What’s the opposite of “simplify and add lightness”?
A six-figure price tag used to be a clear sign of exclusivity in the automotive world, but rapidly ballooning sticker prices have eroded the inherent specialness of cars residing around the $100,000 mark. Heck, high-end pickup trucks can cost nearly that much now.
Lexus’s stunning LC coupe, which starts at $92,995, is an impressive achievement in that it looks and feels as distinctive and special as you might hope for a car approaching $100K—or, with options, even cresting that amount. Beyond its wild styling and gorgeously outfitted interior, the 471-hp LC500 we drove earlier this year derived a large amount of character from the free-revving, naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 mounted up front. That fact made us somewhat wary as we approached the subject of this test, the LC500h hybrid, which costs $4510 more but has 117 fewer horsepower from its gas-electric drivetrain using an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6 and two electric motors.
It’s not that we can’t appreciate the LC500h’s drivetrain, called a Multi-Stage Hybrid in Lexus-speak. It combines the V-6 with a pair of electric motors through a fascinating transmission that’s essentially two gearboxes in one. It incorporates both a two-motor hybrid continuously variable transmission (CVT) and an Aisin four-speed automatic to broaden the hybrid operating range; check out our full explanation of how it works here.
On the road, the Multi-Stage Hybrid system’s operation is distinct from other Lexus and Toyota hybrids that use the familiar Hybrid Synergy Drive setup. Because of the unique transmission, there’s a sensation of stepped gears shifting whenever the gas engine is running, which is preferable to the high-rpm droning we’re often forced to endure from hybrids equipped with CVTs. But the LC500h’s power delivery still isn’t quite suited for hard driving; even in Sport or Sport+ mode, the “shifts” are strangely slurred and artificial, keeping the powertrain from feeling truly responsive and making for an odd soundtrack. It certainly can’t hold a candle to the auditory thrills of the LC500’s V-8 and the crisp shifts of its conventional 10-speed automatic.
Hot and Heavy
All this hybrid complexity adds up to a prodigious curb weight of 4521 pounds for the LC500h, 143 pounds more than the LC500 and only 62 pounds less than a Honda Odyssey minivan that is nearly 16 inches longer. As expected, this hampers the LC500h’s acceleration, with the zero-to-60-mph sprint taking 4.8 seconds, 0.2 second slower than the LC500, and the quarter-mile coming in at 13.6 seconds at 103 mph compared with the V-8’s 13.0 seconds at 112 mph. Neither number is slow, but one must consider that entry-level, $110,000 Porsche 911s are turning in 11.9-second quarter-miles and 3.4-second runs to 60 mph.
On a brighter note, the way that the LC500h comports itself when the going gets twisty is surprisingly satisfying given its mass. Its responses are crisp and the car is eager to change direction, with sharp turn-in from the nicely weighted steering. The structure feels extraordinarily stiff and there’s just enough compliance programmed into the dampers that the ride is entirely civilized, even in the stiffer Sport mode.
Our test car was equipped with several performance-enhancing options, including $1440 for 21-inch wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza S001L run-flat tires, a $390 limited-slip differential, and the $5960 Performance package that brings a carbon-fiber roof, an active rear spoiler, rear-wheel steering, and variable-ratio steering. These extras likely contributed to the LC500h’s 0.91 g performance on the skidpad and its 165-foot stop from 70 mph. Again, however, those figures pale next to the base 911, which hit 1.06 g and 135 feet in the same metrics.
Give and Take
If the LC500h doesn’t prove its mettle in terms of outright performance, then it must make up for that with its fuel economy, right? Yes and no. The hybrid’s combined/city/highway EPA ratings of 30/26/35 mpg are considerably higher than the V-8’s 19/16/26 figures. Although the LC500h’s average of 24 mpg in our hands fell short of its EPA combined number, it still beat the 17 mpg we got from the LC500 by a significant margin. We were more disappointed in the hybrid’s performance in our 75-mph highway test—admittedly a scenario where hybrids tend to underperform—where it achieved 30 mpg, only 1 mpg better than the LC500.
If we were spending our $100K on one of these Lexus coupes, there’s no doubt it would be the V-8. While the two LCs share the same striking silhouette, the same impeccably built interior (unfortunately including the same infuriating infotainment system controlled by a finicky touchpad), and the same dramatic presence on the road, the costlier hybrid provides only a small fuel-economy benefit while sacrificing too much of the speed and sound that make the LC such an exceptional piece to begin with.