Four years ago, before the pandemic was even a possibility, I had travelled to Fukuoka in Japan to drive one of the best sports cars to come out of the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. The Lexus brand of luxury is different compared to the others in the level of obsession that its craftsmen bring to the art of handcrafted luxury. And the LC 500h coupe represents the pinnacle of ‘Takumi’ craftsmanship. Many of the Takumi masters must train for nearly 60,000 hours to gain the skills needed for working on the handcrafting elements in every Lexus. While the painting process for every Lexus is complex, the elements in the cabin go even further in their focus on handcrafted perfection.
Starting from the detailed stitching to the origami-inspired pleated leather and fabric, to the polished cut-glass ornamentation, Lexus sets a benchmark for its level of attention to detail. The LC 500h sits at the top of the heap for Lexus and is a performance and lifestyle-oriented sports car that can hold its own when compared to many European brands in the same category. It is ahead of the times too, in its packaging a 3.5-litre, V6 petrol engine and a hybrid battery-electric for its powertrain, though the more powerful sibling is the LC 500 with its naturally-aspirated 5-litre, V8 engine. An opportunity to experience the LC 500h in typically Indian environs a few weeks ago was welcome break from the many mass-market cars that I had been testing.
The Lexus LC 500h stands out on the road, looking like bright, gleaming perfection amid a motley mix of deficients. It also stands out because it is nearly 4.8 metres long, sits low on its wide tracks and seems all set to slay the next drag race. With its long bonnet, its exaggerated spindle grille, which nearly takes up all of the front fascia, and with its sports-coupe profile, the LC 500h’s design has the right combination of Lexus DNA combined with sportscar genes. The Lexus LC replaced the SC, the latter was extremely popular too and had its connections to the legendary Toyota Supra. Lexus calls it ‘luxury coupe’, but the LC 500h is classified a ‘grand tourer’ despite its tight, sinuous proportions.
From the one-odd angle it has a slightly awkward stance, like at the rear where the C-pillar roofline overarches and joins the boot lid. But the LC 500h’s design is bold, aerodynamic, and unique. Personally, I like the convertible more than the fastback coupe. The proportions seem to be ideal when the roof is folded down in the convertible. But convertibles are impractical in the Indian context. The LC 500h that was delivered to me for the long weekend test drive wore gleaming red body paint. There were several chrome and dark chrome elements including the spindle grille’s honeycomb mesh, the polished alloy wheels, the rear diffuser and exhaust pipe ends, and the headlamp garnishes.
I thought they were bordering on excess, for a car in this price segment. But they are all very tastefully executed and finished. The LC 500h has a long snout, sloping downward and with its spindle grille appropriately curved in half to align with the front fender line. The ‘arrowhead’ LED DRLs and the trio of projectors for the headlamp are a dynamic combination, contributing to the distinctive, sporty front looks. The dark chrome housing for the headlamps extend downward into the fender like a tear line giving the front design an instantly recognisable character. The tight passenger cell is captured by an aerodynamic profile with an inward sloping A-pillar and a curvaceous roofline that together deliver the classic coupe design impact. At the rear, the wide, strong haunches and the tight boot lid with its pop-up spoiler give it even more of the sports coupe character. The tail-lamps’ design with the twin tear lines seems to have been inspired by Japanese origami. Design creases run along from the tail-lamps and flare out onto the rear fender mimicking the spindle grille and nicely frame the dual twin exhaust pipes. The retracting rear spoiler pops up or can be deployed at the push of button to improve downforce at higher speeds.
The LC 500h’s interior is a showcase in craftsmanship. With an abundance of light brown alcantara, that is splashed across the dashboard, seats, door panels and the steering wheel, the cabin has a tasteful, yet sporty elegance about it. The driver and passenger side are clearly divided with an extreme focus on offering the driver access to all the controls. Some of them controls have been innovatively located like the rotary knobs for drive mode, ESC Off and snow mode selectable using the scroll knobs sticking out on either side of the instrument binnacle. The centre console is raised and keeps the front passenger clearly away from the driver. And in case the passenger is a bit of a novice to a sportscar’s style of acceleration, there are handles on the door panel and the centre console that they can grab on to.
There is a very likeable mix of stitched leather, dark chrome accents and shiny metal inserts. A lot of Japanese influences in the way the cabin has been constructed, with the rest of the configurations being drawn from Lexus design. It was also refreshing for me to get back into a car that doesn’t go overboard into the digital side. The infotainment screen is a small 10-inch unit; and there is even an analog clock and multiple control buttons on the dashboard. The interesting analog-digital instrument cluster can swap between two styles of display with a variation in the suite of information offered. The front seats are generously proportioned and offer both ventilation and heating. The rear seats, though, are best avoided. The narrow kneeroom, relatively low headroom and awkward access after folding the front seats mean that they can probably be comfortable only for children. The 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is awesome.
The LC 500h, as the name suggests, sports a hybrid powertrain. Today’s supercars are going hybrid due to pressure from emission regulations. Lexus was clearly ahead of its times. For sheer power and driver engagement, the V8 would be the choice, which is not sold by Lexus India, as yet. It is only the 3.5-litre petrol engine and the battery-electric combo that is available for buyers here. The hybrid powertrain manages to bridge the gap in torque that might have been if the electric motor’s output wasn’t available. So, while the 3,456cc V6 produces 295hp of peak power and 356Nm of torque, the twin electric motors contribute 177hp and 300Nm. The system’s combined peak output is 354hp and 500Nm. All of that is put down to tarmac using an unique gearbox which combines a CVT (continuously variable transmission) and a 4-speed automatic that’s literally embedded within the former. This combo is meant to draw out the best performance from the hybrid powertrain. Though it is a CVT, manual gear selection via the steering mounted paddles allows one to go through a maximum of 10 slots.
The LC 500h and its V8 sibling were the first to employ Lexus’s front engine, rear-wheel drive platform, which later became the architecture of choice for other models from the brand. Inherently a platform that leverages low weight materials and high torsional stiffness, it is further improved in the LC 500h with a low centre of gravity coming in from the weight distribution and increased light-weighting with the use of carbon-fibre (kerb weight is about two tonnes). The battery pack sits on top of the rear axle and next to the relatively small boot. The need for a spare wheel has been eliminated with the use of run-flat tyres.
The ‘multi-stage’ hybrid in the LC 500h allows the battery-electric system to behave like a series and parallel-assist hybrid. So, when I pull out of the garage, the LC 500h purrs and glides out in Pure EV mode, with more demand, the V6 comes alive and if need be, the hybrid’s parallel assistance ensures strong acceleration. Lexus claims that the LC 500h does the 0-100kmph run in about 5 seconds, thanks to the instant low-end torque, the hybrid is just a shade slower than the performance of the V8 in the LC 500. But the problem could be with the way the hybrid accelerates. The engine is refined and can be fun to engage with even though the CVT’s behaviour is just not as sensorial as a powerful pure ICE V6 with a manual gearbox can be. Yet, the LC 500h’s powertrain is still feels very refined and hustling through the gears manually can be more rewarding. The exhaust note is muted, a bit like a distant growl under hard acceleration.
The ride quality can be a bit harsh on Indian road conditions, with the impact at the seat coming in from a combination of the firm suspension set up and the run-flat tyres. The long wheelbase and low ground clearance can also be a problem while negotiating ramps and speed-breakers. But the LC 500h scores high points in the handling department with a sharp, precise steering and excellent body control. The wide track and low CG also enable it to be a natural corner carver.
In addition to eight airbags, the LC 500h comes with a host of other safety features, including an impact-absorbing pop-up safety bonnet hood for pedestrian impact protection.
At about ₹2.3 crore (ex-showroom), the LC 500h does not come much cheaper than some of the competing sportscars. There aren’t too many buyers who would be drawn by the prospect of fewer visits to the fuel pump. So, eventually, it has to be the fact that it is a pure bred Lexus and that it is an exotic amongst exotics that has to work in its favour.