Test drive with Bill Owney
Persistence is probably the most important reason behind the class-leading reliability at Toyota and its luxury arm, Lexus.
Most of us associate the term with stubbornness, but it derives from the Latin prefix “per-,” meaning “by the means of” and “severus,” meaning stern or austere. The broader concept then means to continue a course of action, even in the face of resistance.
At Toyota/Lexus, that means that while other automakers constantly dangle new baubles in consumers’ faces, if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The attractiveness of new sheet metal, engine designs, transmissions, and electronic architectures quickly fade in cars and trucks that spend too much time in the shop.
For example, the 3.5-L V-6 engine Toyota first rolled out in the 2005 Avalon is, with minor modifications, in millions of Tacomas, Siennas, Highlanders, Camrys, and Lexuses. Not only is it still in production, but Lotus also uses supercharged versions in three models. Smart Lotus.
LC: Latest classic
This brings us around to the Lexus LC 500 luxury sports car, available as either a coupe or convertible. Now in its fifth year of production, the LC is a rare blend of power, grace, and, oh, reliability. The website yourmechanic.com puts the average annual maintenance on one at $271. Try getting by with spending that little on a Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, or Jaguar.
Four years ago, I told you to buy one of these and tuck it away in a garage. Here’s the good news, prices have increased only 2-3% since so once again ignoring Bill’s advice turns out to be the smart play.
The few changes since then are all for the better: Suspension settings have been optimized to enhance ground contact-feel and responsiveness and cornering. A sport package includes numerous performance upgrades, including Torsen limited-slip rear differential with a Yamaha® performance damper. The Lexus Driving Signature also extends to the interior with Alcantara-trimmed seats that provide drivers with added comfort and bolstering to help navigate the twisties.
Still present is Lexus’ goofy touchpad infotainment controller, but now available are Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto™ compatibility to Amazon Alexa integration, so drivers can control the multimedia system — and its 10.3-inch high-res split screen — in a variety of ways. They can even link it to compatible smart-home devices.
Buy one it now, and you’ll have a tough choice: Do you go for a 471 hp, V8-powered LC 500 for $94,125, a similarly powered convertible for $102,175, or the LC 500h with a 3.5L V6 – there it is again – teamed with a pair of electric motors for $100,125?
This year Lexus is allowing buyers to further customize their LCs with Bespoke Build and an Inspiration series, which adds about $10,000 to the cost.
Bespoke Build offers the Manhattanhenge interior color — a tone named for the distinctive orange glow of the New York City skyline. Other options include a carbon fiber roof and 21-inch forged alloy wheels with an elegant black finish.
Gas or hybrid?
Tough call. The hybrid’s combined output is 354 hp, but the powertrain, which can reach 87 mph on battery power alone, represents the transition from carbon fuel to electric that will mark the state of automotive propulsion in the first quarter of the 21st century.
On the other hand, once you hear the throaty exhaust of the V8 – wow.
Elegant, yet provocative
The styling seems to touch on how we might like to think about sexuality. It speaks of luxury, of supple strength, of an easygoing flow of feelings and events – a warm kiss to the nape, a firm touch to the back.
Immediately identifiable as a Lexus because of its trademark spindle grille, the LC is a pastoral symphony of boldly flowing lines. The grille seems to reach out and touch compact triple LED headlamps to create a sweeping front lighting signature.
A glass roofline tapers rearward between muscular, sloping fender tops, underscoring the car’s wide and stable stance. Chrome-plated moldings along the edges echo the lines of a traditional Japanese sword.
The car has a planted look thanks to flared quarter panels that flow into and back away from the center, where door panels entice the eye inward. Side vents add allure and contribute to aerodynamic stability and cooling.
Everywhere we went with this car, strangers felt compelled to approach us and inform us that it was beautiful.
The LC 500 was one of the first Lexuses to ride on Toyota’s new Global Architecture. The platform was designed with a lower center of gravity to aid high-speed agility and driving.
The LC succeeds as a GT because it marries sports car handling with a high degree of ride comfort, which, until now, has been the province of automotive alchemy. You could have great track-ready handling or a compliant ride, but the chance of getting both was equal to the odds of turning lead into gold.
The LC rides on the stiffest unibody Lexus has ever produced. Lightweight, high-strength steels yield a structure that is more resistant to twisting forces than even the exotic, carbon fiber-intensive LFA supercar.
The car has the sort of immediate response at the initial turn-in that one would expect of a Mazda MX-5. Add in a high-performance braking system that employs 6-piston front brake calipers and 4-piston rear calipers and it’s one of the sweetest driving production machines on the planet.
Trying to decide which is a better $100,000 sports car, the new Corvette or the Lexus LC, is a debate my friend Mike Quincy, who writes about cars for Consumer Reports, and I have yet to settle.
Despite hard plastics, when one sits in the Corvette at night and takes in its luminous gauges and superb electronics, the car looks like a $100,000 car. Inside, the LC not only looks like it is worth the money, it feels like it.
Workmanship and materials are worthy of Lexus. The vehicle’s design places the driver’s hip point as close as possible to the car’s center of gravity, where feedback from the car is the most communicative.
A low instrument panel position and low hood line provide a commanding view. All driving controls are easy to reach.
The Corvette is faster and sells for $30,000 less, but the LC has a backseat. Well, sort of. You can put two friends back there if they don’t happen to have legs.
Powertrain technology has always been a Toyota/Lexus forte, and the LC lifts things to a new level. Our tester was the V-8 model, which combines a proven, high-performance 5-liter engine with a new 10-speed transmission.
Smaller and lighter than some 8-speed models, the car shifts as smoothly as some dual-clutch versions. Paddle shifters are fun, but in truth, the car shifts better when left to its own devices. An advanced electronic control system monitors acceleration, braking, and lateral g-forces and chooses the ideal ratio.
A drive mode selection feature allows the power train and suspension to extract the most from the car’s capabilities.
Pricing is typical for Lexus, which means much more for the money
There aren’t many luxury GT vehicles on the market. A Porsche Grand Cayman ($60,500 – $101,200) or Boxster are solid choices if you’re married to a German mechanic. An Audi A8, Porsche 911, or BMW 8 series will cost $30,000 to $100,000 more.
If I were in this market, I think it would boil down to the LC 500 and a 2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT ($92,500 – $102,600).
Of course, the Porsches and AMG Merc are all faster than the LC, which weighs in at a hefty 4,280 lbs., another reason it rides so well.
A 911, for example, can cover the quarter mile in 3.6 seconds and has a top speed of 178 mph. One assumes, however, that the LC’s 4.6-second quarter and 168-mph top speed are plenty fast for most folks.
Believe me, it makes a lasting impression.