers for a super car. My actual fuel economy in mostly city driving was an un-impressive 25.3 mpg.

In comparison, however, the LC boasts significantly lower numbers of 16 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

OK, so maybe that 25.3 mpg doesn’t look so bad after all.

Tech & gadgets

I’m not going to lie. If you’re a tech geek, you might be a bit disappointed with the tech features in the LC. It has the basics, but it doesn’t have any of the cool new toys like an around-view monitor, rear automatic braking or a rear camera mirror.

And before you ask, no, it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, either.


What it does have is technology that makes driving more fun. Like the Drive Mode Selector that allows you to go from eco to sporty driving dynamics. Or the adaptive variable suspension. Or the available active rear steering and variable gear-ratio steering.

There are also a couple of tech options of note, namely the color head-up display and the premium Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound System.

Trims

The trim strategy is pretty simple for the LC. You can get the gasoline model or the hybrid model. And then add packages and options. Both vehicles are rear-wheel drive. Base pricing is as follows:

  • LC500: $93,025
  • LC500h: $97,535

The test vehicle was an LC500h that added the All Weather Package, Convenience Package, head-up display and Touring Package. The as-tested price was $101,445.


Safety

In addition to the expected front and side air bags, the LC comes standard with the Lexus Safety System + that includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lake keep assist and automatic high-beam headlights.

Blind spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert are available in the Convenience Package ($1,000).

Also worth noting, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration have crash tested the LC.

A few of my favorite things

I tend to be a sucker for the small things. And one of my favorite features on the LC is the door handles that pop out with the Lexus logo emblazoned on the top.

I also appreciate that Lexus doesn’t completely nickel-and-dime you with options and packages. It comes standard with a lot of the high-end safety technology, navigation, heated-and-ventilated front seats, Drive Mode Select system and adaptive variable suspension.


What I can leave

There is no doubt that the LC500h will get better fuel economy than the LC500. But I was pretty disappointed with my fuel economy during the test week. I drove the car every day in mostly city situations, and I turned in the test vehicle with less than what the EPA estimates you should get. And I tried.

I’m sure if I’d done more highway driving, I would have been more pleased as this is one of the rare hybrids that actually gets better fuel economy in that situation.

While I think the LC is very well-equipped, the one feature I really wish the test vehicle had was an around-view monitor. With a long nose, this would be very helpful when fine-tuning parking-lot driving. Failing that, front park sensors would be nice.

Oh, and I find it hard to believe that blind spot monitoring isn’t standard – it was part of a $1,000 package on the test vehicle.


The bottom line

The 2018 Lexus LC is a beautiful vehicle – probably one of the more stunning designs from any automaker currently on the road (IMHO). I love the effortless grace and easy handling – especially in tight spaces for such a long, low vehicle.

But if I had to choose between the LC500 and the LC500h, I’d choose the gasoline version every day. To me, the fuel savings – especially when you’re at the $100K price point – isn’t enough to justify a hybrid system – or sacrifice that initial stomach flip during hard accelerations.

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