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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Tuesday, December 11, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
32˚Cloudy

Autos

Lexus LC 500h hybrid is a strong challenger in the GT segment

Lexus’s 2018 LC 500 silences all doubts about Lexus's ability to build beautiful cars.

The two-door LC is a proper grand tourer (from the Italian <em>gran turismo</em>), an exclusive class of two-door coupes meant to convey travelers over long distances, at great speeds and in sumptuous comfort. 

By convention, they are elegant and refined. They are motivated by powerful gasoline engines and are more softly suspended than their sports-car counterparts.

The $92,000 LC 500 qualifies on all counts, right down to its 471-horsepower V-8 powerplant. The 5.0-liter engine delivers 398 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission and powers the 4280-pound coupe from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.

Innovative two-transmission hybrid system

Turns out, though, that not even the GT club can ignore the mandates of a fuel-conscious automotive environment. And, since Lexus’s parent company Toyota is a leader in hybrid technology, a hybridized LC was perhaps inevitable.

That car, the 2018 LC 500h ($96,510), is a gas-electric hybrid with a ground-breaking hybrid system dubbed Multi Stage Hybrid System (MSHS).

Per hybrid convention, it combines the output of a V-6 gasoline engine and a pair of electric motors. The innovation occurs with the implementation of a second transmission, a conventional four-speed automatic that piggybacks on the existing continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Together, the two transmissions team up to eliminate the CVT’s rubber-band effects and, in manual drive mode, create 10 gears and 9 discrete shift points. 

Quick and efficient

MSHS makes 354 horsepower, compared with the V-8’s 471, and bumps curb weight by about 100 pounds; still, the hybrid quietly blows through the 0-60 sprint in 5 seconds. It can be driven in electric-only mode at speeds of up to 87 mph.

More to the point, the 500h clobbers its sibling at the pump, with an EPA-estimated 30 combined (26 city/35 highway) against the 500’s 19/16/26. 

Of course, you may wonder who drops $97G on a scintillating coupe only to fret about fuel efficiency. 

I do, too.

Bold design, elegant cabin

In either form, the LC satisfies the GT’s call for bold design. Its wasp-waisted contours, frankly Italianate surfaces and video-game futurism (check out the mirrored taillights), culminate in Lexus’s most compelling design this side of the LFA supercar. Surrounded by deep creases, strong character lines and muscular shoulders, Lexus’s controversial “spindle” grill finds its true home here.

Inside, high-grade leather and elegant suede door panels dress up surfaces as flat and broad as a North Dakota wheat field. 

The lower dash juts into the cabin, placing the controls front and center. A leather-wrapped grab handle sweeps up from the center console to join the dash and is mirrored by another handle mounted to the passenger door.

Unfortunate infotainment interface

Controls include Lexus’s misbegotten touchpad infotainment interface. It’s awkward under the best of circumstances and virtually unusable underway. Toyota’s smartphone-integration strategy excludes ApplePlay and Android Auto and its homegrown substitute is less elegant than either. 

Other real-life concerns include the paucity of casual storage spaces, vestigial rear seats and a stingy trunk.

The shortage of cubbies and bins proved annoying on a Seattle road-trip. Once there, though, we were able to stuff a 7-year-old and his car seat into the rear seat, at not inconsiderable cost to the forward passenger’s legroom.

Single, well-equipped trim

The LC 500h is available in one well-equipped trim, with several options packages on tap. Our tester included the $1,790 Touring package, which brought 20-inch wheels, alcantara headliner, semi-aniline perforated leather and a stunning Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system.

Were I shopping the GT segment, though, I’d forfeit the hybrid’s efficiency for the V-8’s immediacy, its simplicity and its soundtrack.

The hybrid’s two-transmission setup sometimes stumbles while searching for the right gear. And it produces inconsistent shifts; some feel like an automatic’s, others more like a CVT’s. And, finally, the hybrid’s electronically mediated steering and braking systems feel artificial and remote.

These are the concerns of an enthusiast, though, and GT buyers who value efficiency, beauty, comfort and quality will find a good home in the 500h. 

Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2018 Lexus LC 500h
Vehicle base price: $92,000
Trim level base price: $96,5610
As tested: $100,445 (including destination and handling)
Options included pre-collisions system with pedestrian detection; dynamic cruise control; lane-keep assist and lane-departure alert with steering assist; automatic high-beam headlamps; 20-inch forged aluminum wheels; alcantara headliner; heated and leather-trimmed steering wheel; windshield wiper de-icer; color heads-up display; navigation with 10.3-inch screen.
EPA ratings: 30 combined/26 city/35 highway
Premium unleaded fuel specified
 



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.