The police cruiser sidled into my rearview mirror and my hands reflexively tightened on the 2018 Lexus LC 500's leather-clad steering wheel. Shit. I was sure I hadn’t just done anything illegal. Well, pretty sure.
The cop followed closely behind the Lexus for two very long city blocks. Finally, after turning at an intersection and then stopping for a light, he pulled up alongside me.
“Is that the replacement for the RC 350?” he called out.
“Uh, no, it’s not. It’s... its own thing,” I replied cautiously, rolling the passenger side window down further.
“I have an RC 350 and I’m looking to trade up,” he continued. The two other officers riding with him peered at the Lexus curiously. “Is it all-wheel-drive?”
“No, sir. Rear.”
“How much is it?”
“This? Starts at $92,000.”
He nodded. “And how do you like it?”
I couldn’t help it. My face cracked into a very stupid grin.
“It’s so great. I love it.”
The officer nodded again. “Good. Have a nice day.” And he waved me forward.
Occurrences like these were common when I had the LC 500. Common. People would come right up to the alien-looking thing, not at all shy about snapping photos and asking questions.
It’s not just the looks. For what it is, a real luxury V8 grand tourer, the LC 500 truly stands out in a crowded automotive landscape filled with endless boring, identical SUVs. That’s what makes it truly special.
(Full disclosure: Lexus wanted us to drive the 2018 LC 500 so badly that it let us beg and wheedle for one before dropping it off at the office with a full tank of gas for a weekend.)
What is it?
Among the number of new cars hitting dealerships this year, how many of them are coupes? And from there, how many of them are big, opulent grand-touring, rear-wheel-drive coupes? And how many out of those have large, naturally aspirated engines?
Besides this Lexus, there are some Aston Martins and a Ferrari. In terms of picking teams for gym class, that ain’t a bad lineup. But grand tourers—true grand tourers with big bodies and big engines built for cruising and looking awesome—are increasingly sparse in the car landscape these days. Blame all these damn SUVs everywhere, and how even AMG and M and others are doing up their people-movers. What are the sports cars and GT cars supposed to do?
Maybe the answer is to evolve to be even more of an exclusive statement piece, because that’s what the LC 500 is.
Beneath the LC 500's languidly long hood rests a 5.0-liter V8, good for 471 horsepower. It snorts, snarls and screams as all V8s should. Being a grand-tourer that’s meant for cruising and occasional bouts of hammering, it’s certainly no LFA, but it sure does feel like a close relative.
Why Does It Matter?
With the number of kingly coupes drying up faster than California’s natural water supply, I’d wager this is probably the last Lexus of its kind that we’ll see. It’s a two-door, rear-drive and naturally breathing indulgence of a rapidly fading era.
With its near $100,000 price tag, it’s unlikely that buyers will flock to buy the LC 500, the fact that Lexus made it at all shows me that there’s still some shameless audacity in the market. In today’s age of hybridization, turbocharging and general SUVing of cars, it’s refreshing to see one do away with all of that noise and come out on top of a lineup like it’s the 1960s again.
I am of the belief that cars should make you feel something, whether you are driving them or seeing them in the street. Most cars don’t do that for anyone–you show them the new crossover and the most you get is a slight rise of the shoulders and a noncommittal, “Eh.”
From what I’ve gathered, people either love or hate this car. They are divided by its looks, but they are at least talking about it. And aspiring to it. Those are strong emotions and we need to hold onto those.
Put simply, the swanky space Lexus is a showstopper.
Crowning the lineup, the LC 500 definitely looks the part: its exotic face draws eyes everywhere it goes. Thinly bladed LED running lights, like slashes of warpaint, dress up the car’s visage, as does the yawning, hourglass grille. On a standard Lexus RX 350, the look always amounted to a grimacing hot mess, but on this wide and low-slung coupe, it stops other cars and pedestrians in their tracks.
Pulling the eye towards the trunk, almost as though by its own kind of weird magnetism, the LC 500's stance tapers off momentarily in the middle, echoing a pinched hourglass figure in its midsection, only to be bumped out again to accommodate its rear haunches. The tail ends in an elegant upward flick, the car’s name scribbled in understated silver lettering that you’d have to get up close to read. The aesthetic balance is divine.
This is so not a Toyota and you’d be damned if you confused it with one.
Wrapping us in deep red and black leather and Alcantara, our test Lexus was like driving around inside of a goddamned heart. The massive doors shut with a satisfying thunk, closing you inside a cocoon of exotically shaped door handles and gleaming switches and dials.
Reach forward and grasp the steering wheel, which is surprisingly compact. Turn it and find the steering to be tight and precise, forever feeding you tactile information about where the front of the car is pointed and what’s going on beneath the front wheels. Even with the long hood and large engine, the turning radius remains tight—making the Lexus the ideal dickish illegal U-turn machine.
The Dash Is Totally Sci-Fi
You can’t sit in the LC 500 without thinking that you’ve suddenly fallen into some science-fiction movie and the car is an intergalactic star jumper. The shifting dash gives off exactly that vibe.
And so does putting the car into different driving modes via a knob to the right of the dash.
The 10-speed automatic gearbox shows up to work confused and unprepared. While agreeable on upshifts, the thing is a lost soul in traffic. Downshifts are clumsy and clunky, reducing the ride to a shuddering and halting mess. The car does not like stop and go traffic.
