This is a dignified monster. V8s are pretty rare these days, and even more so if they don’t rely on being force-fed to make their power. That makes this, the Lexus LC500, a pretty rare beast on our roads. And that’s before you add Inspiration Series to the title.
The 2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series is an ultra-rare beast. How rare? Try ‘fewer than 10’ examples in the country. Even Lexus’s premier export market, the USA, is getting only 100 examples. It’s a wonder, then, that Lexus handed CarAdvice the keys to one for a week to, um, inspire us.
What makes an ordinary LC500 inspirational? Other than the near-$16K premium over the non-Inspiration, although hardly uninspiring, LC500.
For starters, there’s the palette of one – Khaki Metal, aka olive green – complemented inside by ‘L-Aniline’ leather upholstery that according to Lexus “is made using only the top one per cent of carefully selected hide and undergoes a special tanning process to ensure maximum softness”. Indeed.
That tan-and-black ‘L-Aniline’ colour combination is unique to the Inspiration, as are customised scuff plates on the door trims. And that’s it.
The price for this exclusivity is $205,512 plus on road-costs, and that coin gets you a lot of grand tourer. It’s a small playground, too, the two-door grand tourer circa-$200K one. There’s BMW’s reborn 8 Series, specifically the 840i with its 3.0-litre turbo inline six, which wants for $202,900. Annnnnd, that’s it.
Of course, if fancy green paint and the one-percenters of leather don’t matter to you, the regular V8-powered LC500 wants for $189,642. Or there’s the six-cylinder hybrid variant, the LC500h, which needs $190,200 of your hard-earned to lob into your half-arsed-greenie driveway.
A grand tourer needs to be exactly that: a coupe capable of covering big distances in effortless comfort. There needs to be space for luggage, and an undeniable sense of plushness inside the cabin where you – and your passenger – can bask in comfort and luxury. It’s almost an intangible how a true grand tourer should feel, but you’ll know it when you feel it, just as you’ll know when something calling itself a grand tourer isn’t one. In the case of the LC500, the news is all good.
Yes, that tan-and-black interior combo isn’t to everyone’s taste, mine included, but the feel of the leather is truly outstanding. I can’t tell the incremental difference between the top one per cent of leather and the next, say, 10 per cent, not in a meaningful way. But, there’s no denying the special hide’s out-and-out quality. It looks and feels superb.
So, too, the rest of the cabin that oozes with GT-vibe. From the comfortable seats – electrically adjustable – to the swathes of Alcantara on major touchpoints, the front row is a special place. Forget about the second row; it’s neither practical for adult humans, nor wanted. No-one is going grand-touring three- or even four-up. It’s an adventure best saved for two – or solo at a pinch. Boot space is rated at 197L, so there's enough room for a couple of weekend bags.
Fire up the stonking 5.0-litre V8 that lives and breathes under that loooooong Lexus bonnet and the smiles it elicits are infectious. Engine tech has come a long way in a short span of years, but there’s something visceral about an atmo V8 rumbling at idle that a modern force-inducted bent-eight can’t replicate. It’s a thunderous cacophony of sound; the total antithesis of ever quieter, ever cleaner powertrains. It’s glorious.
The LC500’s V8 (internal code 2UR-GSE) has been around since 2007, first finding a home in the much-missed IS F from 2007 until its demise in 2014. Lucky for us, though, the 2UR-GSE found new homes in the RC-F, GS-F and, of course, the LC500.
In its current guise, the 5.0-litre is good for 351kW (at 7100rpm) and 540Nm (at 4800rpm), and in combination with the 10-speed automatic sending drive exclusively to the rear wheels, the LC500 completes the dash to triple figures in 4.7 seconds. Not supercar quick, no, but plenty fast.
Its party trick, though, isn’t in how rapidly but simply in how it gets there. Because this thing is as raucous and operatic as it is refined and dignified. If a thundering V8 can ever be dignified.
It’s certainly dignified cruising at urban speeds around town, where its thunderous nature is kept – easily – in check. Move off from standstill at a socially acceptable pace, and the LC500 barely breaks into a sweat, with little more than a muted rumble emanating from its pipes.
The drive remains effortless (as it should) with the 10-speed auto doing a great job of swapping ratios without a ripple in the cabin.
However, when the opportunity presents itself and the stretch of road in front of you beckons like the siren’s call on a distant shore, the LC500 responds with a snarl and a linear delivery of performance that is as easy to manage as it is outrageous.
This is no bucking bronco of a wild beast, instead the Lexus remaining composed and entirely predictable. Link some corners together, and you soon forget you’re in a car weighing almost two tonnes (1935kg kerb) and stretching almost five metres long (4770mm). It’s lithesome and acrobatic, yet entirely predictable. Yes, there’s some slip in the tail when you ask too much too soon, but it’s predictable and controllable.
Throw it into Sport+ mode and everything amplifies even further. The transmission eagerly holds onto revs longer, with the commensurate howl from under the snout. But if you really want to exploit its redline, using the paddle-shifters provides crisp and snappy gear changes, each accompanied by a bark that stirs the soul.
It’s not as accomplished in the tighter stuff, hairpins and switchbacks as a bona-fide sports car, showing some propensity for understeer as the sheer inertia of that big engine does what physics mandates it should. Instead, the LC500 is at its best on long flowing roads with wide, sweeping bends, where the reward is a feeling of connection with the car and the road.
The steering is beautifully weighted – a tactile tiller that never leaves you in doubt as to what the car is doing underneath you. The brakes, too, do a great job of retarding speed, with a meaty pedal feel that doesn’t fade with repeated hard use.
Yet, despite its unashamed and flashy performance, married to its ostentatiously styled exterior, perhaps the LC500’s greatest asset (other than the stonking atmo eight) is just how nicely it rides. Despite sitting on 21-inch alloys with laughably small sidewall rubber (and run-flats at that), the LC500 never feels overly firm or brittle.
It feels as a grand tourer should – comfortable, cossetting, quiet. It’s quite remarkable, really, that the bumps and lumps we’ve come to expect on our local roads are barely felt in the cabin. It’s a solid experience, and you luxuriate in its ability to isolate the types of nasties that can mar an otherwise grand touring experience.
The dignity of its road manners continues inside, the grand-touring experience enhanced by a supremely comfortable cabin. From the already mentioned special seats to the liberal use of Alcantara on door panels, the unashamedly plush interior feels every bit of the LC500’s $200K-plus ask.
And minor gripes about the Lexus user experience when it comes to managing infotainment aside, the LC500 now boasts smartphone mirroring, addressing a shortcoming that has previously left us frustrated. The touchpad UX for the main screen is still fiddly and annoying, but simply plug your phone in, mirror it, and cast your frustrations aside.
On the road, in both the urban jungle and out on the highway, Lexus claims the meaty V8 will sip only 11.6L/100km, which isn’t all that bad considering the monster lurking within. After a week with the LC500, including daily traffic, long, loping highway runs and a spirited stint on some empty ribbon of road, we saw an indicated 13.7 litres of 98RON slurped per 100km.
Servicing intervals for the LC500 are 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, for a not unreasonable $595 per visit for the first three years. The standard Lexus four-year/100,000km warranty applies.
Should you buy the LC500 Inspiration Series over a regular LC500? If you value exclusivity, green paint and leather so sumptuous it feels like you’re being massaged by a thousand feathers wrapped in silk, then yes. After all, for a mere $16K or so more than the regular LC500, you get one of only 10 examples in the country.
You also get one of the most accomplished grand tourers we’ve driven in a while, with effortless performance married to a dignified ride. It’s a monster, yes, but a dignified monster.