Before I drank
coffee, I didnít get the reason for decaf. Before I drove the less
potent hybrid version of the Lexus LC500, I didnít get that
But now I get
it. Decaf gives you the taste without the stimulant. Itís good
with cake. The 2018 LC500h gives you performance without the guilt.
Itís good with trees.
LC500h is an eco-friendly version of the gorgeous flagship
introduced last year. The sedate luxury brand needed an aspirational
vehicle that would get attention, if not sales. Sales are about 100
units short of the projected 400 units a month since it went on sale
in May 2017. Buzz is strong.
The LC500 is
arguably the most head-turning vehicle available for less than
$100,000. Low-slung, with the wheels pushed all the way to the edge,
and a wide bulging rear end so there is no mistake about the intent
of what lies under the hood: a fire-breathing 471-horsepower V-8
engine in rear-wheel drive that is so good itís almost dangerous.
It hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, with a top speed of 168 mph. Itíll
make you smile.
looks just as stunning, but is powered by a familiar V-6 engine that
makes 354 horsepower. It hits 60 mph in 4.7 seconds with a top speed
of 155 mph. Itíll make you smile too, and keep you feeling good at
the gas pump with 30 mpg combined (compared with the 19 mpg from the
comparison: The V-8 is $4,510 less than the hybrid.
as the V-8 is, the technology underpinning the hybrid is equally
impressive, if not confusing. It does not drive like a traditional
hybrid in the Toyota/Lexus family, the worldís leader in hybrid
powertrains. The only similarity of the "multistage hybrid
system" is at low speeds, when the lithium ion-powered motor is
doing all the work. In more spirited driving, it feels and sounds
like a sports car, thanks to some artificial engine noise piped
through the speakers.
is essentially two transmissions consisting of a continuously
variable transmission that is modulated by a four-speed automatic.
manual mode replicates a 10-speed transmission accessible via paddle
shifters. Hitting the redline will cause it to shift on its own, but
for the most part the driver feels in charge. The system shifts
seamlessly and quickly through the early gears, then the higher the
speed, the longer it will stay in that gear. At cruising speed the
engine takes over at its optimal efficiency and charges the battery.
There is no CVT drone, which happens when the vehicle speed is
trying to catch up to the high engine speed.
Why do it?
Greater efficiency in every aspect except racing. And since most
owners arenít going to be racing most of the time, it makes sense.
Yet it is a
sports car. If there werenít the V-8 for comparison, the V-6 would
feel punchy enough, and in sport plus mode the rear-drive waggles
under that combined 350 pound-feet of torque. The balance is great,
with exceptional handling and direct steering, but there isnít the
lift off the line that drops the stomach and elicits a howl. For
$100,000, itís fair to expect more performance.
Yet buyers donít
seem to mind. Lexus expected the LC500h to account for about 10
percent of LC500 sales, according to Toyota/Lexus spokesman Curt
McAllister, but the 520 hybrid units account for over 20 percent of
LC500s sold from May to December of last year.
like purveyors of fine decaf, Lexus knows a less-potent hybrid can
suit the contrasting tastes of performance and efficiency.
LC500h at a glance
hybrid sports coupe
$100,450 (excluding $995 destination)
Mpg: 26 city,
CVT with four-speed automatic in rear-wheel drive
Sports coupe lite appeals to different tastes.