Lexus LC offers impressive potency with incredible poise
New luxury grand tourer will help Japanese carmaker increase its presence in Europe
The LC is the latest stunning addition to the Lexus range, a sports car set to rival the likes of the BMW 6 Series, the Aston Martin DB11 or even the Mercedes Benz S-Class coupé
It’s like a motoring take on a Brothers Grimm tale. In an age of devious emissions cheating by its German rivals, the Japanese antihero sets out on a hybrid quest.
To launch the latest Lexus we must cross the Alps in order to reach the land where the diesel dragons have their lairs.
While we’ve already tested the new LC on road and track, Lexus thought it fitting that the arrival of its LC grand tourer sports car is marked with a grand tour: a two-day 800km road trip from Milan to Munich.
Setting off from Milan, the LC wins approval from the city’s car-crazy fashionistas. At one stage, a white convertible BMW 640 hovers around us like a moth at a flame. While this is not a top-level supercar, in styling terms, the LC exists on the same plane as BMW’s i8, leaving the 6-Series looking positively bland.
The Japanese have a history of hit-and-miss design, so they have rightly been anxious about the European reception of this car. Taking its cue from the stunning LFA supercar and the LF-LC concept from 2012, they were hopeful this car might work. And they were right. The votes of the Milanese jury seemed unanimous: Lexus is on to a winner with the LC.
The LC is the latest stunning addition to the Lexus range, a sports car set to rival the likes of the aforementioned 6 Series, the Aston Martin DB11 or even the Mercedes Benz S-Class coupé. And while you might scoff at the idea of a €110,000-plus sports car in our post-recession car market, it has already lured several Irish buyers long before its tyres have touched the tarmac here, with four orders currently on the books of the Irish distributor and at least 10 more expected next year.
The new Lexus comes in two flavours: the 5-litre 477bhp throaty V8, or the 3.5-litre 299bhp V6 hybrid. Neither is a full-blooded racer; rather both are fast tourers.
First up we feast on the full-blooded V8. Up the autostrada and the Alps start to hone into view. Crossing along the edge of Lake Como we slip into Sports mode, the V8’s growl echoing off the sheer stone face to our right and across the gun metal grey water. Tunnels cut through the lakeside hills, offering more chances to enjoy the V8’s acoustics.
The V8 is the natural fit for a car in this class. It happily roars its way to 7,000rpm, getting from standing start to 100km/h in just 4.7 seconds. As we weave our way through the mountain traffic, it inspires confidence when overtaking. Three trucks in one go on a relatively short stretch of straight road? No problem: flip the steering wheel mounted paddle to drop down a gear, enjoy the glorious blip in the engine note, then feel yourself being pushed back into the cosseted leather seat. By the time your senses start to enjoy the show, the trio of trucks are but a distant memory.
There are several routes across the Alps in the summer months. The Stelvio Pass is arguably the most famous, but it has become a victim of its own success, overrun with aggressive cyclists and madcap motorbikers. Lesser known, but just as picturesque, is the Maloja Pass. A twisting ascent up 2,000 metres is done on a magically smooth road.
The roads across the Alps are magnificent, particularly when you consider the temperature extremes they undergo. The Maloja is often impassable with snow, yet diligent repairs mean it’s better than most Irish national routes when the summer season begins.
From behind the wheel it’s hard to focus on the sweeping 180-degree bends amid the amazing vistas in view. Touching an aqua blue sky are the snowcapped peaks, giving way to grey rock facades. Below this is the strip of dark green forestry, rolling down towards the bright green hue of fertile fields, interspersed with occasional clusters of white villages, before settling in the turquoise splendour of Lake Silvaplana.
On day two we swap raw grunt for hybrid whine. The nature of the beast has changed somewhat, but the functionality remains true to a grand tourer. It delivers spurts of sports car performance at the flick of your ankle, but its natural setting is as a fast-paced cruiser.
Either on the twisty Alpine roads or munching the miles on European motorways, the LC always feels poised and balanced. When Lexus attempted sports cars in the past, the results were either too hardcore or too uncomfortable. The LC offers impressive potency with incredible poise. Its engineers have the recipe just right.
Lexus claims a combined fuel economy of 6.4 l/100km (44mpg) for the LC hybrid. On this second leg of our journey, covering 420km and running up through Liechtenstein, Austria and up to Munich, the hybrid delivered 11.3 l/100km (25mpg). Hardly a benchmark in eco-friendly motoring. That said, it did include several kilometres at full throttle on the unrestricted German autobahn.
Mention is made among motoring hacks of this being a potential rival to the Porsche 911, but in reality it lacks the flat-out power of that German icon. We will have to wait to an F-Sport version of the LC, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
Of the two flavours on offer right now, the hybrid makes the most sense. Its power delivery is smooth, quick and direct, redefining our understanding of the term hybrid. It is rightly associated with “eco” motoring, but as Lexus has often proved with its top-end models, it can also mean performance.
And where the hybrid LC500h starts at €110,950, the V8 LC500 starts at €137,950. The V8 roar is magical, but it’s not enough to justify a €27,500 premium. Then there is the annual motor tax bill: €2,350 for the V8 against €390 for the hybrid.
We arrive in southern Germany at full tilt, our target the fairytale towers of Schloss Neuschwanstein. This is the land of lederhosen and thigh-slapping oompah bands. The nearby town of Fussen is like the set for a Brothers Grimm storyline. The Schloss itself was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom castle, but it’s also had cameo roles in the likes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even the Great Escape.
For us it is the backdrop to an unfinished tale that casts the German auto industry under the shadow of the diesel emissions scandal. In this storyline Lexus would certainly like to cast its hybrid sports car as the valiant hero.
The Japanese brand abandoned diesel from its range several years ago, in what at the time seemed like a suicidal sales strategy, particularly in Europe. Now it seems like magnificent marketing foresight.
The LC will not deliver big volumes on the continent, but it will certainly make rivals take notice. Overall, sales are still well below premium rivals and it’s far from a fairytale success as yet for Lexus’s European endeavours, but perhaps a happy ending may be in sight.