Sunday 27 May 2018

Cars: Getting to the art of the matter with new Lexus

LC 500h is stunning but has its flaws

Lexus LC500h 2dr hybrid luxury coupe
Lexus LC500h 2dr hybrid luxury coupe
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

In the midst of all the grimy talk about diesel, pollution, clogged roads and box-shaped, electric self-driving 'computers on wheels', I wonder if we're in danger of squeezing the art from the craft of car making.

We could, some fear, be driving Lada-like electric vehicles along specially paved highways much sooner than we think.

Other experts hope/predict the opposite will happen: that the absence of heavy engines and suspensions could free designers to make astounding looking cars. Something tells me not to bank on that either.

Such conflicting thoughts were going through this old head while I had the new Lexus LC 500h last week.

Which is why, in my heightened state of future angst, I want to put it on the record that this is a wonderful looking car - outside and in (mostly). Sure I'll nitpick: that's what one does with a motor costing from €110,000. But long before I do that, let's acknowledge what Lexus have done here. They have sculpted a car that stands out without being outrageous, or garish or resorting to add-ons to emphasise design. The car works because it's got visual balance.

And on the inside, in my brown-leather cocoon with grooved door insets, lies a flavour of what can be done at this rarefied level.

It is a precursor, hopefully, of what future cars from Lexus (and others) are going to look like. Lexus insist this is only the start. Fingers crossed.

Secondly, you should know, the technology is impressive, too.

Their Multi-Stage Hybrid technology shows, again, that hybrid doesn't have to mean eco/'green'-driving alone. Here you have a petrol engine and a battery pack you can calibrate for performance, too. That is what they've done with this.

Truth to tell, I'd favour even more emphasis on performance. Sure, a combined 359bhp in a car of this size is a lot of wallop. The LC 500h just slipped along with deceptive ease on my drives. But I happen to have also driven the 5-litre V8 petrol (477bhp) abroad and it would, budget permitting, be my choice as a driver's car. The hybrid is a compromise in the true sense of the word; you get decent power, a smooth drive and reasonable fuel consumption. I suppose that's why they call this rear-wheel drive a Grand Tourer - something of a luxury cruiser for long, easy journeys (in wonderfully comfortable front seats).

And the figures would suggest they've got it spot-on for our Irish market: €390 road tax is good for a car like this; and 0-100kmh in 5 secs is tasty. It just didn't feel that quick, surprisingly. Yet its direct competitor, the lauded BMW 6-series Coupé 640i, is 0.3 seconds slower.

Funny how perception can differ from reality. Like the way the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) gives you the tangible impression of feeling you're in conventional gears. Well that's the plan anyway.

As I say, I had criticisms. The boot is meagre; just about one golf bag. Where would you be going with that on a 'grand tour' for two?

And the tastily-adorned rear leather seats (technically it's a 2+2) will not be occupied; they are tiny. Lob the other golf bag in there perhaps? You've got to compromise somewhere.

The main drawback, for me, was across the front of the cabin. The dash display region is a let-down in the midst of the leather and finery.

Admittedly they had a shallow area to work with but the central focus, of display and use, is badly thought out. The confines (the satnav irritated with its puny space) are just too tight. And the central control pad (awkward for right-handed drivers like me) took too long to work out and use in any meaningful way. I'm not great with these things but, even allowing for that, it was too feckity.

In trying to cram and focus everything towards the driver, a chunk of space was left over on the left that looks abandoned and dark. Pity.

And the taste monitors must have been out when they decided to have two unnecessary knobs either side of the instrument cluster binnacle. Yuk! Yet, those few frustrations apart, I thoroughly enjoyed this. My drives were smooth and comfortable, if not thrilling - it's just that sort of car.

Three Irish people have bought an LC 500; there are no more allocated for 2017. Next year there's an allotment of 10; no doubt there is/will be a waiting list. Cars that look this good, and with that technology, don't come along often enough.

Lexus say the GA-L platform on which this is built, will underpin several new front-engined, rear-drive cars. Other manufacturers have shown us stunning concepts. So there's hope, for sure, that the future won't be Lada-electric.

But I'm all for cherishing some of what we have now - just in case.

FACTS & FIGURES

Lexus LC 500h 2dr hybrid luxury coupé, rear-wheel drive, 3.5-litre V6 (295bhp), lithium-ion battery pack/electric motor, Multi-Stage Hybrid system = 359bhp; €390 tax; 0/100kmh in 5 secs; '4spd' Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

Standard spec includes: 2-zone climate control, 13-speaker Mark Levinson system, 10-way electric/heated/ventilated front seats (electric lumbar support); 20ins alloys, glass roof, 10.3ins multimedia display, satnav, park assist sensors; Safety System+ (pre-crash safety, Adaptive Cruise Control, lane keep assist/departure alert), adaptive variable suspension (AVS).

Price from: €110,950.

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