By Glenn Oyoung
I can usually tell how I’m going to approach a review I feel the moment I schedule the return. When it was time to hand over the keys to the handlers of the Lexus LC500h, the feeling was one of pure relief.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my stint in Lexus’ flagship coupe, I knew it was only a matter of time before the combination of its 354-horsepower hybrid system, addictive exhaust note, and my lead foot would equate to an awkward chat on the side of a freeway with CHP.
The LC500h is the apex predator of the Lexus family. It is based on the LF-LC concept car that took the North American International Auto Show by storm in 2012. The designers at Toyota’s Calty design center were tasked with envisioning a Lexus grand touring sports car to replace the venerable SC while simultaneously changing the way we think of hybrids. Most of the elements that made the LF-LC so exciting – from the unique exterior to the driver-centric interior were carried over to the production car, and for that we’re thankful.
Exterior: The Future Has Arrived
One look at the LC500h and you get the feeling you are literally driving a machine from the future. Not the Marty McFly variant powered by Mr. Fusion, but the Tron Light Cycle variant that will literally kill opponents with your very own personal color-coded laser trail.
The exterior exudes speed, power, and technology. Follow the angled nose of the car over the long hood and the raked windshield, back to the muscular haunches and you know this is a grand tourer that means business. Over the years I’ve been pretty harsh on the Lexus spindle grill design but on the LC500h it looks fitting. Another detail that stands out is the headlight assembly, featuring a trio of the industry’s thinnest LED projector headlamps.
While the taillights are pretty slick as well, my favorite angle to admire the LC is the front-3/4 view where you could really soak in all the design cues that scream “I’m fast, and I’m from the future. Come with me if you want to live.” Those would be the aforementioned front fascia, headlights, and the side air ducts.
For me the only change called for is to ditch the chrome finish on the 20” 10-spoke forged wheels and in favor for a more menacing black finish or at the very least a less-blingy gunmetal one. A car this futuristic should be shod in the latest sneakers, not wingtips.
Interior: It’s a Driver’s World
The phrase “driver-centric” gets used a lot in the automotive industry. The LC takes it to the next level with its “driver-narcissistic” interior set-up. Drop into the heated and ventilated 10-way adjustable driver’s seat and you feel like you’ve been given your wings. The LC envelops you and everything seems to be perfectly positioned for your flying needs.
The level of detail and quality of the interior didn’t just put me in awe, but several attendees of the monthly Carcadia meet who sat in the LC500h. Even the most die-hard European marquee fan has to stop and admit Lexus has outdone itself with the LC’s interior finishes.
At the risk of sounding like a breathless Lexus fanboy, I will say that the interior of the LC500 is truly a work of art. Lexus’ takumimaster craftsmen are behind the perfectly-shaped steering wheel – comfortable during stop-and-go daily driving but more than up to the task of carving up roads. Beautiful and weighty metal switches, knobs, and sleek bezel-less door handles further impart an aura of luxury and quality.
The “wow” factor that elicited the most approval when the doors swung open was the interior colorway. Our Atomic Silver LC500h was equipped with Bespoke White Leather seating surfaces, contrasted with blue and orange leather as well as orange Alcantera. Unless you’re a Broncos fan (which I am, by the way) this sounds very busy on paper. But in person it just works. It’s one part nautical, one-part high-end activewear, three parts totally swag-a-licious. Three more traditional and conservative colorways are available, but if you choose the Convenience Package you get the Full Don Johnson… and you should count your blessings.
Tech: Welcome to the Big Show
Nowadays you cannot offer a luxury car without providing a world-class audiovisual entertainment experience. The LC is up to the task thanks to its whopping 10.25” screen and 12-speaker Lexus Premium Audio System. I’ve heard the Mark Levinson Reference system in the LX which literally blew me away, on the LC that’s a $1,220 option that I’d recommend if you were going down this route anyway.
As it stands the standard audio system does everything a modern driver would want – in addition to AM/FM/CD you get HD/Sirius XM and you can play your Pandora tracks, check on your cryptocurrency portfolio and look for your nearest Yelp-approved restaurants via the Enform App Suite. You can also start your car, unlock your doors, find your LC, and most importantly, check on how your teenager hooned your beloved car on his way to Kumon using the same app.
As you would expect, the LC also features all the latest active and passive safety technology to keep you alive despite your wannabe-Lewis Hamilton ways. The Lexus Safety System + system includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control and lane keeping assist with steering assist. If you choose to fly your LC on the I-15 vs. flying Southwest, these goodies will keep you safe and energized on your next trip to the Aria.
Performance: Warp Speed, Engage!
Let’s just get this out of the way up front: the LC500h is not the absolute fastest grand tourer in the market, but with 0-60 times in the sub-5 second range I don’t think anyone is really going to clown you at the stoplight. If anything, you may be clowning them at the gas pump thanks to the LC’s impressive 26 city / 36 highway mpg rating.
One of the more comedic moments of my week with the LC500h was when someone at Carcadia asked me to rev the engine. In park, the sound you get is 100% Prius. Tooling around town checking off the suburban chores (get milk – check, pick up mail at the UPS Store – check, get approving stares from STI drivers – check) the LC500h is a comfortable tabby cat, shimmying up to you for a pat on the head.
But twist the dial on the driving mode stalk to Sport S+ mode and the tabby cat turns into a tiger. The LC500h comes alive in every sense as the tachometer switches to a red-ringed display and the exhaust note goes from Prius to SR71 Blackbird. In this day and age 354-hp doesn’t sound like a whole lot, especially with a hefty curb weight of 4,435 pounds — but something about the combination of massive torque from the Hybrid Synergy Drive system and the second stage of the V6 kicking in is surreal, and you find yourself nearing 90mph in an instant if you’re not mindful. Fastest? Certainly not if you’re comparing the LC500h against its European competitors like the 911 or anything rare and Italian. Super fun in a high-tech driving simulator way? Absolutely.
It can be overstated how addictive the sonic blasts coming out of the LC500h are. The sound is nothing short of thrilling, and I daresay one of the best exhaust notes in a car not sporting the Prancing Horse. Engage the throttle and your ears perk up, and your brain demands more. I’ve heard that 471-horsepower V8 in the LC500 is an even more amazing listening experience.
In the handling department, the LC500h performs in the razor-like fashion its looks project. Turn-in is immediate and the LC corners very flat on the roads and freeways. To really test the limits safely you would want to be on a track, and the 210/605 interchange does not qualify. All of this is incredibly impressive considering the LC, in the tradition of proper GTs, is equally happy pampering you as it is exposing you to g-Forces on your way to your morning all-hands meeting. The dual (as in two!) hand grips on the passenger side are not decorative.
The LC500h offers the best of both comfort and driving experience in one futuristic package. In a time when fully-autonomous and fully-electric vehicles are the talk of the industry, the LC500h gives avowed holdouts who love to drive a guilt-free reason to keep your hands on the steering wheel and your foot on the gas.