Picture your ideal grand tour. If your name is Paul Maric, it probably involves an Aston Martin and a Californian highway. Mandy is all about Beetles, while Trent Nikolic ticked 'classic Mercedes-Benz on the Pacific Coast Highway' off the bucket list.
They're all wrong, though, because the perfect grand tour involves a Lexus LC 500, the Great Ocean Road, and a date.
Dating is difficult, especially if you're ugly like me. Meeting people in person is tricky, while apps are a confusing minefield. And when you meet someone you like, you need to be engaging and friendly – but not too friendly – because that makes you seem boring. Confused? Me too.
No-one at CarAdviceunderstands how, but a real, human woman agreed to come on a date with me. Then a second and third. Date four was going to be something special – Lexus LC 500 special. The car is stunning to look at, for one, especially given Lexus used to be the automotive equivalent of a stifled yawn.
It's pure artwork from the outside, with a gaping silver grille and angular headlights slashing into the front fenders. The waist is aggressively pinched, while the 21-inch chrome wheels could have been stolen directly from the concept preceding the production car. And don't even get me started on the rear: it's stunning. Drop-dead gorgeous. Achingly pretty. Et cetera.
Power comes from a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 making 351kW and 540Nm, good for a 4.7-second sprint to 100km/h. It's hooked up to a 10-speed automatic gearbox, sending power exclusively to the rear wheels.
Thanks to the ($15,000!) Enhancement Pack, our car also included a carbon-fibre roof and pop-up rear spoiler, along with passive rear-wheel steering and a limited-slip differential. Oddly enough, rear-diff chat was kept to a minimum during the date, but it's a nice thing to have nonetheless.
The extravagance continues behind the wheel. You perch low in leather and suede bucket seats – heated and cooled, no less – while the door trim and centre console sit high, enveloping you in their red, leathery embrace. There are two rear seats, but they're only useful for small children, overnight bags or people you really don't like.
Although the car can be specced with tan or black leather trim, the deep red of our tester seems suitably sexy in such a stunning car. The seats feel soft and expensive, like a fancy cinema chair or lounge suite, and there's endless electric adjustment to help you get comfortable.
Day bags stored in the boot, it was time to hit the road. Engine started – and childishly revved, natch – we pointed the long, low LC 500 at the Westgate Bridge bound for the Geelong Freeway and, eventually, the famous Great Ocean Road.
Conceived towards the end of World War I, the ocean road links Torquay and Warrnambool, hugging the stunning south coast of Victoria for most of the way. It was built by returned soldiers, who set about linking the then isolated towns dotting western Victoria with shovels, low-level farm machinery and dynamite.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 'several' of the 3000 men involved in the initial stages of construction were killed while clearing the first stretch of road. Having started work in 1920, the team completed the road to Apollo Bay in 1932. It's free today, but you had to pay tolls in the early days.
Although we're not paying cash, the road takes a pound of flesh in others ways: namely, tourists in rental cars. It's a stunning stretch of tarmac, blending long sweepers with tight, blind corners and hairpins, but the flow of nervous visitors and grey nomads makes for slow progress. Daniel Andrews, please hire a less effective global marketing team and turn the road into a racetrack. You'd have my vote for sure.
Sitting behind traffic can be maddening in some cars, but the LC doesn't feel like a caged animal at low speeds. It's tame and comfortable, engine burbling away in the background, music pumping through the Mark Levinson stereo and conversation between passenger and driver flowing smoothly.
Don't think it's boring, though. The LC 500 is anything but boring. Its naturally aspirated engine is symphonic, and the right-hand pedal is the conductor's wand. It sounds burbly and gruff at low revs, before the sound becomes edgy through the mid-range and crescendos with a blood-curdling, brassy scream at redline.
Passers-by stop and stare when you accelerate, and grown men giggle when you pull the left-hand paddle at low speed, forcing the car to rev-match into first gear. It's intoxicating.
