Lexus applies mid-life upgrades to its spectacular LC500
One of the most extraordinary cars that Iain Robertson drove in early-2018 was the top-specification Japanese grand tourer devised and developed by Lexus, the luxury arm of Toyota, which he recalls fondly, while welcoming some vital detail changes.
January is not the best month of the year in which to discover the dynamic qualities of a potent rear-wheel drive sporting coupe, even when it is equipped with an advanced traction control system. Pumping out 464bhp from its 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine, directed through a 10-speed direct shift automatic transmission to those rear tyres (0-60mph in the dry occupies 4.3s), is a recipe for potential disaster…or it might have been, had the responses at the helm, or through the base of the driver’s seat, not have been as communicative as they were.
In those days prior to ‘house arrest’ being considered the norm, I took a good mate on a time and mileage no-limits drive through the Welsh border country south-west of Birmingham. Fortunately, the roads were quiet, as between us we sampled the outer edges of the LC500’s handling and roadholding, some of which could have been considered as ‘lairy’. Flicking up and down the multiple gear ratios (using the steering wheel mounted paddles) allowed the gorgeous V8 to sing like a virtuoso soloist, verging from basso profundo, to second tenor yowling, on a series of whims, accompanied by some grainy rear tyre scrabbling for good measure.
Considering that Toyota has earned a modest reputation for producing some truly interesting super-coupes over the years (not so much lately, as the current Supra proves by using the BMW Z4 as its base) and that the Lexus brand has shared some of its technology over the years, even badging some Lexuses for certain markets as Toyotas, it is fair to state that the punchiest LC500 owes nothing but funding to its forbearing parent. If anything, that stellar driving experience of more than two years ago highlighted a thoroughbred streak running proudly through every aspect of the coupe.
However, despite the involving driving experience and the superior tuned refinement of its 5.0-litre, multivalve lump, positioned as far back in the under-bonnet area as space, firewall and cabin would allow, it was (and is) the on-street impact imparted by the LC500 that clarifies its role. The design brief was to explore Japanese art and history. The Shogun warlord era was central. In many ways, it would have been simpler to explore the world-wide taste for supercars. Yet, the Kabuto helmet worn by a Samurai, as well as the Katana sword he would have wielded, inspired the outlines of several elements of LC’s styling. Toyota sought similar inspiration, when creating its current versions of the Prius hybrid and the Mirai hydrogen fuel cell cars. Admirable, ugly and neither as succinct, nor strikingly beautiful as the LC.
It was intriguing to note the reactions of pedestrians and other road users. A lot of iPhone action was in evidence. To be fair, in January 2018, the car was exceptionally rare on British roads. The desire to take photographs from all manner of angles, to see how winter light danced along the car’s flanks (the test example was so white that it was almost ‘blue’) and across its various shut-lines, was so beguiling that even in poor late-afternoon natural light, I was still shooting. Fortunately, it had remained dry throughout.
Like all forward-thinking carmakers, another Japanese science, of Kaizen, or ‘continuous improvement’, exists at Lexus, which ensures that model research and development never ceases between more comprehensive model changes. While it does not sound like much and certainly does not feel it either, weight-saving measures have been introduced on the latest versions of the LC, to reduce its unsprung weight by round 10kg. This includes a number of suspension revisions (aluminium lower arms, hollow anti-roll bars), with the aim of creating smoother, softer performance potential, with several tweaks to springs, dampers and an increase in the rear anti-roll bar’s rigidity. The 21.0-inch diameter forged alloy wheels are also of marginally lighter construction.
The overall focus was to update the suspension for a smoother, softer stroke to give the driver a more dependable level of feedback from the road surface. The electronic front shock absorber controls have been adjusted to provide a longer stroke, while the bump-stop rigidity has been optimised to support the smoother suspension movements. The object has been to improve both front turn-in performance and provide greater steering linearity to improve and balance dynamic responses overall.
Naturally, the rawer appeal of the previous model has been reined-in slightly by the introduction of Active Cornering Assist; an electronic program that entwines the antilock brake system and switchable stability control, with lateral yaw sensors, to limit both plough-on understeer and tail-happy oversteer. It can be switched off, if you can tolerate the glowing warning light in the instrument binnacle. Enhancements made to the ADAS technology that is intended to make cars safer and less involving continue to be fitted as standard equipment, a position from which the LC cannot escape.
By way of minor compensation, LC500 gains enhancements to its 10-speed automatic transmission, which includes an automatic ‘Park’ selection, should the driver leave the car with the selector in another position (shit happens and this stops it!). Changes made to the logic patterns in the gearbox improve day-to-day driving in what its engineers refer to as the ‘active zone’, where drivers are using a 50-70% throttle range. The downshifting mode has also been updated and now engages with second, rather than third gear, for smoother progress but more robust acceleration out of sharp bends. Even the surface of the brake pedal has been revised to impart greater sensitivity to the driver.
Along with the other ADAS and in-car communications upgrades, the multimedia system at last features smartphone integration for Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto®, for those people owning such devices. A carbon fibre reinforced roof panel is now available as an option. Prices can be expected soon, with deliveries commencing once we are all given permission to visit dealerships again. By the way, a 354bhp hybrid V6 model is also available (for softies).
Conclusion: Lexus has produced a luxurious and sporting grand touring coupe in the LC500 that remains strikingly good looking and delivers on almost every expectation, now improved by minor refettling.