The LC 500 is a great looker, especially as a convertible, the latest example touching down in time for summer. We indulge in the luxury lifestyle.
Lexus has been evolving into a ‘luxury lifestyle brand’ and the epitome of this must surely be the new LC 500 convertible. The aspirational halo model has recently landed and we sampled its character, one that is said to ‘stimulate the senses and express ultimate beauty’.
The LC coupe morphed from a concept car to production reality with few changes. It’s years old now but still demands attention as it’s genuine mobile sculpture. Converting that elegance to an open-top form isn’t easy, but Lexus has done well, especially considering its questionable track record with the fugly SC and the ungainly IS 200. Roof up, the profile is largely maintained, the soft top with a genuine fastback form, the fabric roof without the usual ridgelines of other converts. To ensure a low and wide appearance when converted, the beltline kicks up behind the doors while the bootline is raised. It’s derriere is curvier, the boot lid rising slightly at its trailing edge, forgoing the usual elongated rear deck of some convertibles. From any angle it just looks right.
The top disappears under an integrated tonneau cover for a clean appearance. In typical obsessive Lexus fashion, the company claims to have tested the folding mechanism through 18,000 cycles to ensure optimum, faultless operation. Its movement is one of polished precision, the hydraulics working almost silently. It takes 15 seconds for it to convert, working at speeds of up to 50km/h.
The idea of a big V8-powered convertible goes against the grain of the brand’s quiet and comfortable mantra, yet this still manages to be a Lexus at its core. There are four layers to the soft top to ensure maximum sound insulation, and the traffic cacophony is well muted when it’s in place. There is an active noise control system using the speakers of the audio system to remove residual unwanted sounds. The burly V8 burbles away mutedly at sedate speeds, the auto changing gears with its kid gloves on to keep the flow smooth, in appropriate Lexus manner. It’s serene (and sexy) in the city, in other words.
Roof down, the wind flow is well directed, and at speed it goes without that sense there is a tornado on your tail. You can hold a conversation at 100km/h without raising your voice, at least with the side windows up, and there’s no air swirling around down into the footwell.
The LC convertible is said to ‘provide a sense of unity with nature’, which we guess refers to the topless driving experience allowing you to take in more of the scenery rather than the V8’s effect on rising CO2 levels. The 5.0-litre is the only engine offered, the weight and packaging complexities of the V6 hybrid alternative that the coupe offers ruling itself out. We’re not complaining. It might go against any climate change aspirations Lexus has, but they will sell only a handful of these in New Zealand. The eight breathes unassisted, pumping out 351kW with 540Nm spun up at 4800rpm. The firm’s ten-speed auto is used and there’s a Torsen LSD on the rear, adaptive dampers all round and six-pot brake calipers on the front. Generously sized Michelin Pilot Super Sports provide the contact.
A rear suspension tower brace helps improve the rigidity of the roofless design, as do other braces beneath. These are fashioned from cast aluminium and magnesium to save weight but one thing the LC convertible isn’t is light, tipping in at 2030kg. All that luxury doesn’t come without cost. And so how does the atmo V8 move such a lump?
Putting the spin on its lack of boosted, low down torque, Lexus says it has a ‘smooth acceleration character during normal commuting’. And this does suit a luxury cruiser’s ambitions. The ten-speed maximises the outputs and this certainly doesn’t feel wanting in urban running.
The exhaust note is described as ‘robust and sensual’, a notion you’d never grasp on a short urban drive (though it does sound Aston Martin Vantage-like on start-up). There’s a sound generator that transmits the intake drama through the dash panel, while an exhaust valve comes into play at higher engine speeds. And this roars robustly, the sound particularly sensual as it rounds the 4000rpm mark on its way to sign off past 7000rpm. The lack of wind rush and tyre roar on coarse chip roads means the engine note is the dominant tone, a sweet one at that, accompanied with rousing bangs between gearshifts. Who knew a Lexus could sing so well?
We had made a mental note not to expect the LC convertible to perform like a sports car, yet as the corners started flowing, we were trying to chuck it about like a lithe, low-slung racer. It has rather quick steering, the front pointing with a certain keenness that begs you to give it a nudge, yet the rest of the chassis isn’t so eager. There’s an effort for it to transition its weight, you feel it on the rear as it rolls and leans. There’s a sense for the turning ambition through the steering, and the front is able, up to a point. In the tight bends, the front tyres are easily scrubbed, but it does so politely, breaking away gradually. The LC convert is better at gobbling up flowing roads, with a quick but not-so-hellbent demeanour. It’s wide, with good rubber at each corner, so it sticks, and the linear delivery of the V8 means you have to go silly to unstick the rears. This needs 4000rpm dialed in to really deliver, though the trans is obiliging, closely stacked gearing helping to keep it spinning. Only an occasional paddling is required. The weight is always in play, so smooth is best, as usual. It then gets into a nice rhythm, not overly engaging, nor particularly thrilling, but strangely satisfying all the same. Consider our senses stimulated then.
The Normal and Comfort settings are just right for urban running, where the LC has a cushy ride, though occasionally feels the jolt of big bumps. But as speeds increase, it’s more settled in the Sports modes which control those big blingy wheels better. It never really feels sweet – it’s a two-tonne convertible, after all – but the added control removes the wallow while riding the bumps better. There’s the odd shudder through the cabin as it hits the edges of bridges and choicer holes, but the steering column is well isolated from the uglies of the road.
It’s not stupendously fast in the way its boosted competitors are with their 400kW/800Nm outputs; you’d call it quick enough, but never scary. We couldn’t meet the 5.0sec 0-100km/h claim, it just wasn’t interested in hauling off the mark in a hurry, so 5.5sec had to do. As we said, quick but no jet. Fuel use you can expect to average somewhere between the overall quoted figure of 12.7 and the urban number of 19.6L/100km. And the output figures are achieved on 98.
Red interiors aren’t usually our thing, a bit too Kardashian, but it works here. The cabin is brimming with the usual Lexus quality and craftsmanship, the shutlines precise, the action of every moving part damped perfectly. Getting in is no chore, especially roof down, while the doors aren’t overly heavy or too big for the car park. The contours and suppleness of the seat resist the cornering Gs and the onset of sore backs in equal measures. The trim is exquisite, everywhere you look, as are the door handles. Its infotainment system is a frustration, however; there are far smarter systems out there.
Unlike its competitors, Lexus loads its cars with the works, no options to tick, and it includes the likes of active cruise, lane keeping, head-up display and the rest. The only thing missing is a surround view camera, though the rear monitor works well. The pair of pews in the rear is better suited to lap dogs and shopping than people, adding space for what the 172L boot can’t take.
While no sportscar, it cuts it as an open-top GT. And it does manage to blend Lexus’ core values with genuine wow factor. And the price? A mere $234,000.
|Model||Lexus LC 500 convertible|
|Engine||4969cc, V8, DI, 351kW/540Nm|
|Drivetrain||10-speed auto, rear-wheel drive|