The last time Lexus ran a supercar up its flagpole, people’s heads exploded. Well, the 500 LFA drivers’ heads did, but the rest of the 7 billion earthlings were merely confused. It was hard to see how the carbon-fiber tub or 9000-rpm 72-degree V-10 were going to trickle down to ES350s and RX hybrids. So this time, Lexus is cloaking its hi-po bellwether in, um, sheep’s clothing. Even Lexus’s language masks its intent with the LC500.
The company is careful not to call this 2+2 a sports car, instead using descriptors such as “grand touring coupe” and “luxury sports coupe.” But the LC is studded with serious performance-car bona fides such as an engine that sits fully aft of the front-axle centerline, an active rear spoiler, an available carbon-fiber roof, even carbon-fiber inner-door panels and a composite trunk floor. Make no mistake: This is Lexus’s new North Star, one far better positioned to influence the lineup than the LFA. It points to the fact that this is a company on the verge of major change.
Lexus isn’t mincing words when it comes to the LC500’s skeleton, calling it an “all-new, rear-wheel-drive architecture that does not share components or design ideology with any current Lexus platform.” It will, however, serve as the blueprint for the brand’s future front-engine, rear-drive vehicles. Lexus claims that it is the most structurally rigid unibody the company has ever produced, with more high-strength steel than in any of its vehicles and stiffness exceeding even that of the LFA. Meanwhile, the bumper beams, the front suspension-mount reinforcements, and most of the suspension links are aluminum, as are the door skins. Expect a curb weight right around two tons, with a rear-mounted battery doing its part to limit the nose’s load to 52 percent.
Even though Lexus shies away from calling the LC500 a sports car, the company does say the driver’s hip point was “engineered to be as close as possible to the vehicle’s center of gravity.” The goal is to make the dynamic feedback clear, and chief engineer Koji Sato says his team spent “more than triple” the usual amount of time perfecting the LC500’s road feel.
About that supercar talk: The LC500 is launching with Lexus’s current hottest engine, the 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V-8 from the RC F and GS F. Output is a respectable but not at all supercar-appropriate 468 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. Lexus says it’s not because the company is lazy or cheap that the LC500 isn’t turbocharged; it’s because of the naturally aspirated engine’s linear throttle response and emotional sound. But it’s not so emotional that the exhaust isn’t artificially enhanced through the speakers.
And it’s likely that the LC will only lack turbochargers temporarily. The V-8 borrowed from its siblings is incongruous with its front-mid-engine positioning and other exotic cues. Lexus isn’t talking about any high-performance variations yet, but if the LC is truly going to be a flagship, expect two additional powertrains down the road. One, of course, will be a hybrid. But for the other: If Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda isn’t personally shepherding an LC F high-performance model through development, we’ll be shocked. Expect a whole new engine, likely something with a pair of turbos and output that moves it into the Germans’ 600-hp neighborhood.
We expect that one version will also use the LC500’s new 10-speed trans, an automatic of Lexus’s own design. The high-performance intent is on full display here, too, as it uses the lightest, smallest-diameter torque converter ever used in a Lexus. The company claims a zero-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds for the LC500, which we assume to be conservative by at least a couple of tenths.
The caramel-colored leather and Alcantara of the LC’s interior definitely says “grand touring” more than “sports car.” Here, too, details enliven the experience. Those shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel are magnesium. And check out the strakes cut by the wind, it seems, into the door panels aft of the door handles, which jut through the upholstery without a typical dish or bezel. To declutter the center console, controls for vehicle-mode selection move to a pair of stalks on the sides of the instrument panel.
In profile, the LC500 is a slab-sided study in basic coupe proportions. But the greenhouse’s dramatic rearward taper allows for powerful haunches, which together with wild detailing on the nose and rear help the car transcend its silhouette. Designers did their best M.C. Escher homage with the tessellated grille mesh, which morphs from zigzag wire frames down near the ground into a mosaic of rhomboids at the hoodline. Barbed daytime running lamps and vertical air intakes flank the grille. The view from behind is likewise dramatic, with the bodywork mirroring the shape of the spindle grille and the taillights set in housings that mimic the air intakes in the nose.