Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Lexus LC's razor sharp aerodynamic profile gives it an edgy, extroverted road stance that attracts attention on the high street. Out of town, the 3.5-litre V6 hybrid engine sets pulses racing, accelerating on a dry summer's day from zero to 60 mph in a heartbeat. Some established German rivals for this adrenaline rush with a Japanese twist include the Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz SL and BMW 6-Series. Marking just-auto/AIC's 75th review of interior design and technology trends, Matthew Beecham slid inside the LC's feel-good cabin to sample its delights.
Lexus regards it as its flagship two-plus-two luxury coupe (LC). It's not a sports car but a luxury grand tourer. However they define it, their intricate attention to detail is evident inside and out. The Japanese carmaker has done nothing by halves with this design. While the brand is known for its high-quality fit and finish, it has gone to town on the LC. For instance, the chrome-plated mouldings along the side of the glass roof are intended to echo the lines of a samurai sword.
A further detailed element is seen in the spindle chrome grille with a tightly-compressed mesh design that spreads across the front of the car. The LC lighting signature is created by independent daytime running lights in an arrowhead configuration and compact triple LED headlamp units. The funky headlight design enabled the designers to achieve the coupe's low bonnet line and short front overhang.
The LC 500 and 500h share the same luxury equipment specification. Our 500h Sports Plus includes sports front seats with Alcantara upholstery and leather bolsters, Alcantara upholstered headlining, parcel shelf, sun visors and front and centre pillar trim. Cabin comfort is maintained with a dual-zone climate control system.
Particular attention has also been paid to the steering wheel design, with a change in the cross-section around its circumference to allow for variations in grip and twisting of the wrist. New, larger magnesium alloy paddle shifts have been profiled for easier hooking with the fingertips and have a satisfying click action. The instrument panel has a taut and rigid frame that creates a strong horizontal axis. All the principal instrumentation and function controls are contained within its cross-section.
The information displays are arranged in order of importance, with the most critical closest to the driver's sightline, within the dashboard's upper display zone. All are positioned at the same height, to reduce the degree of eye movement required for the driver to read them. The instrument binnacle features the latest development of the TFT (thin-film transistor) meter technology introduced in the Lexus LFA supercar, including a moving central ring.
Driving-related switches and controls are arrayed in a control zone that is concentrated immediately around the steering wheel. These include the paddle shifts, steering wheel combination switches, Drive Mode Select switch, starter button and shift lever, each located for the best ergonomic performance, focusing on easy reach and operation. A touch-pad located on the centre console to partly control the 10.25-inch display screen looks neat but is a little fiddly to use and not as intuitive as the rotary one fitted on BMWs. A DVD player is located just beneath the HVAC control panel.
Throughout the cabin, the quality and finish of the upholstery, expensive-feeling trim materials and detailing continue to reflect the attention to detail that Lexus ' engineers have given this car. For instance, the hand-stitching of the leather gearshift lever, the draping treatment of the Alcantara door panel trims and the discreet use of the Lexus L motif in areas such as the face of the analogue clock (positioned off-centre of the dash facing the front passenger) and even the tactile raised surfaces of the classy air vents.
On a more practical level, forward vision is pretty good, surprisingly uncompromised by the seating position thanks to the low bonnet line, low-profile dashboard and narrow A-pillars. The shallow height of the dash is aided by the development of compact air vents.
While the instrument panel and centre console resembles a work of art and is pretty to look at with its mish-mash of layers, the storage bins and glovebox are impractical. A couple of rotary stubs protrude from the dash just above the steering wheel, enabling the driver to liven up the drivetrain, suspension and steering to suit their preferences.
Aside from one cupholder in the centre console and under-armrest storage, there is very little storage space. The boot capacity is just 172-litres on the LC 500h due to the battery pack located behind the seats. Although superminis have larger boots, it is just large enough to accommodate a large wheeled holdall but there isn't much room for anything else.
Getting in and out of a sports car can require a little more effort than slipping into a run-of-the-mill saloon. Lexus says the driver's hip point has been located as close as possible to the car's centre of gravity, maximising direct feedback of the vehicle's dynamic behaviour. The LC is, however, quite easy to access due to its long body providing ample legroom beneath the dash, reducing the height difference between the rocker panel and the floor and larger door aperture to provide slightly more head space. That said, head space for six-footers is somewhat limited.
Fitted with 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, this is one of the best hi-fi systems around. The sound system uses Clari-Fi technology, developed by Harman, which supplements in real-time frequencies that are lost in compressed audio files, such as MP3 and streaming audio files. This restores the sound quality and stereo mix as closely as possible to the original recording.
