Grand Touring Pleasure
After looking at the 2018 Lexus LC 500h for a few minutes, a friend asked me if any of the 30 or so cars I review annually were hard to give back. “A few,” I nodded, pointing to the LC 500h sitting in front of us as a prime case in point. After one week of driving pleasure, I didn’t shed a tear as the LC 500h’s taillights faded into the distance, but a heavy sigh was clearly audible. So, the age-old question looms: Is the LC 500h a car you need or a car you want?
It’s available with two very different powertrains–a V8 and V6 hybrid, but Clean Fleet Report, as your source for news and reviews of electrified vehicles, looked at the hybrid version. Maybe someday we will slide behind the wheel of the 471 horsepower V8.
The 2018 Lexus LC 500h has a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 and two electric motors and generators, the components of its series parallel system. The transmission is a multi-stage hybrid transmission (CVT) coupled to a four-speed automatic; combined, that gets you to 10 gears. With steering wheel-mounted magnesium paddle shifters and seven drive modes, the LC 500h gives the driver a multitude of gearing and ride options. The result is a total output of 354 horsepower driving the rear wheels. The EPA mpg rating for the LC 500h reflects the hybrid contribution with 26 city/35 highway/30 combined. In comparison, the V8 LC 500 is EPA rated at 16/26/19.
Lexus (and parent company Toyota) hybrids are restricted in how far they can be driven in pure electric mode; going any distance as an EV means not applying any pressure to the accelerator pedal. The result of normal pedal throttling is the gasoline engine kicking in with a noticeable thunk. All Lexus and Toyota hybrids would benefit by having plug-in hybrid technology (PHEV; which is found on the Prius Prime). Competing brands with PHEVs can go, as an example, as far as 33 miles on pure electricity, such as with the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, even doing so at freeway speeds.
Hybrid Benefits: On the Road
The 2018 Lexus LC 500h is not a sports car, but more a spirited Grand Touring coupe. Based on the all-new Lexus global architecture for its luxury cars (internally GA-L), the weight balance on the LC 500h was very good: 54 front/46 rear. This balance was apparent when diving into sharp corners, especially where a downward curve demanded the front end not compress on the inward wheel or the rear end slip out. Chassis stiffness was carefully designed-in. The steering feedback, through the speed-sensing electric power steering, made it a pleasure to toss around a car that weighed 4,435 pounds with a 113-inch wheelbase and measured sixteen feet overall. It never felt heavy or cumbersome, but rather alive and adaptable.
Lexus pegs the zero-to-60 time at 4.7 seconds with a top track speed of 155 mph. We achieved the first, on separate runs, by using the drive modes of Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. Lexus will be happy to hear we didn’t attempt the latter, keeping our top speed on Interstate 405 in SoCal around 75. In addition to the above drive modes, the LC 500h has Comfort, Custom, Snow and Eco. Each of these has it own attributes, but for our driving, we found Eco was perfect for freeway cruising; Comfort or Normal for in-town errands; and Sport S+ for maximum acceleration and driving enjoyment. The paddle shifters were nice, but with the abundance (possibly overabundance) of drive modes and an advanced automatic transmission, there isn’t much need for them.
A bit more about Sport S+–going through the driver-selectable drive modes electronically affects the efficiency of the engine, including changes to the transmission gearing. In Eco, the best fuel economy can be expected. Conversely, when in Sport or our favorite Sport S+, the engine mapping keeps the transmission in gears longer during acceleration and deceleration and stiffens the steering input and suspension. But, where it gets oh-so-satisfying is the change to the exhaust note, which becomes a very pleasing rumble. It never is obnoxious, but adds an aural sensation of performance. Hence, that’s why we were in Sport S+ as much as possible, sacrificing top fuel economy.
One of the main benefits of a hybrid vehicle is how quiet it can be. This was the case with the LC 500h whether we were at freeway speed or on a milk-and-egg grocery run. Most hybrid and all-electric cars come with low resistance rolling tires to maximize fuel economy. The 2018 Lexus LC 500h has none of that! The Michelin run-flat 20-inch tires on bright, 10-spoke wheels were beefy and grippy, but also quiet. The low 0.33 coefficient of drag (Cd) helped the LC 500h slip through the air.
The all-new 2018 Lexus LC 500h is as stunning at first sight as anything on the road. A ground-hugging look, with 5.5-inches of clearance, is enhanced by smaller tires in the front than the rear. Lexus invites you to “Experience Amazing” and says the “LC 500 makes the strongest statement yet about the brand’s future direction.” If this is the case, we at Clean Fleet Report approve.
The LC 500h is a car that needs to be walked around a few times to get the true gist of what the designers had in mind. The first impression is that the car looks as if it is leaning forward. Up front is the Lexus signature, chrome-trimmed, spindle grille. Under certain lighting it sparkles and reflects, showing-off thousands of individual surfaces. Centered in the grille is the Lexus “L” badge with a blue background, which signifies the LC 500h is an electrified car. Framing the grille are sleek LED projector headlamps with integrated LED fog and daytime running lamps, in the form of an “L,” that wraps the front edges.
