The new LC500 Convertible isn’t your average Lexus.
It’s the most expensive, exclusive and seductive car built by the brand. As with many great cars, it’s also something of a throwback.
Evocative proportions and arresting design elements are lifted directly from the Lexus LF-LC concept car that stopped traffic at the Sydney motor show eight years ago — the last time a proper motor show was held on local soil.
The teardrop headlights, infinity-mirror tail-lamps and shapely silhouette are pure concept-car theatre.
Power comes from a classic free-breathing V8 mounted up front, driving the rear wheels through a conventional automatic transmission as opposed to the dual-clutch units favoured by some rivals. The seats are trimmed in rich leather in a lavish cabin that combines decadent, flawlessly-finished materials with a modern take on conventional dials.
A tricky touchpad for the infotainment unit afflicting just about every model in the Lexus showroom is the only flaw in the interior.
Priced from about $228,000 drive-away, the LC500 Convertible certainly isn’t cheap.
But it undercuts the equivalent Porsche 911 by about $100,000 and starts to look like strong value when standard equipment is taken into account because there are no options.
It has top-grade paint and leather, a full suite of driver aids and forged 21-inch wheels as standard. You don’t pay extra for a bimodal sports exhaust, limited-slip differential or multi-mode suspension.
The brilliant Mark Levinson stereo, LED headlights and powered memory seats with heating and cooling are all included, as is a heated steering wheel, neck warmer, parking sensors and reversing camera. That is refreshing, as most European sports cars charge outrageous sums for many of those features.
The best bit is that the Lexus gives away little in terms of drama.
The 5.0-litre V8 fires to life with a hearty flare before settling into a melodious idle.
Packing 351kW of power and 540Nm of torque, the roadster’s sub-five-second 0-100km/h time and 12.7L/100km fuel economy aren’t particularly impressive. But the LC500 sounds positively operatic when let loose, its Yamaha-tuned motor singing with a free-breathing voice rarely heard these days.
Lexus didn’t bother adapting its unloved LC500h hybrid driveline for the convertible. Its slower, flat-sounding V6 and overcomplicated gearbox weren’t worthy of the top-down treatment. A facelifted model bringing turbo performance in the near future should be quicker and less sonorous in equal measure.
For now, this V8 truly does sound sensational. And the 15 seconds needed to lower the roof pays dividends with open access to its eight-cylinder symphony.
Forgive the 48 litres of lost boot space, the extra 100 kilos of weight or the circa-$20,000 premium over the coupe. The soundtrack is worth it.
Better still, a crisp 10-speed auto delivers a delicious crack from the exhaust pipes when plucking the next gear, or enthusiastic bursts of throttle when dropping a ratio.
Weighty steering lends confidence when tipping into corners, and clever multi-mode suspension does a great job masking the car’s doubleton mass. The LC500’s composed ride and reassuring reactions are more suited to a weekend away with someone special than a qualifying lap of a Grand Prix circuit.
It’s not the sort of sports car that makes you set an alarm for zero-dark-thirty to set off in pursuit of superbikes. But it is the sort of machine to make you savour the long way home. The LC500 is also more playful than you might expect, occasionally wagging its tail under power, even with the traction control in its most sensible setting. It’s hard to drive it without a smile.
Lexus is too demure to describe its flagship as Japan’s answer to Aston Martin or Maserati, but we’re happy to say it. The LC500 is a rare gem.
LEXUS LC 500 CONVERTIBLE VITALS
Price: About $228,000 drive-away
Engine: 5.0-litre V8, 351kW/540Nm
Warranty/servicing: 4-year/100,000km, $2380 for 4 years
Safety: Not rated, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise, lane-keep assist, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert
Spare: Repair kit
Originally published as Tested: Lexus’ answer to Aston Martin