First Drive: The 2018 Lexus LC 500 Doesn't Want To Be The Perfect One

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In its Super Bowl 51 ad, Lexus changed its longstanding marketing tagline. Lexus is no longer, “The Pursuit of Perfection,” but now it wants you to “Experience Amazing.”

I don’t know what that means either. But you can see from first glance how the Lexus LC 500 wants to amaze you. It’s been years in the making, supercars aside, but the LC is the boldest attempt from Lexus to strike “boring” from any reference and inspire emotion the way its century-old rivals have done.

Thing is, “Perfection” perfectly explained what Lexus wanted ever since 1989 when its first car was shown. Has it been sidelined here?

Strike it up

To my eyes, the LC is the best adaptation of the L-Finesse design language that’s given us the imposing spindle grilles on Lexus models for years now.

Admittedly, that’s slightly damning with faint praise, because while the new coupe is certainly striking, it’s far from the cleanest design. Big, expensive coupes tend to promote grace and with its intricate grille detailing and slashes everywhere, the Lexus is comparatively gimmicky. There’s a lot of chrome going on, too, especially on the wheels.

That said, it still looks very much like the LF-LC concept. Concept car looks aren’t hyperbolic on this Lexus. Cynical auto journalist eyes who tire of seeing spindled F Sports may be jarred by it, but among the visitors and residents of Kona-Kohala coast in Hawaii, the LC attracted numerous gasps, stares, waves and “hang loose” gestures.

Which I still have a hard time making with my left hand.

The traditional Lexus values shine, with lots of standard equipment and little to make you question its quality. Even the window switches no longer look as if they’ve come off of a Camry.

In stitches

Those “concept car looks” extend to the inside of the LC. And they’re right, although obvious concessions from both form and function departments were made to get here.

Still, this is style central. And Lexus’ people like to boast about handmade-ness of the LC 500’s interior. Pretty much everything you see or touch is swathed in leathers that are beautifully stitched together Stick with the seats that come standard. With the Sport Package – which, admittedly, comes with plenty of stuff you might want like the concept-style 21-inch wheels and a limited-slip diff – you get tight racing-style seats that are nice in the corners, but a little confining everywhere else.

Spend enough time with all of the adjustments, however, and the LC 500 is a nice place to sit, for two people anyway. Here is where the traditional Lexus values shine, with lots of standard equipment and little to make you question its quality. Even the window switches no longer look as if they’ve come off of a Camry.

There are issues. The upholstered lumps behind the rear seats are supposedly seats, but should really be considered as comfortable resting spaces for tote bags. As far as I can tell, there is no pass-through for long items because of where a large speaker for the optional 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio system rests between those perches. The trunk, while long and likely able to manage a couple of suitcases, is pretty shallow.

Then there’s the Lexus infotainment system. The big news about its appearance in the LC is apparently a revised trackpad that supposedly learned from its disastrous debut on the NX and more resistant to fingerprints. It’s true, it’s harder to smudge it, but that’s the best thing that can be said about it. The navigation graphics are bad, but that’s easy to overlook when you’re trying to figure out how to turn up the seat ventilation function. It’s so finicky to use while driving that it’s almost dangerous. Not being the most dexterous person in the universe, I thought pulling over would be the best thing for all parties involved. It’s still a pain to use when stationary.

At least there are physical controls for the audio functions. They sit just ahead of the trackpad on the center console and look vaguely like the driving mode selector on other Lexuses. Which made me think they designed this beautiful interior and then realized there was no room for a volume knob. 

This is a new kind of Lexus.

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Firm finesse

God save the naturally aspirated V8.

While twin-turbo’d eight-cylinders are thunderously powerful these days in even comfort-oriented luxury cars, there’s a purity to this unboosted V8 in the LC 500 that wants to dial us back from the future.

Again, that grandeur its exterior defies but interior suggests comes in again. Well, at least after startup. The trick exhaust valves Lexus threw in ensure the LC 500 barks to life in an Italian sort of way that your neighbors will undoubtedly enjoy at 6 AM.

This 5.0-liter V8 also does duty in the RC F and GS F models, but makes all of four more horsepower in the LC for a grand total of 471 horsepower and 398 lb.-ft. of torque and always routed through a 10-speed automatic. While it’s able to run in Atkinson cycle at low revs to boost fuel economy, this is about as traditional of a V8 as you can find these days. Perhaps because its engine is so old-school in philosophy, but the LC 500 never feels as fast as its numbers suggest. Even in its more sporting settings, this automatic likes to live in its higher gears, prompting the driver to pull the column-mounted paddle on the left numerous times to get pushed back in his or her seat. Lexus may try to pass it off as “deceptively quick,” but my backside concluded it lacks bite.

Handling, however, is a different story. It’s a big car, for sure, but the LC keeps itself together on some of the more twisting Hawaii roads. Not a track star, but not a couch potato, either. Some of this came down to the optional Performance Package fitted to the test car, which also included a carbon fiber roof in place of the standard fixed glass one. But active rear steering also likely helped the Lexus slim down while going quickly through tight corners.

If anything, though, the LC with the Performance Package represents something of a confused animal when driving modestly. It's too hard to be a comfortable cruiser, but the engine lacks the low-down urgency to provide smirk-inducing power off the line. On a closed course, getting the engine to 7,100 rpm to access all the power might be possible. But those who want to feel fast all of the time should stick with their turbo’d Ms and AMGs.

It’s also best to stick with the LC 500’s standard 20-inch wheels (also run-flats) and dial the speed back a bit. You might even want the LC 500h hybrid instead, but that’s a different story. But it’s here that the LC reveals how far-reaching it wants to be and what it’s actually able to grasp.

Hot pursuit

You’ll need at least $92,000 to get into an LC 500 when it goes on sale in May. Prices rise up to $102,000, although Lexus officials said most dealers are stocking ones optioned up to slightly below $100,000.

That’s quite close to a BMW 650i or Jaguar F-Type, although a bargain compared to a Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe, all of which are named as prime rivals to the LC. Think of the Lexus as more of an F-Type rival, however, since even the less sporting version lacks the softness of the BMW or Mercedes and especially the grandeur of the Benz.

In addition to the Sport Package, the Performance Pack as on my test car adds active rear steering, active rear spoiler and variable-ratio steering. All of these options, after seat time, detracted from the appeal of the LC 500, and even Lexus officials admit the base car is likely the way to go. When you’re not egging it on or fussing with the driving modes, the LC 500 is a content cruiser. One that turns lots of heads, at that.

But that's what I can’t get over. Lexus was really good at making plush luxury cars that were largely faultless, if sterile in terms of feel. Objectively, they were pretty close to perfect. That hasn’t been the case lately, with their lineup of vehicles sporting ludicrously complex controls and muddled personas. In return, the LC does manage to inspire that previously elusive emotion that the Europeans have done so well. It's like Lexus wanted a few Bs on its report card to show it could be cool.

The LC 500 is not perfection. It isn’t amazing, either. But it is relentless in its pursuit of providing an experience.

Photos: Dewhurst Photography/Lexus

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