There’s no doubt the arrival of a new convertible model created an even bigger scene-stealer for the LC range – but Lexus has used that opportunity to roll out updates to the 2021 Lexus LC500 coupe, too.
A running change, rather than a fully-fledged mid-life update, the LC500 coupe maintains the standout styling that still, three years after launch, turns heads like a supercar.
In its typically Lexus way, the company has gone under the skin for 10 claimed engineering improvements aimed at honing the LC500’s dynamic performance. While it’s been hard to fault the LC500 previously, 2021’s version (launched mid 2020) is subtly and incrementally the better for them, it seems.
The LC500 sits in a fairly rare market segment. There’s not too many large, comfort-focussed two door coupes to choose from, and of those, the Lexus is the last to be fitted with a high-revving, naturally-aspirated V8 engine.
That alone wins its plenty of friends in the CarAdvice office. With 351kW at a lofty 7100rpm and 540Nm at 4800rpm, but no shortage of grunt on the way there, and a wide band with which to play in, the LC500 offers something turbocharged Euro rivals like the BMW 8 Series and Porsche 911 Carrera simply can’t match.
Priced from $194,747 plus on-road costs, it undercuts those two as well. Even with the $15,000 Enhancement Pack option, it still stacks up as the value star of the prestige grand touring coupe league. Provided you’re even cross-shopping in the first place.
|2021 Lexus LC500 Coupe|
|Engine||5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8|
|Power and torque||351kW at 7100rpm, 540Nm at 4800rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel clam, combined (ADR)||11.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||15.4L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty (years / km)||4 years/100,000km|
|Main competitors||BMW 8 Series, Porsche 911 Carrera, Jaguar F-Type R|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$209,747|
The thing with the LC range is its outright uniqueness. That's even been enough to see it outsell the quintessential Lexus, the LS limo (at a rate of two to one during 2020).
Changes this year see added body bracing, lighter suspension components, revised suspension settings and geometry, and something called a Performance Damper, developed by Yamaha in an attempt to cancel out errant body motions – in much the same way a water hammer damper stops pipes from shuddering. Clever, nerdy stuff.
The LC500 coupe spec list hasn’t changed too much. There’s a new heated steering wheel and ‘easy access’ front seat slide, but otherwise you’ll find 12-way power seats trimmed in semi-aniline leather, a powered steering column, 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio, auto-on and auto high beam LED headlights, proximity key entry and start, plus pop-out flush door handles, a colour head-up display and an 8.0-inch digital instrument display.
Seats get heating and cooling functions (linked to the two-zone climate control via a climate concierge function), and there’s also a 10.3-inch screen with remote touch interface covering a range of car control functions and settings to keep button-clutter down.
It also packs in satellite navigation, a DVD player, DAB+ digital radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – albeit wired, rather than the wireless forms now appearing in the market.
Lexus's infotainment is, sadly, still frustrating to use. You adapt to it over time, but there’s too many live options on a single screen, and the slightest bit too much effort on the pad can send the cursor from one button over to the other side of the display. Lexus could, of course, fit a touch screen with remote back-up (a la the trackpad or a dial) as it has in other cars, but seems wedded to the trackpad-exclusive concept in its flagship cars.
The Enhancement Pack option replaces stainless steel scuff plates with carbon fibre and deletes the glass roof for a carbon panel, while the seats adopt a sportier profile and add Alcantara trim. There's also an active rear spoiler, variable ratio steering, and dynamic rear wheel steering.
It’s an impressive package, but Lexus doesn’t let you mix and match. Personally I’d like to keep the glass roof, and I have no interest in the pop-up spoiler – but that’s just me.
Those details are very, very quickly forgotten once you hit the road. The LC500 delivers an experience that not only meets, but possibly even exceeds its exotic looks.
For all of the tweaks, grams shaved off suspension arms (well, 1.65kg), and revised spring rates, you may never know what Lexus has accomplished if you didn't have the earlier car to drive back-to-back with this one. Both are lovely to drive.
It’s not entirely faultless, though. I find the low-speed ride is still too jittery – somehow, despite its fat-haunched stance, something about the LC500 suggests it should be more cosseting. Lexus has changed the control software governing the adaptive variable suspension, which no doubt helps, along with spring rates designed to transmit less road harshness into the cabin – but it's not quite perfectly settled, yet.
Move off suburban streets and onto the open highway, however, and the big coupe glides along like it's on a cushion of air, never fidgeting or quaking over less than ideal surfaces.
No matter where you’re headed though, don’t take the shortest route. Find the best roads and always take the long road.
The big V8 is really the best of three worlds. It offers the lazy muscularity of an American V8 for cruising, the manic precision of a Japanese aspirated engine at soaring revs, with the widely explorable mid-range of a typical German sports car.
The noise itself marks this as something special, deep and well rounded on startup, barely perceptible as you shuffle through traffic, but switching to a guttural roar if you push the tacho beyond the 3500rpm mark. From there, the engine takes on a different demeanour, angrier and more determined than the cruiser that came before it.
