Beauty goes to the bone with Lexus LC 500h …
Beauty should be more than skin deep when a car crosses the $100 grand threshold and beauty goes clear to the bone with the Lexus LC 500h. This is the hybrid version of the luxury car maker’s grand tourer (GT).
I’d tested the V8 powered 2+2 screamer during the summer and was wowed by its looks, power, handling and interior design and comfort. All the good stuff remains. In fact, not much is different in this hybrid version, save the hybrid system itself and the fact it’s mated to a 3.5-liter V6.
As with other hybrids, the LC 500h uses batteries, regenerative braking and an electric motor to assist the gas-powered engine. Combined, the electric motor and V6 make a satisfying 354 horsepower. Torque is good because that electric motor powers the car to about 10 mph in a few milliseconds.
Then the V6 kicks in and allows the driver to kick the GT up to highway speeds in a few seconds. While the V8, says Lexus, will do 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, the hybrid does it in 4.7 seconds. If you’re at a drag strip that matters, otherwise, not so much.
There’s plenty of power, but the hybrid doesn’t sound as racy, nor does it feel as quick. But if you’re hoping to save fuel, then this is the way to go and you will not sacrifice a lot in the way of performance. I did detect a slight hesitation as the car switched from electric to gas-powered mode, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
As with the gas-powered speedster the automatic electronic continuously variable transmission does an excellent job of slipping through the electronically set gears. The shifts are smooth, but with enough hesitation to feel as if there really are gear shifts going on, not just a computer adjusting the ratios.
My only disappointment from the performance was in fuel economy. The trip computer said I averaged about 27 mpg, which would be an improvement from the 21 mpg or so I got with the V8 powered LC. But my fill-up put the gas mileage at about 22 mpg, so only marginally better than the gas-powered unit. If I’m paying $4,500 extra for a hybrid, I’d like to see mpg closer to the EPA estimates of 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.
Granted I toggled back and forth between the drive modes, mostly Sport and Comfort as the later smoothed the ride and eased the steering effort, much appreciated in city driving. There are five modes adjusted via a knob next to the dash’s gauge pod — Normal/Comfort, Sport/Sport+ and a Custom setting you can program. Not sure I’d bother.
I could barely discern a difference between Normal and Comfort, while Sport is a nice blend of precise handling and boosted low-end power. Sport+ delivers the most pop off the line and creates more of a racer feel. Unlike the V8 though, there’s no engine exhaust crackle to stimulate your performance DNA. I prefer crackle to whine.
Handling is fantastic, especially in the sport modes where the wheel feel is so crisp you’re certain you could polish off any apex at Road America and still come out with oodles of grip. The wide R20 tires provided plenty of that to the dark metallic blue test car.
Ride is sporty, naturally, as the car features a performance oriented multi-link suspension system. So there’s good road feel and a little bump in the ride on city streets, but silky on smooth roads and the highway. It felt better than in the V8-powered unit that boasted 21-inch RF performance tires.
Braking is fabulous with monstrous discs and calipers to allow you to push the car to its limits for hours, if you can find the right road, or a racetrack that will sell you some track time. Front brakes are 15.7-inch six-piston opposed aluminum calipers with high-friction pads. In back are 14.1-inch four-piston opposed aluminum calipers, again with high-friction pads. Serious stopping power here, but a good thing as the hybrid runs about 200 lbs. heavier than the gas version, checking in at 4,435 lbs.
But while performance is front and center in this gorgeous GT, it’s luxury car quiet inside, something the hybrid system accentuates as it starts in electric mode and backs up in electric, so super quiet. One probably shouldn’t be surprised by the luxury feel in a Lexus, especially once you eyeball all the leather and suede (Alcantara leather) cushioning the interior.
Seats in the test Lexus were a thick red leather with a red suede trim in the doors and a black suede headliner. Folks who rode in the car commented on the stunning looks, and everyone HAD to touch the suede headliner. Smoked chrome trim set it all off nicely too.
In back are a couple seats, but they are for insurance purposes as no one with legs could really fit in them comfortably.
There was more here too – automatic heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel. You could adjust these through a complex system, or let them automatically turn on as they saw fit. Weather varied from cold mornings to warm afternoons and the seats did choose wisely to warm or cool as needed. The heated wheel, windshield de-icer and PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient) heater cost $250 extra. The PTC helps heat a car’s interior more quickly than a traditional system, so a plus in Wisconsin.
An even bigger plus that’s standard equipment is the LC’s 10.25-inch screen mid-dash. That is particularly helpful in seeing the view from the rearview camera, plus in tuning in radio stations and making other comfort adjustments.
Sadly, as I’ve said many times, Lexus uses a laptop-style touchpad on the console to adjust that screen. It’s awkward at best, especially while driving. You really shouldn’t futz with it when the car is in motion. Better to hope that your passenger can figure out the touchy thing while you concentrate on the road.
Another annoyance, the constant beeping inside the cockpit any time the car is in reverse. That’s particularly disturbing when backing in a crowded parking lot where you are trying to see around giant sport-utes and crossovers as you exit a parking spot. Hybrids often have this feature to warn you the car is in motion since it’s so quiet in electric mode.
Granted the test car added the $1,000 convenience package that includes park assist, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert. But then I think all that should be standard on a halo car of this price. A heads-up display adds another $900 and the Touring package is $1,790 and includes a fancy Mark Levinson audio system with 13 speakers, a DVD and CD player, plus the leather seats and suede headliner.
Like the V8 model, the LC500h is pricey, but that’s to be expected. This one lists at $97,535, including delivery. With a few options the hybrid topped out at $101,445, actually about $4,000 less than the gas-powered model I’d driven earlier.
Oh, and trunk space? Well, you’re not taking family vacations in this one, so its 4.7 cubic feet of cargo room may be fine for a couple overnight bags.
So if you’re in the market for a luxury GT model, but prefer hybrid-aided power to raw V8 snap crackle and pop, the LC 500h is tailor-made for you.
FAST STATS: 2018 Lexus LC 500h
Hits: Beautiful 2+2 fastback styling, strong engine, good handling, decent ride. Comfortable and stylish interior with heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, multiple power modes, big dash screen, complete list of safety aids.
Misses: Touchpad control for infotainment is hard to use while driving, some hesitation as the car switches from electric to gas power. Useless back seat and hybrid didn’t provide much better gas mileage in testing, although it’s rated much better than gas-powered model. Also, an annoying beep when car in reverse.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 3.5-liter, V6 hybrid, 354 horsepower
Transmission: 10-speed ECVT automatic
Weight: 4,435 lbs.
Length: 187.4 in.
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Cargo: 4.7 cu. ft.
MPG: 22 (tested)
Base Price: $97,505 (includes delivery)
All weather package (heated steering wheel, windshield de-icer, PTC heater), $250
Convenience package (park assist, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert), $1,000
Heads up display, $900
Touring package (semi-aniline leather trimmed front seats, Alcantara headliner, Mark Levinson 13-speaker 915-watt surround sound system w/DVD/CD/MP3 player and Clari-Fi), $1,790
Test vehicle: $101,445
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage