While the LC 500h has a 3.5-litre V6+motor, the LC 500 (pictured) is powered by a 5.0-litre V8

While the LC 500h has a 3.5-litre V6+motor, the LC 500 (pictured) is powered by a 5.0-litre V8

View 2 related images

With sales well below 50,000 per annum (16,276 for the year to the end of April), Lexus is a minor make in Europe, smaller even than Jaguar and about the same size as DS. Unceasingly advertising itself as the hybrid brand in the days when few buyers knew anything about petrol-electrics is the reason why. It's ironic then that just as its hybrids are rising in popularity, Toyota is also selling the stunning LC coupe with a proper old-school V8.

A fixation with hybrids and a determination to ignore diesel and PHEVs has been much of why Lexus remains such an under-achiever in the EU and EFTA region. It's tempting to think that just by giving one model, the CT, a non-hybrid powetrain, the brand's fortunes might have been transformed. It's too late for that now, and besides, diesel and petrol engines in the Q30 have done little to help Infiniti Europe.

For all the fuss over TDI-gate, engine down-sizing, sequential turbochargers, PHEVs, EVs, fuel cells or perhaps one day soon, flux capacitors, petrol and diesel engines have not (yet) gone away. For all its investments in hybrid tech, the world's largest, richest and arguably most cautious vehicle manufacturer still believes in large displacement, high-revving V8s.

One drive is all it takes to learn that this, easily the best looking Lexus yet (well, since the LFA) has a soul too. The IS F was bonkers to drive and is long gone. That leaves the perplexingly unpopular GS and its F derivative as another candidate for greatness but it too will soon be disappearing. So then, along with the RC F, the LC 500 has to take the title of a Lexus to Love. Other models can be superb; just not lust-worthy and really, does the RC have a silhouette as dramatic as the LC's? Lest anyone think this is irrelevant tripe, when car company CEOs show emotion, share prices can rise as quickly as public opinion.

Remember the story from 2010 about Akio Toyoda being implored by a TMC investor to desist from apologising and crying? Or how about Elon Musk tearing up earlier this week at the annual shareholders' meeting when talking about his company's cars? Soon enough, questions over the lack of automotive industry experience possessed by proposed new board members James Murdoch and Musk's own brother stopped. (E)motion carried.

Ford was either brilliant or lucky enough to realise that a muscle car can be lusted after not only in the USA. Other places, even ones where petrol and the annual cost of vehicle registration are anything but cheap, can be fertile ground for a big coupe which looks the business but doesn't cost an arm and a leg. The current Mustang, understandably fading somewhat in its home market after almost four years of production, is still a strong seller in Europe and parts of Asia-Pac. It's all about image. And excitement.

Toyota sees that while 99 per cent of the vehicles which it sells in Europe are destined to have self-charging hybrid powertrains, there is room for mental motors too. In fact, the 5.0-litre engine in the LC 500 isn't really even that bonkers. Only when the driver wants to punish the tyres does fuel consumption rise to drinking-problem levels. Mostly, this big V8 is ridiculously efficient. That cannot be down to minimal weight, as the LC is hardly the Victoria Beckham of its market segment. No, this car has a secret weapon.

Aisin AW supplies a crucial component: AWR10L65. This is the TMC code for the ten-speed gearbox which the LC 500 was the world's first car to be fitted with. There is another ten-speeder too: AWRHM50, which goes into the LC 500. The reason for having two transmissions is this: the coupe has a normally aspirated V8 (Toyota internal code: 2UR-GSE), while the LS 500 instead comes with a bi-turbo 3.5-litre V6 (8GR-FXS). AWRHM50 is a marvel to observe as unless the right pedal is floored, it surfs the V8's wave of torque and shifts up, up and up incredibly quietly and quickly. It's only by flicking a paddle which activates an illuminated ratio indicator will the driver see that the transmission has lifted itself into 8th, 9th or even 10th. Other cars would probably be in 6th, 7th or 8th. The benefit for economy is marked.

You can of course make the LC 500 gulp the gas and in so doing, the V8 will wail. Maximum power is developed at 7,100rpm which shows what kind of car the engineers believed the LC 500 would end up being. Yes it's a GT and like the F-Type it's a sports car too. Powerslides are easy, even when there are 275/40 series tyres on 20-inch rims at the back (the fronts are 245/45). The 500 is easily tempted over to the dark side of Sport+, AKA mad mode.

There are four choices, the others being Sport, Comfort and Eco, each activated by a dial to the side of the steering wheel. Left in the greenest of these, the car still burbles at idle, still barks upon start-up and will readily shoot forward at crazy speeds for sudden overtaking opportunities. 

It will be a rare owner who can regularly match the official 35.3mpg of the Extra-urban cycle yet mid-20s to 30 is entirely possible. Much of that has to be down to the gearbox. Who needs a hybrid? Well, some will, as the CO2 average is 263g/km which means an annual road tax bill which costs even more than a set of the low-profile run-flats which all 500s are equipped with.

Lift the bonnet and it's Lexus' usual first class presentation. The quality of the paint's application is surely an industry-best, and the way the strut towers are detailed is pure craftsmanship. There are four gloss-black tubular braces linking the engine to body panels and just enough of the V8 is visible under a carbon-look plastic cover for it to be alluring. The reason for there being no spare tyre is the lack of room for the battery in the engine bay: it's a biggie and positioned below the boot floor. Here too, a place which some owners might never see, the finish of not only the paint but every plastic part is first class.

The amount of space for anyone booked the back seat is strictly Steerage though. There is approximately zero room for adults' legs and heads. The similarly sized Jaguar F-Type has it right by not even pretending to be a 2+2. The tiny seats can at least be used to plonk things on; something you cannot do in the Jag. A giant speaker for the sensational Mark Levinson sound system is positioned where an armrest would be. This also means there is no skis/snowboard hatch and the seat backs are fixed. Those engine braces really are needed for torsional rigidity it seems. This could also be why the glass roof does not open.

The glazing is the only place on this car where the word Lexus can be found. The supplier's name, AGC Automotive, is there too. A large L badge is positioned in the centre of both the grille and each wheel. You'll also find it on the bootlid. Yes, unlike the F-Type, this is not a hatchback. Centrally displayed below the L is the model name: LC 500.

Press the unlock button and a door handle flicks out and remains there until the car drives off. Slide in and the steering wheel will rise as the driver's door is opened. Another long-traditional Lexus feature, a foot operated parking brake, is absent. In fact, it's hard to find where the electric switch is. After some searching, your left hand will eventually locate it way down under the steering wheel almost as far away as the bonnet pull is on the right-hand side. This could be a bad piece of design but it's not, as there is a HOLD button on the centre console for use in traffic.

The dashboard is unlike that of any other car. It isn't strange-unique like that of a Prius. Rather, the curves, the shapes, the general minimalism make for novelty and in many ways beauty. The car supplied by TGB's press office had way too much dark grey which could have done with some relief, especially for the headliner. The effect for a person over six feet might be bordering on the oppressive should they not choose lighter shades for the leather at least.

Lexus' haptic touchpad infotainment system controller is present, as is the illusion of a wrist rest aft of it. Why this mound, which looks soft but is instead rock-hard, is a mystery. At least its positioning means that a passenger can use all the functions as easily as the driver. The same applies to the A/C controls which are shiny plastic buttons - interesting that here is yet another manufacturer which does not think that gorilla glass and virtual buttons are as safe and attractive for its luxury division's priciest coupe.

Each of two cupholders has its own silently gliding cover and the long curves on each door reflect a pattern which appears on the car's sides behind the doors' windows. The more you look, the more you see: a subtle squiggle pattern at the base of the steering wheel can also be found around the headlights. These play a role in what is an especially dramatic front end.

We are used to Lexuses with giant grilles and tiny lights but this is the most striking design yet from the brand's designers. Side and rear profiles are suffused with the same generous helpings of showmanship. Every time I looked back at the LC after parking it there was a feeling of this being a concept car which had somehow been built. That's not far off the truth

As the expected rise in e-mobility approaches and with it, potentially lots of pod-like design for, well, car-pods, it has never been more important for aspirational makes such as Lexus to give us, just occasionally, a crazy to look at and brilliant to drive GT. If only there were a roadster version of the LC 500. How about it Toyota?

The Lexus LC 500 costs from GBP76,595. It accelerates to 62mph in 4.4 seconds, has a claimed top speed of 168mph and returns a Combined average of 24.6mpg. The car's platform is Toyota New Generation Architecture-Luxury (TNGA-L or GA-L). The lifecycle is expected to be just under eight years, with a facelift in 2020. All LCs are built in Japan at Motomachi, with series production having commenced in October 2016.

Auto market intelligence
from just-auto

• Auto component fitment forecasts
• OEM & tier 1 profiles & factory finder
• Analysis of 30+ auto technologies & more