Lexus has created a wonderfully distinct, charismatic and desirable alternative to German rivals

Rarely does a concept car reach production with so few changes as did the Lexus LC. The dramatic two-plus-two coupe looks different to everything else on the road, acting as a halo model for the premium Japanese brand, not to mention its parent company Toyota. The last time Lexus did this, the magnificent all-carbonfibre LFA was the result, and now, at a significantly more attainable price tag, it’s done it again.

It’s this halo status that is important here, because the LC Coupe is a vanity project at its core, meaning that it was formed with a different set of rules to higher-production models. The front suspension design, for example, was designed specifically for the LC in order to reduce the bonnet height over the front wheels as much as possible – an expensive exercise for the sake of detail proportions.

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Exotic materials like carbonfibre and aluminium make up the LC’s structure, the interior is finished to an impossibly high degree, and the engines are at two ends of very different spectrums, but appeal to two very different buyers. The LC range will soon expand too, with rumours of a hot LC-F swirling alongside spied prototypes, while a thinly veiled convertible concept version will also reach production in time.

The LC is not perfect, but the car industry is a better place for it. If you’ve not already guessed, we rather like the Lexus LC, and although there are one or two caveats, this is a truly spectacular road car.

Performance and 0-100kmh time

The Lexus LC Coupe in both hybrid and V8 forms is not the fastest GT car in its class, that’s for sure. The hybrid, despite a reasonable 267kW combined power figure, takes a leisurely 5.0sec to reach 100kmh. Performance then, is hardly electric, but as a cruiser the hybrid’s powertrain does just about enough to make it feel fast enough for cruising situations. Top speed is pegged at 250kmh.

The LC 500 V8 is only 0.3sec quicker, reaching 100kmh in 4.7sec, despite the generous bump in horsepower. The V8’s 341kmh isn’t that much more accessible either, thanks to its 7100rpm peak power, although we’ll get back to that later. The crux with the LC Coupe in all its forms is that if you’re expecting this GT to be supercar fast, you won’t find it in the LC, but, and we’ll get to it, is all part of the charm.

Engine and transmission

As mentioned above, the LC Coupe is available in two distinct forms, which totally changes the LC’s character above all else. The more demure, sensible option is the LC 500h, which as its name implies, is a hybrid. This is no Porsche Turbo S e-Hybrid-style powerhouse, rather a more laid-back combination of the Toyota group’s naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 engine and a small electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. Instead of being able to run on pure electric as a plug-in hybrid, the LC 500h’s parallel system is more about engine assistance. Power is fed into the batteries by a regenerative braking system, and power fed from the petrol engine.

The transmission is equally non GT-like, featuring a new type of CVT gearbox. Rather than simply have a single belt-driven gearbox with infinite ratios, the Lexus instead has a total of three, CVT-like gears, each with three ‘steps’ within them to emulate the feeling of a short, sharp gearshift. There is then another, fourth gear which brings the total to ten, real and/or virtual gears. This gives the impression of shifting gears as the car accelerates, more akin to a normal automatic transmission.

The second engine and transmission combo is more traditional, pairing a naturally aspirated 5-litre V8 engine with a ten-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox. The engine is the same Yamaha-fettled unit found in the current Lexus RC-F, and it’s a wonderful, sonorous, charismatic unit that totally redefines the LC. The hybrid, although not inherently bad, is a calmer, diesel-equivalent GT cruiser. Paired to this V8 though, the LC’s character totally changes. The auto’s shifts are short, sharp, and in sports mode decisive, but left to its own devices can dither about – a complaint common with many transmissions with so many ratios to choose between.

Ride and handling

Approach the LC as a pure GT and it has one fatal flaw. The ride is too hard-edged, even on the entry-level model’s smaller 20-inch wheels. It’s not unsophisticated, as the adaptive dampers do keep sharp intrusions to an acceptable level, but it’s the stiffness of the springs themselves that are the issue. As a result, the LC 500h is a little contrived, as its powertrain doesn’t indulge or encourage, yet is too stiff to make for a comfortable GT.

The V8-powered LC 500 is a totally different proposition, as its engine completely changes the character of the car, unlocking a different side to the LC. The firm ride is suddenly less of an issue, as the V8 is the ultimate sidekick, encouraging you to exploit the chassis, unveiling its wonderfully playful and agile stance.

The car doesn’t quite shrink around you, but its limits are instantly palpable, the steering, although not feelsome (so few, if any, really are these days) accurate and reliable in its turn of response. It’s a surprisingly quick rack too, and whether it’s paired to the LC’s four-wheel-steering system or not, turns in quickly and decisively, with an accuracy and composure underpinned by the innate capability engineered into the chassis. It really does feel like a giant GT86, in the best way possible.

You’re never left wanting for more power either, in fact it’s this relative lack of grunt that seems to more gently introduce you to the LC’s underlying character, which is just so entertaining.

Start to push harder and the exploitable balance remains, even if traction doesn’t. The playful edge means that wheelspin can be an issue, especially without its limited-slip differential, but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience by any stretch. The LC 500, in V8 form anyway, is a truly unique car in the segment; one that all of us in the evo office have been totally won over by. Jordan Katsianis

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