Sunday 24 September 2017

Sampling another world at the wheel of luxurious Lexus LC500 coupe for road trip with a difference

First drive: Lexus LC500/h

Lexus LC500
Lexus LC500
Lexus LC500
Lexus LC500
Lexus LC500

Eddie Cunningham Milan-to-Munich

SOMETIMES a drive is about more than the car or its performance. I think that was the case with the new Lexus LC luxury coupe.

Our two-day, 800km+ drive was a blend of road trip fun, new-car discovery, technology and a glimpse into a world occupied by those who can afford such a car.

In short, we took the new LC 500 with its 5-litre V8 engine from Milan to Flims in Switzerland and next day took the hybrid version, called LC 500h, to Munich, via Austria.

But it was more, much more, than just that. Our drives were so often against extraordinary backdrops of soaring mountains, vibrantly verdant valleys aglow in late-summer greenness, picture-book villages and some great driving roads that I felt sometimes we were in another world. Talk about escaping reality.

In a way the backdrop was fitting as we were driving a stunning-looking car too. A car somehow designed to look better every time, regardless of your angle of approach.

In reality it's a rival for the likes of the BMW 6-series Coupe but the Beemer is positively bland by comparison.

And in another way we drove two cars because this Grand Tourer (I'll come back to that) assumed different characteristics when powered by either the V8 petrol or 3.5-litre hybrid.

The hybrid is a car to charm and savour; the V8 a car to drive. I mean drive. It also emitted a gorgeous deep burble, unlike the more manufactured F1 timbre of the hybrid. It was fun, in either case, to couch in the opulence of leather and soft furnishings, to cool our bodies on air conditioned seats, as we prodded the accelerator to prompt individual engine responses. We took the roads as we found them: some fast and straight, some wriggle-loopy, some narrow, some broad. Some let the V8 proclaim its prowess (especially in the high-revving 5th of its 10 gears), some let us comfortably enjoy the slick smoothness of the hybrid. All allowed us to sense grip and traction on the dry, brilliantly surfaced roads.

Before we were finished we'd managed to weave a pattern of power and poise over 800km spanning amazing alpine Italy, Switzerland and Austria as well as miserable, wet autobahn Germany (a reintroduction to reality).

Sure, we had our en-route criticisms of the car. We struggled to put it in real context. Should it be called a GT in the true sense of the word, given the boot is so small (one golf bag) and there's no room at the back?

But that's for the few with the money to worry about. It was our job to catch a flavour of this flamboyant brand-shift from Lexus. It is a huge statement of design, engineering and road presence. I admire the courage to make a car like it and expect there will be an F-Sport version.

There are already three Irish owners of the LC - no more cars for this year though. The allotment for 2018 is 10. They'll be snapped up. Why? Because, in the great tradition of motoring clichés, this is so different. Its new GA-L platform will underpin loads of new front-engined, rear-drive cars from here on. If any approach the LC's looks they'll be special.

It has a strong, powerfully drawn front; the roof sharply rakes to a boot flanked by two inflated rear-side haunches. And the rear, with plunging light design, is exceptional.

Inside you sit low in a cabin of luxury and, mostly, novel design, though I found the dash disappointing. The central display area is shallow, the sat nav watery; there's a clock slotted beside it as if an afterthought and then you're left with a vacant dark space in front of the passenger. The two needless knobs either side of the instrument cluster binnacle detract from the interior's, mostly successful, attempt at classiness. The touch pad control wasn't great either. Small things, big impact. A little bit of the exterior's detailed touches needed inside, I think.

The glovebox is tiny too but you can lob stuff into the two rear 'seats' because no one is ever going to sit there - they are minuscule. Calling it a 2+2 coupe is stretching it.

But the front seats, slim, long and adjustable were wonderful (I needed the electronic lumbar support: bad backs don't respect events).

It's a car for the well-off, of course. They'll love the style, the refined performance. Even so, not many will buy the V8 - the hybrid is a better option for Ireland, I reckon. Yet that V8's straight-line speed was thrilling.

The hybrid, smoother, quieter, is endowed with impressive technology: it lets you feel the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) has conventional gears.

After a while we realised you can drive both cars at pace rather than push hard for performance, and still enjoy yourself immensely.

I suppose the big test was how I felt after 800km. Back twinges, German weather aside, I'd do it all over again.

LC500: what you should know in facts and figures

  • LC 500/500h, 2+2, luxury coupe, front-engine, rear-wheel drive.
  • LC 500h hybrid: Luxury €110,950; Sport €118,250; Sport+ €125,500.
  • LC 500 V8 Luxury €137,950, Sport €146,250, Sport+ €155,250.
  • LC500h: 295bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, battery pack, electric motor. Total Multi-Stage Hybrid system = 359bhp; 145g/148g; €390 road tax; 0-100kmh in 5 secs. Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) has 4spd transmission to create effect of gear changes.
  • 5-litre V8 (477bhp); 10spd auto; 0-100km in 4.7 secs, 263g/267g, €2,350 road tax.
  • 4770mm long, 1920mm wide, 1345mm tall; wheelbase 2,870mm.
  • First production Lexus to use lithium-ion hybrid battery (between rear seats and boot).
  • Three trim grades:
  • Luxury: 20ins alloys, glass roof, 2-zone climate control, Head-Up Display, 13-speaker Mark Levinson system, triple LED headlights/cleaners, auto-levelling headlights, dusk sensor, LED daytime running lights, semi aniline front seats, Tahara rear seats, electric front-seat lumbar support; 10-way electric/heated/ventilated front seats; Bluetooth, 10.3ins multimedia display, sat nav, auto high beam, park assist sensors; blind-spot monitor/rear cross traffic alert, Safety System+ (pre-crash safety, Adaptive Cruise Control, lane keep assist/departure alert), Road Sign Assist (RSA), active stabilisers, adaptive variable suspension (AVS).
  • Sport adds: 21ins forged wheels, carbon fibre roof, sports design front seats, leather/alcantara upholstery, alcantara instrument panel, 8-way electric front seats.
  • Sport + adds: 21ins alloys, Remote Touch, Torsen limited slip differential, retractable rear spoiler, alcantara front/centre pillars/roof lining; 4-wheel active steering, variable gear ratio steering.
  • Six 'drive' modes: Eco, Normal, Comfort, Sport S (we used this most), Sport S+,Custom.

Irish Independent

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