Article and images by John Grafman
Photos of Lexus LC 500 Prototype and LC 500H
Looking down from the top of turn 4 on the big track at Willow Springs Raceway can be a daunting affair. Today is one of those days. Beneath my rear is a handsomely crafted Lexus LC 500 sport seat that envelops my bottom, sides, and back so closely it almost feels tailor-made to my dimensions. On this particular Tuesday, a proper fit is an awfully good thing.
As it so happens, this wonderful seat is bolted as standard equipment in the new Lexus LC 500. Better still, the rest of the machine is up the challenge as well.
Darting down the hillside from turn 4, the roadway bends to the right and then briefly snakes. Immediately thereafter the course has an off-camber left turn that requires keeping the power on. The experience for those that have done it can be harrowing, as not enough power can lead to a situation with the tail becoming independent of the driver’s wishes, and too much power can achieve another sort of madness best left for the pros. Skid marks on the track lay as testament to this.
Set in the Sport Plus mode, the Lexus LC 500 aggressively keeps the ten-speed transmission in a lower gear going downhill. By doing so, like in a manual, it helps reduce the speed without relying on the brakes and disturbing the balance of the 4,280-lb vehicle.
Spitting out of that left turn on onto the back straight, the hungry 471 horses under the hood are eager to gobble up the remaining track until turn 9. The power is the handiwork of an all-aluminum, eight cylinder with four-valves each. The V8 includes performance parts like lightweight, high-strength connecting rods as well as titanium valves, which allow for higher rpms. Coupled with a 12.3:1 compression ration, this generates a hill climbing 398 lb.-ft of torque, making the hills at Willow flatten out to nearly nothing at all.
The combo of the 10-speed transmission and all those ponies mean 0-60 times that come in a tick under 4.4 seconds. No complaints there. Electronically limiting the top speed might sound like over-reach, but not when it’s set at 168 mph. Even more impressive is the delivery that’s buttery smooth. While the baffles open up in the sport mode (and above 3,500 rpm in other modes) for an aural explosion, there is no physical harshness, say found in the Dodge Hellcat. Two very different approaches to performance.
What does this mean in terms of design? Plenty! Actually, each aspect mentioned on the track at Willow Springs is interlaced with the design.
The Lexus LC 500 is more than just a pretty face
In a nutshell, for eons the perception of the Lexus product-line has been one that focuses on luxury first and foremost. It’s only been relatively recently that the designs are no longer hinting at performance, but blatantly shout out that these are cars for drivers.
The styling on the LC 500 is wild. Any plebian with a lick of sense will notice the boldness from far down the block. However, it’s easy to think that Lexus created a nice grand touring car, not a capable sports car, given the conservative nature of the company.
As an example, the seating immediately indicates this isn’t for fun and games. The bolsters on the seats are not adjustable. These are purposeful, and embrace the driver and passenger like a hawk holds onto its prey. The seat belt almost comes across like an unnecessary afterthought. As we all know, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. Regrettably, those individuals that purchase XL shirts might not be as comfortable.
The Sport Plus vibrant graphics in the instrument cluster clearly favor the tachometer with a unique look. Each setting, Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus uses the color and style to effectively reflect the purpose of the setting. In the Sport Plus mode, the focus is on getting the job done, and not on less critical data.
Lexus even goes so far as repositioning the mode knob from the center console to atop the IP, allowing the drivers to keep their eyes up and on the road ahead. This also cleans up the center console as well. The look of the knob and where it resides might be unusual, but functionality is hard to dispute.
The wide-body-esque, 2+2 Lexus LC 500 does an exceptional job on track, and feels almost more at home than on the streets. Plus, no speed limits mean unlimited fun. Its broad-feeling stance gives one concern in tighter areas like parking lots is of no consequence at places like Willow Springs. But in reality, the actual width of 76.4-inches without mirrors isn’t entirely astonishing.
And, like most cars of this genre, the dazzling looks of the long hood, raked back windscreen, and colliding shapes of the Lexus LC 500 get the blood boiling for action. Sadly, there simply aren’t enough tracks near civilization to really let this run hard, and the public roadways for the most part don’t allow one to explore the true abilities of the Lexus.
Unfortunately, this puts the LC 500 into a rarified grouping of cars such as Lamborghini, McLaren, Aston Martin, and several others that share the title of exotic. All of which are wonderful eye-candy, but can only live up to a fraction of their true potential nearly everywhere but a dedicated road course.
Nevertheless, being typecast as an outlandish, smile generator isn’t such a bad way to be. Not bad at all.