Lexus LC500 review: joyously traditional coupe gets a geeky update Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Lexus LC500 review: joyously traditional coupe gets a geeky update

£83,770 when new
Published: 23 Aug 2021


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The Lexus LC – that’s a few years old now, right?

Right. But it looks fresher than its four years suggest, I’d argue. This remains an utterly jaw-dropping car to be near to, never mind drive. Lexus hasn’t gone big on a mid-life facelift, instead drip-feeding us with special editions and model-year updates to keep its luxury coupe (and now cabriolet) fighting fit.

That sounds familiar…

We’ve seen a similar approach applied to the Nissan GT-R, a car fundamentally the same as when it launched 14 years ago. Apply a gradual and very precise update every year or two, and slowly the car evolves at a rate almost invisible to the naked eye. Which might also sound familiar from, y’know, animals and humans. Evolution is nothing new.

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Is there a Japanese philosophy lesson coming?

無論 (of course). This is ‘takumi’, where “the precision skills of Lexus’s takumi master craftspeople” lead to “continuous, detailed refinement of driving dynamics”. The same mindset surrounded the LFA supercar – indeed, LCs roll out of the same Motomachi factory – to perhaps explain why you’ve clicked on this Lexus review when you’ve previously swerved those we've written on hybrid SUV thingies. Though Lexus has deployed ‘Takumi’ – upper case T – as a special edition trim on some of those.

Back to the sports car! What are the ‘detailed refinements’?

Geek-face emoji ahoy, for the LC’s tweaks rival a GT-R’s for bare-faced nerdiness. Somewhat sensibly Lexus has left the styling well alone, save for some new forged alloys, and they predominantly save weight. They sit at the end of new aluminium lower arms, hollowed out anti-roll bars and strengthened springs.

Having shaved out 10kg of unsprung weight, Lexus has then introduced minor suspension tweaks to make the LC sharper to drive. It wasn’t exactly a pudding before, but neither was it the sportiest of the numerous GT cars on sale. The power steering has been sharpened too, along with the rear-wheel-steering system of top-rung Sport+ Pack models, like we have here.

The LC500h hybrid version gets a more useful powerband and higher rev limit while the 10-speed auto of the purely petrol LC500 – again, the one you see here – has had a bit of vigour injected into it.

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It doesn’t sound a whole lot…

It’s made a difference, though. Losing 10 kilos from a two-tonne coupe is hardly what you’d call ‘lightweighting’ but it’s the considered sharpening of suspension and powertrain that have nudged the LC’s enthusiasm levels up just the right amount.

Making it an all-out sports car simply wasn’t on the menu – Lexus would give us an LC F capable of breaking some sort of sound barrier if that was the case – but what we now have is a car with dynamics better living up to the looks. You might actually get up and just drive it for the hell of it, rather than merely nod appreciably at its abilities during lengthy commutes.

There’s a big ‘if’ though, and it involves staying petrol and going for the top spec Sport+ model. That’s the only combination that snares you all the handling tools to make the LC drive at its very best.

What engine does that get me?

A socking great V8 with not a turbo in sight. There’s a delicious irony in Lexus, one of the early pioneers of hybrid powertrains, providing one of the scant few remaining safe spaces for an oversized naturally aspirated engine. It’s a situation that might truly have historians scratching their chins once they look back on the early 2020s after climate change has changed our car-buying habits asunder. We suspect that'll be a thick history book in general, really.

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Beyond the gearbox tweaks, Lexus hasn’t touched the powertrain. So the engine remains five litres in size to send 457bhp and 390lb ft peaks at the rear axle only. The former arrives at 7,100rpm, just 200rpm shy of the rev limit (which you can naturally lower yourself in a sub-menu if you’re so inclined).

It’s not an overwhelmingly quick car, but that’s a good thing – you can wring out a baffling amount of its performance compared to its almost entirely turbocharged rivals, and all with a delightful soundtrack peppered with genuine, unchoreographed crackles and pops if you’re keen with your downchanges.

Isn’t it an auto?

It is, and with ten ratios to choose from, you’ll likely leave it in D the vast majority of the time. If you’re being a mild hooligan, though, you’ll find the gearbox’s brain doesn’t initiate enough downchanges into a corner, then makes too few out of it if you’re in the sportiest driving mode. To strike the best balance you need to take manual control – and hope you haven’t left yourself seven tugs of the left paddle to make when a tight corner looms. And while the upgraded four-wheel-steering system does a marvellous job of virtually slicing the LC’s weight through corners, you’ll still need to be on the brakes early slowing its mass into them.

Is there anything else new?

The other major change is the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, things which somehow weren’t there before despite Lexus lobbing so much equipment at the LC you’re only really left with colour and wheel options. You need to be younger and smarter than me to actually connect a phone, though. Sure, I could RTFM, but no other premium infotainment setup works in such escape room-esque riddles for the simplest of functions. The whole system remains a cloying hurdle amidst the otherwise superlative ambience.

This remains a truly special place to climb into, never mind sit, with the theatre of pop-out door handles a smidge better-executed than a Jaguar F-Type's and a sliver of carbon trim on the sills. The seats look fabulous and truly envelop, with another pair behind that’ll squeeze in short adults or neatly accommodate kids and shopping. Some of the plastic switchgear that's been promoted up from dowdier Lexuses doesn’t quite match the bejewelled aesthetic surrounding it, but on balance this is a cabin that's aged spectacularly well.

A successful bit of takumi, then.

No doubt, but this’ll remain a niche choice. Lexus sold 82 LCs in the UK in 2020, though it’s shifted around 20,000 globally since 2017, three quarters of which are the loud, gargly V8.

It also seems entirely fair to assume the car that replaces the LC won’t have such a joyously traditional powerplant on its options list. Much as it’s becoming a cliché at the end of performance car reviews, this really is one to enjoy while you still can. One suspects a future update won’t quite be so geeky or subtle.

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