The grand tradition of the grand tourer, is a practice that has been dominated by Europe for decades. Now, Japan sets its focus on the grand tourer platform with some real success in the form of the sinuous Lexus LC500.
You might think the idea of a Japanese vehicle perfectly nailing the decades-old Grand Tourer brief is completely fanciful, however the 2017 Lexus LC500 is aiming to do just that.
It’s not the first time Lexus has focused its considerable engineering and manufacturing prowess in the direction of the traditional Euro base either – think back to the late ’80s/early ’90s and the SC400 (or Toyota Soarer).
History aside, a proper Grand Tourer (GT for short, obviously) sadly isn’t a four-door Aussie sedan with an uncultured lump of Detroit (or Canadian) iron under the bonnet and a win at Bathurst to solidify an otherwise taxi-spec sh*tter as a touring car racing legend. And before you start firing off offensive responses in the comments section below, my parents had an XW GT-HO Phase II when I was a growing up – it was a sh*tter.
No, a proper GT has two-doors, four seats, is RWD and has a ballistic engine up front under a long snout. A proper GT is the type of car you can imagine firing onto an Autobahn on-ramp, pointing towards the horizon, and then nailing the throttle with intent. With luggage for two in the rump and your better half in the passenger seat. Romantic isn’t it?
Which brings us to the Lexus LC500…
Think of marques like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and even Ferrari and Lamborghini. All have plied their trade in the GT space, with Ferrari’s latest effort – the 812 Superfast – currently garnering rave reviews.
There’s real emphasis on the ‘Grand’ part of the Grand Tourer moniker too – grand styling, grand proportions, grand interiors, grand comfort, and grand ability. The GT should be the Swiss Army knife of super fast road cars.
Why? Largely because the average buyer of this style of vehicle will have had – or still has – a taste of genuine speed and performance ability via other capable sports cars. Just because you need something usable for a weekend away with the better half and none of the compromises of supercars, doesn’t mean you should have to sacrifice a white knuckle banzai run across continents, does it?
The LC’s exterior styling will polarise, but that’s par for the course for Lexus. Outside of supercars though, I’ve never seen so many admiring glances, photos being taken and had as many positive comments fired my direction as I did with the LC500 during my week motoring around town.
“It looks like you’ve driven in from the future!”
That was a personal favourite. Regardless of whether you like the styling or not though, we need to acknowledge the coherence of Lexus’ design across wildly different platforms. There’s no escaping the Lexus ‘design language’, to use an insufferable corporate term.
You can read our full pricing and specification guide for all the details, but standard equipment highlights include: 10.3-inch infotainment display with satellite navigation and SUNA Live Traffic, Mark Levinson premium audio system, LED exterior lighting, glass panoramic roof, large head-up display, two-zone climate control, adaptive variable multi-link front and rear sports suspension, semi-aniline leather-accented upholstery, eight-inch multi-information driver display, heated and ventilated front seats with 12-way power adjustment and memory function, sports pedals and magnesium alloy paddle-shifters and six drive modes.
In addition to that expansive list of standard kit, our test LC500 is fitted with a Lexus Enhancement Pack, which includes Dynamic Rear Steering, variable gear ratio steering, Alcantara and leather accented trim, carbon-fibre roof, active rear wing and carbon-fibre scuff plates. That kit costs $15,000, so with the starting price of $190,000, our tester rings the cash register to the tune of $205,000 before on-road costs.
Crucial to the GT brief is the choice of engine, in this case a bellowing, naturally aspirated V8, and that’s exactly how it should be. While 12 cylinders is also acceptable, an engine comprising no less than eight, and willing to rev hard to redline, is worthy of mention in a traditional GT sense.
The Yamaha-fettled V8 is backed by a futuristic 10-speed automatic transmission and if you think a motorcycle manufacturer has no business engineering passenger car engines, pin a 1000cc superbike engine at redline for a few seconds and get back to me.
The active exhaust makes the most of the engine note, and even in comfort mode the V8 screams to redline with the most sumptuous soundtrack. And the throttle blips on downshift in Sport or Sport+ mode are addictive. The engine generates 351kW and 540Nm, however thanks largely to its portly 1950kg final weight, it isn’t a supercar in sprint terms – 0-100km/h takes 4.7 seconds.
It doesn’t however, need to be a supercar in acceleration terms, as ultimately that isn’t the GT focus. Easy, safe power, and effortless high speed cruising is where these cars should shine, and the LC does that. While you feel the LC’s heft when you start to flow from one corner to another, you still get the sense that the engine is properly under-stressed and the power it does make, in typical Lexus fashion, is well within a safe window.
The claimed ADR fuel use is 11.6L/100km and we used an indicated 13.5L/100km over our week behind the wheel. Fire down a freeway for more than 50km, and you’ll see that number start to drop even further down pretty quickly. The LC is hardly a thirsty vehicle, especially given its outright performance ability.
I love the proportions, even if I don’t love every individual design cue and I think holistically, the LC500 design works exceptionally well.
The grille for instance, which grates at the front of other Lexus platforms, suits the swooping lines and bulging rear arches of the LC. The wheel placement, offset and the way they fill the guards is beautifully executed too. And you’d almost sell your soul to access the extra $15k that brings with it the raw carbon-fibre roof – very cool.
Side on, the LC looks low and purposeful, but it doesn’t bottom out or scrape on anything. From the rear, it looks tough, sportscar like, broad and muscular – all terms you’ve probably rarely read from us in regard to Lexus, but all bang on the money here.
Open the door and it’s as if you’ve stepped back into 1975, but with the benefit of 2017 manufacturing tolerances.
Our test model, trimmed in sumptuous beige leather and Alcantara, looks gorgeous and perhaps most crucially, expensive. One non-negotiable feature of GT ownership is a glamorous companion in the passenger seat.
My cruise partner in crime (the Bonnie to my Clyde if you will), who has a far more finely-tuned eye for design than I, suggested the interior colour was ‘maybe two shades too light’ but madame otherwise loved the execution of the cabin.
Lashes of raw carbon-fibre – the roof, inside the doors, under the boot – hint at the measures Lexus has taken to deliver a very much 2017 take on the GT formula.
The seats might be the best sportscar seats I’ve ever tested for all round driving duties. They are comfortable, not too squishy, yet hold you in place when you hook in on a twisty road and with the amount of grunt under the bonnet, you’ll need to be held in place if you want to explore the outer reaches of the LC500’s performance envelope.
The love I’ve lost – surprise, surprise – for Lexus’ silly infotainment platform doesn’t return in the cabin of the LC500. It’s really the only glaring negative related to this car – elsewhere it’s just a minor gripe here or there. The touch sensitivity of the mousepad is better than other Lexus examples we’ve tested, but it’s still needlessly complex in execution, and not even close to the standard-setters.
I await the torrent of comments below about how we are anti-Lexus, but take your rose-tinted glasses off and the reality is stark – Lexus can do better. Much better in fact. Try changing the settings on the heated and cooled seats for example, at anything above 20km/h. Or adjusting the air conditioning temperature or fan speed. Hands of a surgeon won’t help you.
The central screen itself, and the information it displays, is excellent. Likewise the active driver’s gauge display, which changes character as you shift from Comfort to Sport and Sport+. In fact, the LC500 feels sportier than you might expect, from the driver’s seat.
The Bluetooth phone connection is clear and reliable, audio streaming works well and the resolution of the central screen is solid.
Press the starter button and the 5.0-litre bent eight erupts to life in almost offensive fashion. Crank the LC up in an underground carpark as I do each morning and you’ll be grinning like a loon – yes, the soundtrack is that good. Even in Comfort mode, the throttle response is sharp and immediate but those of you with any sense of adventure will pretty quickly opt for either Sport or Sport+.
Changing drive mode also changes the appearance of the driver’s gauge cluster, a little sense of Avantgarde theatre that suits the duality of the LC’s character. Move off from a standstill and you immediately sense the LC500 is an animal straining to be let off its leash. The nasty exhaust note up near redline, the immediacy of the throttle response and the relentless way it piles on speed, all combine to deliver a heady driving experience.
Our test example had the optional rear steering, which to be fair, will best be of use on a racetrack. If you want to keep your license intact, you won’t be going fast enough on the road to truly sample its dynamic ability. However, you will notice the effect of the rear wheel steering at low speed, or when parking, thanks to the reduced turning circle.
You can feel the heft of the LC when you start to link some tighter corners together, but it mostly hides its bulk well, and it certainly doesn’t wallow from one corner to the next.
The front end bites hard on turn-in, and once you let off the brakes to pick your turn-in point and head for the apex, the big Lexus goes exactly where you want it to.
On the subject of brakes, they aren’t sensational, and you have to work them harder than we’d like. Some of that could be down to the overall weight of the car, but it feels to us you have to work them harder than is ideal.
Front-end alacrity is no doubt assisted by the super sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres that are as good as it gets for road use. There’s no loss of feel or response up front on the road no matter how hard you ask them to work.
The rear will, however, step out quite easily, indicating just how much grunt the LC puts down to the bitumen. It’s not unhinged, and you get the sense it would transfer nicely from grip to slide on a racetrack, but even with all the traction nannies in place, the rear rubber can be overcome by the power and torque on offer.
Punch the throttle hard and the traction and stability control lights flash like an ’80s disco. They don’t rob you of any fun or forward progress though, and interfere only in an almost understated way.
The 10-speed automatic is genuinely impressive. It allows the engine to work in the upper reaches of its rev range almost all the time when you’re cranking along, which gives a twofold benefit.
First, you get to hear that glorious engine note, but second, and most important, the LC piles on speed rapidly given the way the ratios work to best extract the power and torque peaks. It shifts fast enough for the grand tourer blueprint, and blips beautifully on the downshifts too.
While it might not be as digital and savagely effective as Porsche’s PDK (the gold standard in modern gearboxes) for example, it’s more than rapid enough for buyers of these cars.
What most impressed us over our week of commuting is the overall ride quality of the LC500. Sure, it’s not an outright sports car, but a suspension system tuned to channel that much power to the hot mix, probably shouldn’t be able to insulate ruts, bumps and potholes as well as it does. There’s no fuss, no shuddering through the chassis, and no squeaks or rattles. It’s the typical, solid Lexus experience.
Styling inlcuded, the Lexus LC500 is unashamedly a different take on the GT theory. We’d expect nothing less from Lexus and the company itself wouldn’t want its first widely-available LFA pretender to be anything other than eye-catching in every sense. Whether you think it’s beautiful or not, is a point of personal preference.
What isn’t up for debate though, is the LC500’s sensational GT ability and the reward you get behind the wheel. It’s fast, brash, vociferous and multi-talented. It’s ridiculously easy to drive every day, and comfortable into the bargain.
At $190k without options and before on-road costs, the LC500 isn’t cheap, but it is cheaper than pretty much all of the cars it is competing with. The soundtrack, the beautifully executed interior, the subtlety of the 10-speed transmission, and the way it can tackle awful road surfaces with ease, all reek of quality and exclusivity.
The LC500 is a special car and outside of the thunderous LFA, it’s the pinnacle of Lexus’ engineering smarts.
The word sensational keeps springing to mind the more you drive it. Its biggest achievement might just be the realisation that the GT template doesn’t solely belong to Europe anymore.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn.