Lexus LC 500h review

With stunning concept-car looks and thrilling performance, the LC proves ‘hybrid’ needn’t mean dull

£76,595 - £91,995
Hybrid

Pros

  • Good fun to drive
  • Much more efficient than V8
  • Best-yet Lexus CVT gearbox

Cons

  • Not very practical
  • Not really saving the planet
  • Still expensive to own and run

The Lexus LC 500h coupe first saw the light of day as the stunning LF-LC concept car back in 2012, when it was one of the stars of the Detroit Motor Show. Although created at the company’s California design centre, the concept was part of the Japanese premium brand's project to inject a bit more fun and passion into its line-up.

Overwhelmingly positive response to the concept resulted in this LC coupe production version a couple of years later, and it now sits at the top of the Lexus line-up as a successor to the old Lexus SC. Under the spectacularly swoopy styling, it’s a traditional front-engined, rear-drive 2+2 seat coupe, and as such a potential rival for a range of conventional GTs including the Aston Martin Vantage and Porsche 911.

If you’re looking at the Lexus LC for its eco credentials, then other possibles on your list may be less directly competitive. Sporty or luxury high-performance models with similarly high prices – and an eco-friendlier powertrain – include the BMW i8, Honda NSX and Tesla Model S. As two of those are two-seater sports cars and the other a high-performance saloon, the LC has a bit of space in the middle all to itself as a grand-touring coupe.

There’s no doubt the LC is an eye-catcher. The long-nosed, low, swoopy profile and flared, muscular wheelarches filled with huge 20 or 21-inch alloy wheels, plus LED lighting and that gaping Lexus ‘spindle’ grille add up to a contemporary and stylish feel – even if there’s something old-school and unreconstructed about the idea of a big, bruising coupe.

Under the metal, the LC features the latest rear-drive platform from Lexus, which has been designed specifically to allow a lower driving position, bonnet line and centre of gravity to aid handling without recourse to stiffer suspension. It also has improved weight distribution from an engine that’s set well back, and the suspension itself has been carefully honed to improve steering feel and driver engagement without sacrificing comfort.

You get the choice of two powertrains in the UK, including a conventional 5.0-litre V8 with 467bhp that’s ultimately a little faster than the hybrid – but also feels a bit of a dinosaur with its gas-guzzling ways. The LC 500h (h stands for hybrid) features a 296bhp 3.5-litre petrol engine working in combination with a 177bhp electric motor in a drivetrain configured to produce a maximum of 354bhp.

It gives the hybrid performance close enough to the V8's to make little real-world difference, while knocking spots off its fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions figures. As a 'self-charging' hybrid, the LC relies on a relatively small battery that’s kept charged by regenerative braking and the petrol engine, so it doesn’t have the advantages of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) rivals when it comes to electric-only running.

There is an electric mode that gives you a couple of miles of low-speed running during stop-start traffic, for example, but the motor is primarily there to assist the engine when accelerating in general driving. That means you can’t use a Lexus hybrid for petrol-free commuting, but neither are you faced with the hassle of plugging in to a charger every night.

The hybrid LC has the same trim and equipment options as the V8. Even the standard spec is lavishly equipped, so upgrades are mainly focused on increasing the sporty feel. The first option is called the Sport Pack, which puts the LC on bigger 21-inch alloy wheels and you into sports seats, while the Sport+ Pack adds some desirable technology upgrades in the shape of a limited-slip differential with torque vectoring to sharpen up the handling, plus an active rear spoiler.

There’s also a Limited Edition flagship model, which includes all the Sport+ upgrades, a premium audio system and (otherwise optional) head-up display that projects crucial info onto the windscreen in front of the driver. It’s the most expensive version of course, but at this end of the market, why not have it all?

The LC 500h is great to drive however you specify it, with stonking acceleration and a grippy chassis – all of which you can enjoy from one of the most luxurious and attractive interiors around. It’s not perfect, as the control and switchgear locations seem a little haphazard, and the touchpad for the infotainment system is nowhere near as efficient as the BMW iDrive setup, but for many owners these will seem like minor foibles.

The 2+2 tag suggests the LC should be more practical than it really is, as the rear seats are pretty useless for anything other than bags you can’t fit into the rather small boot. But if you can live with the compromises, the LC is one of the most satisfying grand-touring coupes around – and with the Lexus brand’s outright victory in our 2018 and 2017 Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys, that really should be no surprise.

For a more detailed look at the Lexus LC 500h, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.