Here it is, the antithesis, nay, the anti-hero to Japan’s sustainable empire of mass-produced budget runarounds. Motor online steps out in the stylish Lexus LC500.
Toyota has been labeled many things over the years but we bet schizophrenic isn’t one of them. Give it some thought though and you’ll understand what we’re on about. We forgive the medically-induced-coma levels of blandness from Toyota because; well, we assume there’s a price to pay for affordable, mass produced cars. Etios, Corolla Quest, Rav4, Fortuner and Hilux, all segment front runners, all beige. Then Toyota President and CEO, Akio Toyoda, conceives their first flagship sports car – the Lexus LFA… not once but, ahem, twice. Yes, first built from aluminium, just before going on sale he figured it wasn’t good enough, so he started from scratch, this time entirely out of carbonfibre. Never mind no one at Toyota actually knew how to build anything from carbonfibre. Finally, in 2010, after the project had been in development for more than a decade, after billions of dollars in development and testing, number one of 500 cars rolled of the Motomachi production line. The price? $375 000, or near-as-makes-no-difference R5million, and Toyota lost money on every one. Oh, to have been a Toyota shareholder in the noughties.
“There’s a delicious irony in all this. One that comes when you realise Lexus performance cars are conceived like no other”
There’s a delicious irony in all this, you know. One that comes with the realisation that Lexus performance cars are conceived like no other. Gestation periods are long, there’s a money-no-object development strategy and nothing gets in the way of driving purity. This comes to us with clarity, sitting snug in the cabin of a bright yellow LC500, with rooster tails not seen since the days when Toyota were still in Formula 1 pluming off the back in a fierce Western Cape storm. The only thing fiercer than the weather is the racket coming from the 5.0-litre V8: all snarling tiger noises with your foot pinned and percussive crackles and pops with it lifted. Yes, yes, there are no turbos, but you’ve got to be a bit dim to question the sanctity of a naturally aspirated powerplant that’s this acoustically gifted.
It’s no slouch in the performance stakes either: 351kW/540Nm from the second-generation Lexus V8 (12 percent more power and efficiency) propels it from standstill to 100kph in 4.5sec and onto a top speed of 270kph. Not bad for a grand touring luxury coupe tipping the scales at 1940kg – which, incidentally, is what LC stands for. But to think of the LC500 in pure numbers is – like the LFA – to miss the point entirely. Akio Toyoda is a bonafide racing driver, he’s competed in countless Nurburgring 24 hour races in his own products, honing the things that matter to a keen driver. That feeling we had of sitting deep in the bowels of the car is no accident. The front wheels are moved 80mm forward, freeing up space to drop the big motor as low and as far back as possible, giving it a front-midship layout. Akio wanted it that way. 510mm is the overall centre of gravity, the lowest of any production Lexus. Innovative honeycomb-design aluminium strut braces around the engine bay and the clever use of carbonfibre and C-SMG (carbon sheet molding compound) ensure incredible strength and rigidity. Lexus engineers went full geek on this fact actually; even measuring the linearity of body flex – and voila, it’s brilliant.
We hope you’re beginning to get the picture here. To drive, the LC500 is all about acoustics, sensation, precision and dynamics. Then you climb out and look at the thing and it’s an abundance of delicious concept car details. Just like the sensation of driving it, everything has been millimetrically honed to be razor sharp, yet with an elegant, refined movement. We normally appreciate a less-is-more design philosophy but you can get irrevocably lost in the LC’s details. To park one in the street is to find people staring at it in contemplative awe: 21-inch rims, triple-layer LED headlamps, unique multi-deflective surfaces playing tricks with the light, that seductive spindle grille and all-encompassing sense of hi-tech craftsmanship. No wonder Lexus calls the people who build it Takumi, the very same master technicians who fashioned the LFA at Motomachi.
Even though the Cape doctor is absolutely belting it down, with standing water streaming across the road, there’s a feeling of supreme connectedness to the machine. The interior is plush yet driver focused; not distracting, calming even, and the seats are a work of art. Not a word of a lie, it’s as unintimidating as a Toyota 86; except with a glorious Lexus IS F meets Aston Martin Vantage soundtrack. One appreciates the linearity of the power delivery in these wet conditions – peak twist at 4800rpm and power at 7100rpm. Anything with turbos would be bucking and spitting and arm wrestling with the vehicle dynamics control right now, but progress aboard the Lexus is creamy and consistent. Flicking up a paddle of the ten-speed transmission – yes, double digits – elicits a sharp strike on upshift like when you used to smash old neon tubes as a kid. Ok, maybe you didn’t do that, but someone we know did and it was fantastic, as is the rhythmic shifting as you go through the gears at full throttle. The only criticism; you’re not always going full throttle and the evenly stacked ratios all the way to 270kph could be closer from first to fifth.
One issue to spoil the fun then, but that’s before you hear the price. A price so out of keeping with a Nipponese car that we did a double-take just in case we wrote it down incorrectly – R1 729 600. That’s a lot, especially when a four-pot Porsche Cayman S offers more performance for R1million less. But, you know what, owing to the LC500’s unique craftsmanship, style, beauty and purity, it can command such a price tag. Combine that with the legendary Lexus silver service and you’ve got a long-term ownership experience beyond compare. Best of all – and unlike the LC500 name might suggest – Motomachi isn’t limiting itself to just 500 super coupes this time around.
Lexus LC500 in a nutshell
Elegance, style, rarity and agility, plus that V8 bark will haunt your dreams.
Ten-speed transmission, what is this, a mountain bike? You can’t deny there are faster cars out there.
Engine: 4 969 cc, V8, naturally aspirated
Power: 351 kW @ 7 100 rpm, 540 Nm @ 4 800rpm
Performance: 0-100 km/h 4. 7 sec, top speed 270 km/h
Tyres: 21-inch forged wheels, F: 245/40, R: 275/35
Economy: 11.6 l/100 km
Transmission: Ten-speed automatic
CO2 emissions: 267g/km
Price: From R1 846 600