Triggering that switch doesn’t provide the old angry cam profile twitch of old, either. The handover is luxuriantly gentle, and yet devastatingly rapid.
If anything, the 10-speed automatic sending urge to the rear wheels could be a few too numerous in its ratios. Left in comfort mode and slotted into drive, it will shunt between gears in the hunt for the perfect speed and load combo.
By upping the drive mode to Sport or Sport+ the shifts hold out for a little longer, and the package as a whole feels a little more pointed, without a complete disregard for comfort or composure.
Put the engine into play as you cycle through the gears using the paddles, and the LC500 reveals more still.
There’s none of the blocked drain gurgle of manufactured overrun, just a single crisp snapping sound as the intake manifold cuts its draw of air at full-throttle upshifts. Just a moment later, as the 5.0-litre V8 takes its next breath, you can hear the rush of air flooding the manifold to fill the combustion chamber vacuum.
In between, there’s a finely adjustable broad band of engine to explore, free from augmentation (though amplified via trick intake piping), you instead drop the windows to revel in the concert-hall experience of what might be one of the best modern engines in a mainstream production car.
For gauge watchers, Lexus claims 11.6L/100km – higher than the factory figure of similar rivals, but, after a week on city streets with some open-road cruising and an afternoon of high-RPM exploring, consumption settled at 15.4L/100km.
That engine is the party piece though, as even though the handling is completely obedient and reassuringly responsive, the LC500 is never going to challenge a 911 for crisp front-end feel.
Even in the sportiest drive mode, the steering lacks significant weight or feedback. The front end is unerringly accurate, but the effect is a little more arcade-like than is ultimately ideal.
Of course, all things are relative. The LC500 isn’t designed as a track-bred racer with gentlemanly overtones. It is first and foremost a luxury coupe. A segment that even long-lived rival marques like Audi and Jaguar don’t compete in.
The interior is absolutely stunning. For 2021 there’s new colour and trim combinations, like the three-tone red, black and burgundy Flare Red seen here. The black and ochre trims continue, along with a new Manhattan Henge with a high-contrast black and orange combo, for the bold.
Hunkered low in the cabin, the LC500 can feel a little plus-sized at first, with the far corners of the car stretching far beyond the real estate represented within the cabin. With powered seat and steering wheel position set, key controls fall easily to hand.
Every surface you touch has a lovely leather-coated finish, or if not, there’s plenty of cool metallic finish – and of the plastics that are simply plastics, there’s a well constructed heft. And, call it premium if you will, but it's also nice to find the head-up display remains visible with polarised sunglasses on. Not every car in the class can claim that.
The design, with its sweeping curves and driver-centric configuration, is still a standout. There’s some shared bits with other Lexus models, of course, but unlike Mercedes, Audi and BMW, the interior isn't simply a rearranged set of control modules.
There’s bespoke climate controls, and a console layout that is all the LC’s own. It’s almost refreshing to see a car with a near $195k base price, that isn’t simply a reheated version of parts from $40-$50K mass market models.
For a car of such prodigious dimensions, it may surprise to find that the rear seats are barely useful (as is the case with almost every 2+2 coupe). More importantly the boot, at 197 litres, feels skimpy – although it’ll easily enough carry a weekend’s worth of light luggage for an escape to the coast.
Perhaps a little oddly, where most brands make outlandish spec sheet statements with flagship vehicles, Lexus plays a much simpler game. Seat adjustment is more basic, with no massage or bolster fettling, for instance.
The same goes for driver-assist functions. There’s adaptive cruise control and active lane-keep assist, of course, but no claims of partial autonomy or hands-off driving. Think of the big Lexus coupe less as a showcase of one-upmanship compared to rivals, and more as proof of Lexus’s dedication to its craft.
In this way, the LC500 has more in common with a coupe from Porsche or Aston Martin than it does with those from Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
That's not to say the LC is short of safety and driver assist tech, of course. There’s eight airbags, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert (which are incredibly helpful given the small glasshouse), collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), tyre-pressure monitoring and auto high-beam. There's no advanced intersection AEB, cyclist detection or high-speed intervention though, putting it on the back foot, where many cheaper new-release cars include this tech.
The low-tech side of safety is more of a letdown, really. The external mirrors could do with a wider-angle view – you can see into an adjacent lane, but between the fat rear haunches, tall rear end and narrow mirror view, lane-changing can be a little heart-in-mouth with no view of what might be coming from two lanes over.
Really though, gripes are few with this car. Even after some years on the market, it still attracts as much attention as many supercars, and while it may not excel in every area, dynamically it rarely puts a foot wrong.
Stepping in for the LS sedan as a true flagship, the 2021 Lexus LC500 is Lexus’s best example of what the brand can achieve.
It may not have reset the GT segment status quo in the same way the LS400 did when it first arrived, but the LC500 and its atmo V8 engine – no doubt living on borrowed time – could leave just as great a legacy.
If you’re fence-sitting on this one, it is absolutely worth a test drive. The only thing you’re likely to lose sleep over is the decision to stick with the classic coupe, or opt for the new drop top.