The Japanese have more than proven their mettle with foolishly fast sports cars like the Nissan GT-R and Acura NSX, but they’ve yet to build a powerful, beautifully designed luxury two-door that can hold a candle to the likes of the BMW 6 Series Coupe and Mercedes S-Class Coupe. The marque looking to fill that role? That’d be Lexus, with its new LC500, an elegant karate chop straight to the solar plexus in the form of a concept car brought to life — with all the stylistic flair intact.
Lexus (2 images)
The brand’s stated intent is to “join the elite class of international grand touring coupes” with the LC500 and its hybrid sibling, the LC500h, hitting showrooms in May with a sticker of $92,000 and $96,510, respectively. That puts it squarely in the middle of its rivals’ range, representing a $14,000 premium over the 6 Series and a $30,000 discount on the S-Class. The LC500 is far and away the sexiest Lexus ever built, something of a throwback to the Lexus SC coupe that was a ‘90s staple but with the performance chops of the limited-run LFA sports car they built from 2010 to 2012.
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Based on the LF-LC Concept unveiled in the LFA’s final year of production, the LC500 has looks that kill. Pair that with an equally alluring 471hp high-performance V8 with a 10-speed automatic transmission, the first in its class, boosting it from 0–60 mph in under 4.5 seconds. That’s a pretty even match for the competition. And even if you’re not an engine geek, the appeal of the V8 is readily apparent in its raspy exhaust, as carefully engineered as any other aspect of the car and amplified by a special “resonance tube” for maximum effect.
This time around Lexus has given its designers free reign to express what Japanese luxury can really mean in the automotive world. We’ve already been won over by masterful Japanese craftsmanship (takumi) in the worlds of whisky and menswear, wherby the traditional techniques of other countries (including our own) are recreated with an obsessive attention to detail and desire for authenticity. In the LC500, this is reflected in the chrome-plated moldings along the edges, designed to echo the lines of a katana.
Lexus3 (2 images)
With its wide stance, low center of gravity, “floating” roof and, most appealing of all, voracious mesh spindle grille, Lexus’s latest isn’t merely a German lookalike. A good part of its luxury car business to date has come from those who, for whatever reason, don’t want to be seen driving a Mercedes or BMW, don’t want to pay a premium for brand names, or simply don’t aspire to the brand of luxury lifestyle those marques represent. With the LC500’s price tag and positioning, however, Lexus needs to get potential customers to buy into its own version of a life well lived, with the gorgeous, cutting edge car to match. Luckily, this car looks like a dream.
They’ve wisely chosen to emphasize that the LC500 is a true driver’s car as well. That starts with the placement of the driver’s hip point as close as possible to the car’s center of gravity, where you'll get max feedback from the vehicle and the road. Which isn’t to say the interior lacks for comfort or luxe appointments: with suede-covered doors, a hand-trimmed leather shift knob and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters made of magnesium, it’s above and beyond anything Lexus has done before. A dashboard controller lets you dial in just how much you want to engage with the big V8, with settings for Comfort, Eco, Sport and Sport+. This is our favorite feature, effectively transforming the LC500 from cruiser to crusher.
And in Sport+ — which is surprisingly, attractively aggressive — you start to imagine you might be driving something German after all. That’s not, of course, what Lexus wants you think: they’d rather conjure up images of martial arts, Samurai warriors ... even the painstaking but beautiful ritual of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The response is supposed to be emotional, leaving prospective buyers with profound admiration for the luxury, technology, power and performance a Japanese car designed with no expense spared can deliver. And if they can convince enough car buyers with $92,000 to spare, it’s going to make some Bavarians extremely nervous.
Main image via Jared Paul Stern. All other images via Lexus.