From a side silhouette, the sloping line from top of the windshield to the front grille is as raked as you will find. Then, moving your eye from the roof’s apex, it is almost a continuous line to the short trunk lid, ending with the smallest-of-small integrated spoiler. Something to note is the lack of a roof-mounted shark fin antenna, which is almost universally found. On the LC 500h it would only ruin the uninterrupted lines. The attractive LED tail lamps use mirrors to create a sequence of L-shaped graphics. Finishing off the rear are dual, rectangular chrome exhaust tips.
The most distinctive design features on the LC 500h are the flared quarter panels. Giving a muscular look as they encase the rear tires, the flares enhance and reinforce the visual sense of how stable the LC 500h will be on the road.
The LC 500h is a modern take on the classic Grand Tourers of the past. The proportions are perfect, with an elegant execution.
An Interior to Experience
Clean Fleet Report’s 2018 Lexus LC 500h interior was trimmed in orange, blue and white leather, with satin metallic finished trim throughout the cabin. We don’t blame you if at first flush this sounds like a clash of colors, but it is just the opposite. The colors complement each other in a way that are both calming and intriguing at the same time. It is very pleasing to the eye and to be around.
After the colors, the first thing you will notice is the naturally reclined seating position. Lexus says it is “an optimal position that sets the stage for spirited driving.” The front heated and ventilated seats have 10-way power adjustments, but it was curious that this only included two-way lumbar and no thigh bolster adjustments. Therefore, you can sit more upright and higher, but this is most likely not what the Lexus designers had in mind for how to pilot the 2018 Lexus LC 500h.
The seats have possibly the best shoulder bolstering I’ve experienced, securely holding the driver and passenger in place during aggressive cornering. Surprisingly, even with the reclined seating position, rearward visibility was better than expected. Access was easy to the front seats, but ceiling-mounted handles would have been helpful for exiting. While we are talking seats, there are two beautifully sculpted rear seats, which must be there purely for show. I don’t expect their leather surfaces getting much, if any, wear.
The center console finds the radio control touchpad with manual controls for audio and channel selection. The infotainment system in our test car was the optional Mark Levinson 13-speaker, 915-watt surround sound system with navigation. All the standard features were there such as AM/FM/HD/CD and SiriusXM. As can be expected with a system like this, the sound was excellent. However, the touchpad control was touchy and unpredictable at times, making you take your eyes from the road to adjust the radio.
The cockpit design is driver-friendly, starting with the very handy head-up display and the power tilt/telescoping steering column. The leather-trimmed steering wheel has audio, telephone and cruise controls, as well as the paddle shifters. Interior features include a dual-zone automatic climate system with dust and pollen filters, digital and analog clocks with the digital clock being GPS connected, a center console storage box and cup holders. The interior also has a panoramic moonroof (a carbon fiber roof is an option), power windows with one touch up/down, power door locks, Smart Access with push button stop/start technology, 12V and USB power outlets, folding and electrochromatic heated, outside rear-view power side mirrors.
Safety and Pricing
The LC 500h is well-equipped with all the latest active and passive safety features, advanced safety technology and driver support systems. However, we were surprised for a car this sophisticated, and with a six figure price point, that Intuitive Park Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert technology were not standard.
The 2018 Lexus LC 500h has a base starting price of $96,510. Clean Fleet Report’s test car had a MSRP of $99,205, which included $3,690 in optional packages. All pricing does not include the $995 delivery charge.
Observations: 2018 Lexus LC 500h
The Lexus “L” series is all about luxury, with the “LC” meaning Luxury Coupe. Dictated by the Lexus philosophy of Takumi (“artisan” in Japanese), the attention to detail is shown throughout the LC 500h design and construction.
Rarely does a car produce both an aggressive and sensuous sensation on first look. This graceful result is from some bold thinking in the Lexus design shop, with the 2018 Lexus LC 500h looking more like a concept car than a production car. Guaranteed, when driving the LC 500h, you will be noticed, with the occasional comment of “I have never seen one of these before.”
This brings us to rarity and exclusivity. Lexus will be candid with you that the LC 500 is not for everyone. And, rightfully so, it can’t be for everyone. The buyer of a Grand Touring car, selling for more than $100,000, is in a select group. Maybe not so much because of their financial wherewithal, but that there are so many options out there positioned just below and above the LC 500. Between the LC 500 twins, the number of hybrid models sold versus the lower-priced, higher-performance V8 model will be very small. So, what do you get when taking home a 2018 Lexus LC 500h?
The LC 500h is a true pleasure to drive or ride in. It is designed for long road trips, hence it’s a Grand Tourer and not a sports car. There is a premium level to the car-plus sophisticated and advanced driver technology systems-that are second to none.
The design says something about a LC 500h owner, but not in a snooty way. A LC 500h owner will be recognized as a free-thinker and somewhat of a trailblazer. So, know that aspiring to own a LC 500h is not wasted time, because when one is parked in your garage, it will become your daily driver real, real fast.
Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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