On top of that, if Lexus gave the car a 10-speed auto, then why is the quoted combined rating still at a miserable 19 miles per gallon? The thing even has an Eco driving mode—what is sucking up all the fuel? Must be the thrusters used for moon hopping.
And if you’re like me and you still enjoy using a car’s infotainment and navigation system, don’t even bother here. The touchpad-mouse controls are a nice idea in theory but work terribly in practice. The cursor has a tendency to soar all over the screen at your touch, which is not something you want while driving.
For experiment purposes, I set a destination in the car’s sat-nav to a place I knew how to get to well, just to see how it would go.
Put simply: the system is dogshit. It takes me on the most random route through Newark, confounding the Google Maps I had going on my phone at the same time. At one point, I pull over to see if the “avoid tolls” box had been checked. It wasn’t.
For this, you stick that bad boy in Comfort mode and go on your way. It’s not the softest ride in the world, but it’s better than being completely numb to the road beneath you. Visibility, both out the front and the rear, is decent, despite the rear window being small and aggressively slanted. The blind spot detection system is sublime, even working when backing out of a driveway, alerting you of an oncoming car nearly 60 feet away.
The Lexus performs remarkably well on around-town drives. It’s low, but the ground clearance won’t have you tiptoeing over every steep curb. The V8's snarl softens to a growl but never quite goes away, in case you ever forget you have a caged lion living in front of your knees.
The radio has rich sound quality and the AC works super well. Exterior road and wind noises are absent. The seats are comfortable, if not slightly too bolstered. It is a Lexus at the end of the day. Of course it does casual driving well.
For this, putting the car in Sport or Sport Plus mode is highly encouraged. If the modes do anything for the suspension, I’m not able to tell. What I can tell is that the gearbox suddenly seems less eager to upshift and is more willing to hang in the lower gears for longer, waiting for you to mash the throttle.
When you do, the revs soar and the engine screams, pausing only for a barking, snapping upshift.
The bolstered seats do an excellent job at holding you in place, even if you are a tiny person like me. But, because I am tiny, I have to drive with my elbows sticking out; otherwise, the bolsters get in the way. This is a price I willingly pay.
On paper, 471 horsepower sounds like it’s a lot. But it doesn’t exactly translate to fast on the pavement given this car’s weight Sure, the LC 500 is pretty quick when it needs to be (you’ll never have problems merging), but it doesn’t have face-melting power. A Corvette Stingray will eat it for breakfast. A Camaro SS probably will too.
Yet going with manageable yet impressive power is not a bad thing. The acceleration is wonderfully linear and suits the car just fine. You’ll definitely feel like you’re using up all the power without having to visit a track
Don’t confuse the LC 500 for being an agile car, either, because it is manufacturer-claimed, 4,280 pounds heavy. You’ll feel that weight under extreme braking and in tight turns.
That shouldn’t stop anyone from occasional bouts of misbehavior, though. This isn’t the car for setting Nürburgring lap times, but it is the car for tearing up some backroads and having fun without going ten-tenths. And then going home with something liveable.
And here’s another fun thing: the LC 500 is a Jalopnik-certified donut machine. Stick it in Manual mode, keep it in first gear, hold down the traction control button for 10 seconds and most of the nannies will turn off. Crank the wheel all the way to the right or left gas it.
Who’s It For?
Admittedly, this is always a tough question for me. If I was the person in question, then yes, absolutely—me. I have no pets or children. I only have to worry about driving me and usually one other person around. I don’t have a lot to bring around ever and I don’t really give a shit about the RAWR HARD TRACK WEAPON RAWR cars.
But anyone with a child larger than, say, 10 or 11 years old will be hard-pressed for space in the LC 500's cramped rear seats. Literally. We know because we tried it.
Further, the trunk is next to useless. It’s quite shallow. Why is it so shallow? Is there some kind of complicated exhaust system that’s keeping the trunk from being deeper? Or is that where the unobtanium storage lies?
A base LC 500 will set you back $92,000. Since our test car was technically a pre-production model, it didn’t have an official Monroney that came with it. But after tallying up the car’s Sport Package options, which included the carbon roof and the 21-inch forged aluminum wheels, the price came to about $100,000.
A Jaguar F-Type R Coupe starts out at $99,900 and a Mercedes-AMG GT costs $111,200 before you even do anything to it. So, the Lexus is cheaper than the two and definitely more practical both.
What’s more is that it looks way more exotic anything else in its class. So it’s a little down on power. That’s not what this car is about.
I worry that the Lexus LC 500 will go the way that the Chevrolet SS did: plenty of people in love with the idea of it, but not enough actual people buying it. Whether that’s due to the fact that palatial coupes like these are a dying breed or that people would scoff at actually shelling out $100,000 for a Lexus, I don’t see this car selling in high numbers.
But, damn, am I happy that it exists. It has its flaws but they are totally forgivable for what you are getting in return: a beautifully dressed, living, breathing grand-touring coupe with big doors that’s cool as ice cream.
Could more be done to make it practical? Absolutely. If it’s going to be comfortable enough to take on an hours-long drive, it should also have the room to bring the things you’d need on a trip so far away.
When you get into it, it definitely feels like something special. You climb over the wide door sills and plunk yourself down into the deep bucket seat. It fires up with a roar and settles down into a burbly idle. Maybe sometimes you forget what you’re driving and wonder what exactly it is that everyone is staring at. And then you remember.
Which makes me think that when Lexus first conceived the idea for the LC 500, it didn’t ask itself why so much as it went why not. And it’s this almost Gatsby-like attitude that makes it worthwhile.