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The Top Gear car review:Lexus LC
What is it like on the road?
Here we must take one model at a time, because never before have we driven two variants of one car that are more different in character. We begin with the LC500h, because it wields a new, highly-complicated Multi Stage Hybrid System – basically a CVT gearbox that’s actually worth driving, says Lexus, as opposed to hitting repeatedly with a large stick. Total output from the 295bhp 3.5-litre V6 and 177bhp electric motor (fed by Lexus’ first lithium-ion battery, found behind the rear seats) is, confusingly, 354bhp. That’s sent to the rear wheels through a CVT gearbox and propels you from 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds and on to 155mph.
The clever bit is that Lexus has bolted a four-speed auto onto the back of the CVT. In manual mode the driver has ten steps to select from, using paddles behind the wheel. The first three gears in the new auto ‘box are combined with three artificially chosen ratios in the CVT (that’s nine gears right there), while the fourth gear is an overdrive – taking the total to ten. Lexus claims it dispenses with the infuriating rubber band feeling, where revs don’t match speed or throttle position, making the whole thing sound like a badly dubbed movie.
Sadly, it doesn’t. Well not entirely. Seize the paddles and the shifts themselves are laborious, and while the revs do rise and fall more closely with your right foot, it’s still a far from linear relationship, with flairs and dips when the sound should be constant. Really gun it and even it manual mode the V6 whines away at the top of its rev range, constantly searching for a minutely more efficient ratio.
Drive flat out and the whole things feels indirect and rather unsatisfying – it’s quick, but there’s little satisfaction in going fast. However, it’s not all bad news. With the electric motor chiming in, acceleration from a standstill, and sub-40mph, is punchy – useful if you spend your time stop-start driving around town. Leave the gearbox in auto and it does at better job at staying in the torque band than our ham fists could manage, perfect for a brisk cruise.
It’s worth noting that the LC500h we tried was in Luxury spec, so without the carbon-fibre roof and sportier seats you get if you stump up for a Sport or Sport+ model (all trim levels are available with both powertrains). It also does without the mechanical diff and rear-steering you get exclusively with the Sport+. Even so, on a series of twisty back roads, it feels every one of its 1,985kg.
On one tightening right-hander we carried a fraction too much speed in and the nose washed wide. We gathered it back up in time to mount a crest and felt the wheels go light before hitting a wet patch on the other side causing the rear to slew out of line. And before you blame a lack of talent, we weren’t at full tilt - our test car simply felt too big, too heavy and too lacking in electronic trickery to be able to throw around. Lucky then, that on the motorway it proved extremely good at being a Lexus – quiet as doctor’s waiting room and with a sumptuous floaty ride quality that makes long journeys a joy.
Right from the off it’s clear the LC500 is a different proposition entirely. Although down on power next to the 552bhp BMW M6, we know this non-turbo 470bhp 5.0-litre V8 well from the GS-F, and what it lacks in grunt it makes up for in character – delivering its maximum power at a shrill 7,100rpm, just 200rpm short of the red line. Then there’s the gearbox, a brand-new ten-speed torque-converter auto that’s comparable in size and weight to the GS-F’s eight-speed ‘box, but with the benefits of shorter gearing and more even spacing between the ratios. And it’s a triumph.
Kick back in Comfort and Eco driving modes and it shuffles around in the background like a Michelin-star maître-d’, but crank it up to sport+ and it slams home full-bore upshifts instantly and with a slap on the back. We found ourselves shifting down when it wasn’t required, just to hear a crack from the exhausts and flourish of revs.
There’s a woofly spike of revs on start up and immediately a better feeling of connectivity between your right foot and the rear tyres. Even below 30mph you can feel the rear-wheel steer sprinkling its magic, tightening the turning circle and giving the front end more positive bite.
Wind up the V8, feel it kick a bit harder past 4,000rpm, then hold your nerve as it charges with building intensity all the way to the 7,300rpm limiter. It doesn’t bludgeon you with its performance, this engine, it has to be tweezered out with patience and well timed shifts. Keep it in sport+ mode, though, (firmer suspension, sharper throttle response, sportier gearing for the variable ratio electromechanical steering), turn the ESP off completely and there’s a thug waiting to get out.
Turn in at speed and there’s body roll, sure, this is a 1,935kg coupe after all, but the rear-steer system finds agility where the hybrid felt flat-footed. And then, if physics does decides to step in and nudge the front end wide, you can always deploy the power to bring the diff into play and the back swinging around into an easily controllable slide. A proper muscle car mentality is required – the power isn’t just there to sling you down the straight, it’s there to help steer.
The steering wheel itself has that modern trait of lacking in feel, but makes up for it with a super-quick rack. It’s nicely judged – linear enough to gauge the amount of lock you need first time, with just enough information on where you stand relative to the limits of the front tyres.