To support Lexus ' requirements for low vehicle weight, Mark Levinson engineers reduced the mass of the speakers achieving a 30 per cent overall reduction compared to the previous system. Overall the saving was 136g per speaker. The speakers use Ceramic Metal Matrix Diaphragm cone material. By sandwiching an aluminium driver between layers of a ceramic compound, sound can travel nearly twice as fast through the cones with better damping, producing a sound that is a near exact replication of the original recording. The speakers housed in the instrument panel are inclined to a certain angle to ensure that the sound directly coming from them and the sound reflected by the windscreen reach the listener in the best way, delivering a rich, dynamic sound field. The net result of this sound quality is rich and crystal clear.
In the hot seat
Once seated in the low-set driving position, it doesn't take long to get comfy using the eight-way powered front seats. Given that the Lexus brand has always been exceptional on fit and finish and material quality, it is of no surprise to discover that the seat design has also been the focus of attention.
The front seats resemble beautiful pieces of furniture in their own right, providing superb comfort and support on long journeys. The automaker has used a two-part seat construction technique in which the main part of the seatback drapes over the shoulder area of the seat and wraps around the back. To ensure good lateral support, additional seat bolstering is provided for the driver's shoulder blade area; resin inserts improve the holding performance of the side bolsters.
On the sports seats provided with the LC Sport and Sport+ Packages, the bolsters are even more substantial, with a focus on keeping the driver's back in place during spirited driving. The seat cushion is shaped to ensure support for the pelvis, so that pressure is evenly distributed to the front and back.
The result is a good fit and comfort from the moment you sit down, based on a 'self-alignment' concept. The net result will comfortably carry two adults over long journeys and four people (two adults and two small children) for short trips due to the raked roofline and limited legroom in the back.
Materials with various properties have been used in different areas of the coupe's construction, giving strength, rigidity and lightweight in appropriate measure.
The application of these materials can be broken down into different functions. To create a strong frame that supports robust cabin integrity, the non-deforming parts comprising ultra-high-tensile strength steel, while high tensile steel with good elastic properties is adopted for elements that are designed to deform in an impact and dissipate energy. The rigidity of the frame is supported by general steel with a high degree of stiffness, and aluminium is used strategically for its excellent energy-absorbing performance and for external bodywork where its lightness and tensile rigidity are of value. Lightweight Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) is featured inside and out, e.g. a CFRP composite roof.
Lexus has also increased the amount of adhesive used to connect components in the LC's frame. Also, line welds are used in preference to spot welds, wherever possible.
The removal of the spare tyre in favour of Michelin run-flat tyres and relocation of the battery to the luggage space helps balance the car's weight distribution.
Size wise, the LC has a 2,870mm wheelbase and compact overhangs (930mm front, 970mm rear). Overall length is 4,770mm, width is 1,920mm and the height 1,345mm. Whichever way you approach it, it's got kerb appeal in spades.
Advanced driver assistance systems
All LC models are equipped with Lexus Safety System+. This suite of ADAS technologies incorporates a camera and millimetre-wave radar used to monitor the road ahead for potential hazards and collision risks. This provides the LC with a Pre-Collision System which is designed to detect vehicles and pedestrians; dynamic radar cruise control; lane-keep assist with lane departure alert and a 'sway warning function'; an automatic high beam system; and road sign assist. The sway warning function monitors the car's position in its lane and the driver's steering inputs. If it detects degrees of vehicle swaying, it will sound an alert and display a warning on the instrument cluster, recommending the driver takes a break.
On the road
For those tired of traditional German sports coupes or dare to be different, the LC 500h Sport Plus is a good choice albeit an expensive one at £88,000 (including options). Driving around town in this jewel of engineering beauty never fails to attract attention if seen rather than heard as the petrol-electric hybrid setup is super quiet. The model is also a rare sight on our roads with just a few hundred sold annually in the UK.
Not only does it look striking with its rakish profile but sounds fabulous too. Given that an engine sound stirs emotion, Lexus engineers combined the sounds produced both by the air intake system at the front and the exhaust system at the rear to create what they describe as a "concert hall" effect inside the cabin, both as the car accelerates and decelerates.
Although our press review came with a plush black interior which is undeniably comfortable, the dark trim makes it harder to truly appreciate the finer details. A caramel interior, on the other hand, makes every last detail shine. Despite the odd niggle, it's an interior design triumph. The lightweight soundproofing materials encapsulating the engine and transmission team up with a series of inventive touches to lower volume levels, while also producing weight and fuel savings. While our drive insulated us from the outside world, cocooned in comfort, it also felt cossetted and poised at every turn, providing a truly incredible experience.