Traffic negotiated, car parked in Lorne, we set about finding breakfast. Like most Australian seaside towns, it's packed with hippy cafes and trendy coffee spots, but you should ignore them all – The Bottle of Milk does the best coffee and breakfast in town, and is always packed with surfie locals and tourists. It's reasonably priced, too, which is ideal when you're trying to be chivalrous by picking up the cheque.
It's a short hop from cafe to beach for some 'people watching'. You can walk out past the surf break at low tide and watch surfers from the rocks. Kids in colourful wetsuits jostle with long-haired, middle-aged locals in board shorts and faded rash vests.
Whereas the kids tire quickly, the old surfers pick their moment expertly, effortlessly springing to their feet and eking every last drop from the surging walls of water. It's a great spectacle, and sitting on the rocks could almost be considered romantic.
From the rocks, we walk to Teddy's Lookout and enjoy the view, before wandering to the car and heading for the Aireys Inlet lighthouse – famous for its role in Round the Twist, and home to some of the best scones this side of Wimbledon. Traffic on the Great Ocean Road is lighter on the way back, which means there's room to open the LC 500 up. It isn't an out-and-out sports car, but there's still fun to be had as the pace rises, and any opportunity to extend the V8 toward redline is golden.
Alborz and Tony were lucky enough to put an LFA and LC 500 through their paces on the track, and came away impressed by the four-seat LC. That isn't surprising based on how sharp the nose felt on the road, and how well the suspension coped with ugly, bumpy tarmac. It's a 1950kg grand tourer, but there's a sports car hiding in there somewhere, waiting to be let out. LC F, anyone?
Above: The view from a lookout below the Aireys Inlet lighthouse.
We scoff scones and coffee as the Lexus sits in a gravel carpark, flanked by mid-sized SUVs and Avis hatchbacks. It might as well be a spaceship for all the looks it gets.
It's a seriously impressive car, even given the $200K+ price. The exterior is stunning, the interior sumptuous and the engine downright intoxicating, though some bits and pieces are less than perfect. The mouse-based infotainment system is diabolical to use on the move, and basic cabin functions (seat heating and ventilation for example) are buried under countless layers of infuriating menus.
The buttons on the steering wheel feel a bit Toyota, and if you look closely you'll recognise some of the lights in the dashboard from the Camry. A small thing, but not really up to scratch in a high-end grand tourer. If we're being really picky, some of the exterior details are a bit chintzy as well, although standing out is central to the appeal of cars like this.
To these – horrifically unfashionable – eyes, they look great on cars finished in navy blue or black, but seem out of place on our white tester. Then again, no-one else pointed them out, so that could be a personal quirk.
Scones duly scoffed, we hit the road and head for home, Lexus ticking over just above idle on the highway as trucks dive from lane to lane. The date has been rolling for about seven hours by now and... It's going really well! Well, she's still talking to me, which seems like a good sign.
The car munches the miles back to Melbourne, sitting barely above idle in top gear. There's hardly any road noise, and adaptive cruise control handles the cut-and-thrust of highway traffic. A pair of Supras spots the LC 500 just outside Geelong and pulls alongside for a closer look, before giving the thumbs up and roaring into the distance, dustbin exhausts blazing. When was the last time a Lexus garnered that reaction?
We pull into the driveway after a solid four-hour round trip, and agree the car is so comfortable we could turn around and do the trip again. I'd be happy to jump in the car and drive to Sydney on a whim, although the fuel bill might send me broke. After a week of city, highway and urban driving, we averaged around 10.0L/100km, which isn't bad given the naturally aspirated V8 up front.
Something tells me more time in the city could see that number blow out, though.
As for the date? Well it can't have gone too badly, because we've been seeing each other since. I'd like to credit my charm and good looks, but realistically the car is probably to thank. I'll give you a call if things are looking rocky, Lexus – maybe an LFA would do the trick...
NOTE: Yes, eagle-eyed Melburnians, the photos are mostly of Melbourne's Yarra Boulevard - my partner couldn't drive the car (insurance) and we weren't about to invite a third-wheel photographer along for the weekend!