THE GOOD: The LC 500’s styling is gorgeous and worthy of flagship status. High performance capabilities continue the Japanese luxury brand’s march toward building engaging vehicles. Interior design and build quality are exceptional.
THE BAD: The LC’s cramped backseat is best used for hauling kids, and the trunk is very small. Lexus’ Remote Touch infotainment controller is more time-consuming and frustrating to operate than dial-based systems, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not supported. Ride quality is firm for some.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A worthy flagship luxury coupe with above average performance chops and stunning design.
There’s been a lot of debate among the Roadshow staff about where the 2018 Lexus LC 500 fits into the automotive world. Overall performance is darn good, with a brilliant V8 churning away under the hood and excellent cornering abilities, but a curb weight of 4,300 pounds means it’s not a full-fledged sports car. The 2+2 coupe layout adds some practicality, but a tight backseat, small 5.4 cubic-feet trunk and firm ride manners means that it’s not a, either.
Once behind the wheel, I don’t allow myself to get too caught up in figuring out which car group the LC fits into, especially given the opportunity to flog it around GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Mich. Down straights, the naturally aspirated eight-cylinder engine belts out beautiful noises as it spins toward its 7,100-rpm redline, with satisfying power to boot. The engine is the same naturally aspirated V8 I love so much in the GS F, and here it makes 471 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque.
Are those output figures anything to write home about in today’s performance landscape? Not really. 500-horsepower monsters are the norm nowadays, and yet, I highly doubt many people will get out of an LC 500 and say it needs more power. Would more be nice? Well, of course, but perhaps that’ll come in a future LC F.
Working with the 5.0-liter is a new 10-speed automatic transmission, which some will see as another factor keeping the LC from qualifying as a pure sports car. But before writing off the torque-converter gearbox, I suggest giving it a chance, because around GingerMan, manual shift response using the paddles proves nearly immediate. No, it’s not quite dual-clutch quick, but it’s still good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds.
Through the corners of this road course, the LC’s super-stiff platform impresses, as does its suspension. Ripping through the track’s fast right-left transition between Turn 8 and Turn 9 is done in complete confidence, and body roll is almost nonexistent.
Initial turn-in is sharp on the 21-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport performance tires, while high grip levels make easy work of medium- and high-speed corners thanks in no small part to the optional rear steering and limited-slip differential. Steering feel itself is weighty and offers lots of feedback through the wheel, a welcome trait that’s finally becoming more common in Lexus’ latest vehicles.
It isn’t until a tight hairpin turn that the LC’s portlier curb weight can no longer be masked by its platform, steering and optional go-faster parts. The aluminum-bodied LC understeers here, but in all other areas on the track, the coupe is an impressive performer. High-speed stability, behavior under braking and driver engagement is all very good.
Street capable, too
The LC also happens to be a stunning head tuner with instant street cred. A low and wide stance, menacing spindle grille, long hood, sleek profile and aggressive light treatments remind me an awful lot of the dearly departed LFA supercar, albeit at a fraction of the price. If you want a car that’ll blend in with the crowd, this Lexus isn’t for you. The LC garners a lot of attention in neighborhoods, parking lots and at gas stations.
LFA inspiration continues inside, as evidenced by the LC’s dash layout, as well as its generous slathering of soft leather, carbon fiber and Alcantara trim. Front seats are supremely comfortable, with support in all the right places, while the there’s enough side bolstering to hold occupants tight on a racetrack. The cabin really is a nice place to be, with its exceptional build quality, materials and decent space for folks in front.
Those looking for a backseat capable of carrying adults likely will see the LC fall off their shopping lists. The aforementioned tight rear quarters are best left for transporting small kiddos, or shuttling around adults that you really don’t like. Ingress and egress to the back also requires contortionist-like flexibility.
For street driving, the drivetrain is capable of simmering down for a relaxing experience. Even at low revs, the engine has enough kick to briskly putter around town as the gearbox smoothly goes about its business. Together, the combo returns 16 miles per gallon in the city and a respectable 26 mpg on the highway.
The downside is that the LC’s low-profile tires and performance-oriented chassis tuning don’t result in a particularly cushy ride experience — especially on poorly kept Michigan roads. Impacts from most road imperfections are felt, but the Roadshow staff is split on how close they are to jarring. In my opinion, there’s still enough give in the suspension to tackle long road trips without regret, but not all of my colleagues agree.
Speaking of road trips, crisscrossing Michigan provides time to experience the LC’s cabin technology wares. The navigation system with its giant 10.3-inch center screen is responsive and quickly calculates routes, but entering destinations with Lexus’ Remote Touch interface remains clunky and more time consuming than dial-based controllers and touchscreen solutions.
For the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto user out there, I’m sorry to say that neither is compatible with this Lexus’ infotainment system.
Thankfully, my week with the LC never requires its standard pre-collision system with automatic brake assist system to step in, but radar cruise control sees lot of use, and works well. The cabin’s color head-up display helps keep my eyes on the road, while the Mark Levinson surround sound system rocks the cabin when I’m not listening to engine’s fantastic exhaust note.
If I was in the market for LC, it would certainly be the LC 500, not the costlier and heavier hybrid LC 500h. I would throw on the $5,960 performance package that adds the 21-inch wheels, rear steering and active rear spoiler. The group also includes some cool (but unnecessary) stuff like a carbon fiber roof, scuff plates and Alcantara headliner. I would also get the $390 Torsen limited-slip differential.
For non-performance related items, I’m a big fan of blind-spot monitoring, meaning I’d opt for the $1,000 convenience package that also includes parking assist. Since Michigan winters are a concern, the well-priced $250 all-weather package that adds a heated steering wheel and windshield wiper de-icer is also a must.
All-in, the price tag of my ideal LC 500 is $100,595, including destination charges. So equipped, my ideal-spec LC would be ready for occasional track days with the trick performance hardware, yet still equipped with a few extra niceties for year round driving.
Sports car or GT?
After my second go-round with the 2018 LC 500, I’m still unable to help my Roadshow colleagues definitively place Lexus’ flagship coupe in a particular vehicle category. It’s certainly not a full-on sports car or a cushy GT cruiser like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. Instead, it falls somewhere in between with traits from both classes, making it a unique sort of hybrid.
That split personality may bother some of my colleagues, but with an engaging drive character wrapped in a gorgeous 2+2 body, this Lexus LC is exactly the type of hybrid I can get behind.