Two paths diverged in a Lexus dealership, and if you’re sorry that you cannot travel both, that means it’s decision time: do you want to drive home in the stunningly styled Lexus LC 500 coupe or its equally eye-catching LC 500h hybrid sibling?
It’s not the easiest question to answer, but after having spent time behind the wheel of each model I’ve managed to come to a better understanding of who each of these similar-but-different luxury rides is aimed at.
Which Lexus LC model might be the best fit for you?
It’s hard to find fault with the bodywork wrapped around either version of the Lexus LC, which comes across as a stunning testament to the bravery of the brand’s designers. A car this extroverted is going to have a somewhat polarizing effect on potential customers, especially at the top end of the premium coupe market, but that’s not to say that the vehicle’s graceful lines court controversy on purpose. It’s more a question of a car that refuses to blend in with the Germans who have largely taken over the two-door grand touring segment with safer styling that takes fewer visual risks.
You will be noticed regardless of which version of the LC you choose to drive, so once you’re comfortable with that, it’s largely a question of details. You’d be hard-pressed to tell the two cars apart until you got close enough to read the Hybrid badge on the rear quarter panel of the battery-assisted model (you could easily remove it), which means that there’s little reason to make this choice based on looks alone. Inside the cars, it’s a similar story until you sit in the rear seat, where the hybrid loses a half-inch of leg room (and a half cubic foot of trunk space) due to its battery placement.
Of course, the similarities between the Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h evaporate into a whirlwind of sonic fury as soon as you hit the push-button start to fire up the former’s 5.0-liter V8. It’s an engine that will be familiar to anyone who has sampled Lexus’ high-performance F lineup, but it has never sounded better than it does in the LC 500, where it sings 471 horsepower at 7,100 rpm out of its twin tailpipes. Also featuring 398 lb-ft of torque, it scoots the coupe’s 4,370 lbs to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds and makes use of an unusual 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s a raucous experience attenuated only by the well-tuned chassis of the LC 500, which can be ordered with a limited-slip rear differential, a more aggressive steering gear, and an active rear steering system.
It might surprise you to learn that much of that optional go-fast gear can also be added to the LC 500h. This is because the hybrid car is no slouch itself: its 3.5-liter V6 combines with a pair of electric motors to produce a total of 354 horsepower, and off the line, the car is only barely slower than the V8 in a straight shoot to 60 mph. The driving experience that the 500h has to offer, however, is dramatically different. While the car’s exhaust system has been tuned to deliver a louder-than-expected testament of how hard the six-cylinder is working, the unusual gearbox setup — a traditional four-speed autobox mated to a continuously variable unit— can peg the revs at a drone during longer periods of acceleration.
If you’re a fan of undisputed attitude, then the LC 500’s eight-cylinder symphony clearly tips the cards. Although the LC 500h is capable of near-silent operation in EV mode (claiming an 87-mph max speed) thanks to its lithium-ion batteries, when driven aggressively, the carefully orchestrated tonal shifts of its V6 might put off those expecting a more muted Lexus experience.
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Personality Goes a Long Way
Neither the Lexus LC 500 nor the LC 500h can be considered a true sports car, with their heft and performance figures leaning more towards the grand touring side of the spectrum (as was intended by Lexus). Despite each vehicle’s tendency towards a smooth ride under normal driving conditions, a chasm begins to open between the two when you start to seek out a few thrills from the driver’s seat.
With its drive mode set to Sport+, the LC 500 executes loud, throttle-blipping downshifts with a pull of its steering wheel-mounted paddle, while stiffening the suspension system to keep the car more composed through the corners. It’s a fun car to drive, with tail-sliding antics available should you desire, and the engine feels like a willing co-conspirator when you drop the hammer on a less-than-straight road.
The LC 500h, on the other hand, might be right there in the numbers game when it comes to handling and overall performance, but it comes across as less engaging with your right foot on the go-pedal. There’s also more than a tinge of the artificial from the V6 when driven in Sport+, and the car seems distinctly more comfortable eating highway miles than it does getting frisky on a two-lane stretch of tarmac.
Both coupes are comfortable tourers, but only the 500’s V8 manages to transcend the overall competence of the LC platform and make the car feel like something truly special when you roll up to the valet station. As good as the 500h is, its character can’t match the attitude thrown down by its arresting exterior, which makes you feel like somewhat of a fraud in traffic. It’s a lower-key way to experience a high-key design, and while that may appeal to some drivers it’s likely to be a tinier number of overall LC buyers.
Bargain Priced Power
You’ll be pleased to know that the most powerful of the two cars also happens to be the least expensive: you’ll pay $92,000 in the U.S. ($101,600 in Canada) for the Lexus LC 500 versus $96,510 ($118,100 in Canada) for the Lexus LC 500h. There’s a significant fuel efficiency difference between the two, of course, with the hybrid offering 30 mpg (8.0 L/100 km in combined driving versus the less-stellar 19 mpg (12.2 L/100 km) of the eight-cylinder, but when shopping at this price point, efficiency rarely plays a significant role in the buying process — and it’s unlikely that those who choose the 500h for its green cred are concerned about making up the sticker shock at the pump. Aside from appealing to the ecologically curious, this model largely exists to satisfy that contingent of brand-faithful owners who already have a hybrid or two in the driveway at home, and who want to continue that streak with this most prestigious of battery-assisted, Lexus-branded trophies.
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The Verdict: 2018 Lexus LC 500 or LC 500h Hybrid?
It’s clear that the LC 500’s V8 heartbeat makes the best match for the coupe’s otherworldly design and provocative personality. You wouldn’t carry a sword if you didn’t know how to parry-parry-thrust, and for most people, when piloting a conversation-starter like the Lexus LC it’s far better to lead with an eight-cylinder rumble than meekly float away from the stoplight surrounded by a cloud of green vibes.
There will no doubt be a small contingent of the Lexus hybrid faithful willing to pay more for a less visceral experience, but the percentage seems likely to remain a sales footnote. The LC 500h is an excellent car that’s destined to play Salieri to the 500’s motor-revving Mozart for the duration of its existence, and much like that particular musical pairing, we can definitely tell you which one will still be remembered a few hundred years into the future.
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