Lexus LC500 review: GT car refinement fused with a thundering V8
Several weeks ago, Lexus invited me to drive the hybrid-powered LC500h from Munich to Milan. You can read my full review of the Lexus here, but in short, I found it to be an engaging, luxurious car that was comfortable at motorway speeds, yet lively on the twisty roads of the Alps. And when combined with a seriously forward-thinking powertrain and stunning looks, the LC500h is an interesting prospect for those in the GT car market.
However, I had one niggling problem with the LC500h: the LC500. A day after I drove the hybrid LC500h, I got my hands on the LC500, a different version of the coupe that’s pretty much identical – apart from the huge five-litre V8 engine under its bonnet.
That meant I was able to compare both cars back-to-back on pretty much the same roads and even look at the pros and cons of an old-fashioned V8 compared with the futuristic hybrid. So what did I think? Keep reading for my review of the LC500.
Lexus LC500 review: Design
On the outside at least, the LC500 is identical to the LC500h, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your taste. Just like the LC500h, I think Lexus’ V8-powered coupe looks fantastic. The LC500 is a blend of bio-mechanical gills, creases and folds, and it looks unlike anything else on the road.
Most cars at this price point are relatively conservative, but the Lexus design team has taken the decision to go big and bold, and that’s a great thing.
Lexus LC500 review: Interior
The LC500 is identical to the LC500h when it comes to in-car tech, so for a full analysis of the technology in the Lexus, read my existing review here. Below I’ll summarise the tech you’ll find in the LC500.
The key thing to note is how different the LC500 is from most other cars in its price bracket. Instead of touchscreens, command dials and complicated menu systems, the LC500 is all machined switches and knobs, designed to tweak the car to your liking.
Instead of a regular touchscreen, the LC500 has a hooded 10.3in LCD display and it’s controlled with a touchpad. When I first drove the car in Ibiza, I thought the LC500’s infotainment system was awful, but after spending hours with it in the Alps I soon warmed to it. Once you get used to using a trackpad, it’s actually quite accurate, and the use of haptic feedback also makes it enjoyable to use.
The LC500’s satnav was also impressive, delivering almost all directions promptly, with clear instructions on its display. The Lexus’ cruise control was less good, and although I got it to work eventually, it wasn’t the most intuitive system I’ve encountered.
The V8 Lexus I drove also came with the same Mark Levinson as the LC500h I drove, and it was something of a mixed bag. With the surround sound mode enabled by default, it had less definition and fidelity than you’d expect from a £1,000, 13-speaker, premium sound system. Disable the surround sound, however, and things improve significantly. The treble is sharper, the mid-range more defined and having surround sound off also reveals a very impressive low-end.
Lexus LC500 review: Powertrain
And now the bit you really want to know about. How does the V8 engine in the LC500 compare to the hybrid powertrain in the LC500h?
Before I get to the details, I’d like to say one thing. I’ve been a fan of hybrid cars ever since I experienced a BMW i8, complete with all the whirrs and fake engine noise it brings with it. Hybrids can be fun, and cars such as the Honda NSX, McLaren P1 and the BMW i8 prove it.
The Lexus LC500h achieves almost the same feat. Although the LC500 is a far nicer car to drive than the LC500h, it isn’t that much better. The LC500h is faster from 0-60mph and the low-end torque you get from its hybrid powertrain beats the LC500 off the lights every time.
I wanted to prefer the LC500h, but once you go up the gears, the 461bhp of the LC500’s V8 begins to ease away. Yes, it’s old-fashioned technology, but it sounds just incredible. Driving on some of the best roads – and tunnels – in Europe was an amazing experience in the LC500 and I just didn’t get the same rush in the LC500h.
However, this isn’t a criticism of the LC500h’s hybrid powertrain but a criticism of the gearbox it’s attached to. The LC500h’s “virtual” ten-speed gearbox may be technically brilliant, but it makes changing gear far less involving and gives the hybrid’s 3.5-litre V6 engine an unpleasantly strained engine note.
Despite both cars weighing around two tons, both the LC500h and LC500 handle well when you want to push on. The LC500h’s hybrid system means it weighs a little more, (2,011kg to the LC500’s 1,935kg) and the difference isn’t actually that noticeable.
It’s important to remember that these are both GT cars, designed for driving long distances and interesting roads. The LC isn’t a replacement to the bonkers LFA, so don’t expect to be able to precisely place it on the road like a supercar.
Lexus LC500 review: Verdict
In a way then, the LC500 is the better car, but only by default. Sure, the LC500 has a fantastic engine note, and awesome speed, but it edges out the LC500h version due to the hybrid’s less inspiring gearbox. Both iterations of Lexus’ LC are impressive cars, but with both priced equally at £76,595, I’d choose the non-hybrid every time.