2018 Lexus LC 500h review

That's a hybrid?! The gutsy Lexus LC 500h proves it's no Prius

The 2018 Lexus LC 500h is a whole new take on what a sports car can be.
The 2018 Lexus LC 500h is a whole new take on what a sports car can be.
The 2018 Lexus LC 500h is a whole new take on what a sports car can be.

Highs

  • Striking styling
  • Gutsy and efficient hybrid powertrain
  • Comfortable, roomy interior
  • Fun to drive

Lows

  • Baffling infotainment setup
  • Unusable back seats

The Lexus LC 500h is a sleek, sporty coupe that we just drove to Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park to watch a Lexus race team compete against the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and BMW. Yup, Lexus has come a long way.

The LC is Lexus’ most ambitious attempt yet to combat criticism that its cars are boring, and too close in design to the more mainstream products of parent company Toyota. Borrowing styling from the 2012 LF-LC concept car, the LC was designed to change buyers’ impression of Lexus, and compete with high-end luxury coupes and sports cars in the $100k price range.

For similar money, buyers can get everything from an entry-level Porsche 911 or Mercedes-Bens S-Class coupe, to Jaguar’s extroverted F-Type R. The LC tries to split the difference between pure sports cars and sporty luxury cars, handling both jobs reasonably well.

What’s new

The LC is a completely new model that currently sits at the top of Lexus’ product hierarchy.

Trim levels & features

No matter how it is equipped, the LC makes an impression. While it isn’t exactly beautiful, the LC is definitely striking. It’s also the best-executed example of Lexus’ current design language so far. That design language, defined by the massive “spindle grille” and sharp, sci-fi lines has been used on many previous Lexus models, but the LC is the first to really wear it well.

The design isn’t perfect. The intersection of the headlights and daytime running lights is a bit awkward, for example, and that grille is still an acquired taste. The car’s overall proportions and voluptuous sheetmetal give it an aggressive, athletic look. We weren’t the only ones who dug the look: the LC attracted plenty of long looks from bystanders, even in the parking lot at Lime Rock, which was peppered with Porsches and Ferraris.

The LC’s overall proportions and voluptuous sheetmetal give it an aggressive, athletic look.

Under the skin, the LC is available in two flavors. The LC 500 offers a more traditional powertrain based around a 5.0-liter V8 and 10-speed automatic transmission, while our LC 500h test car uses a hybrid powertrain, combining a 3.5-liter V6 with electric assist and one of the most complicated drivetrains in a modern car (more on that in a minute).

Standard equipment includes full LED exterior lighting, 10-way power leather front seats, an infotainment system with 10.3-inch central display screen, navigation, and available app suite, 12-speaker audio system, and a variety of electronic driver assists.

The LC 500 model starts at $92,000, while the LC 500h hybrid starts at $96,510. Our test car had the optional Touring and Convenience Package, which adds a glass roof, blind spot monitor, park assist, and a 13-speaker Mark Levinson audio system for $2,790. With a $995 destination charge, that brought our tester’s sticker price to $100,295.

Technology overview

The LC 500h may be far removed from most other Lexus models in terms of price and panache, but unfortunately it retains many of the lesser models’ foibles when it comes to tech.

While other automakers rely on touchscreens, voice recognition, or rotary click wheels, Lexus continues to use its “Remote Touch Interface,” a track pad similar to what you’d expect to find in a laptop. The only thing harder than using this device while driving is navigating through the array of menus needed to access different functions. Simply turning on the seat ventilation was a chore.

The dashboard layout wasn’t completely without logic, though. Lexus did provide analog controls for important functions like setting the climate-control temperature, and adjusting the radio station and volume, and there are some redundant controls on the steering wheel. But Lexus’ decision to make the Remote Touch Interface the primary controller is questionable. An alternative design or, better yet, more analog buttons, would be preferable.

On the plus side, the infotainment system responds promptly to inputs and has high-quality graphics, especially on the screen that shows you how power is flowing between the engine, electric motor, batteries, and wheels. But the navigation system renders almost everything in shades of gray, and Lexus’ Enform App Suite has a limited number of third-party apps. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto might cure those problems, but they aren’t available on the LC, or indeed any other Lexus or Toyota model.

Interior fit & finish

The LC 500h’s main advantage over a traditional sports car may be its comfortable interior. The cabin feels roomy and, despite the narrow window openings, even offers decent outward visibility. The front seats offer plenty of bolstering to keep the driver and passenger in place during hard cornering. While they don’t have Rolls-Royce or Bentley levels of plushness, they’re also very comfortable. Lexus also included a handle on the center console for the front passenger to clutch in terror during fast maneuvering.

2018 Lexus LC 500h
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Our test car’s mostly black interior was fairly plain, but the quality of the materials and the overall design were impressive. The two-tier dashboard design looks as thoroughly modern as the exterior, and integrates the central display screen and relevant controls in a clean way. Overall, the interior feels like a trendy, modern hotel—you know you’re getting luxury, but it lacks coziness.

While there is plenty of space in front, there rear seats will not accommodate full-size adults. However, they’ll probably be adequate for small children, or as extra luggage space. That’s the norm for the sports cars the LC competes against, assuming they have back seats at all.

Despite a shallow trunk floor, the LC 500h boasts a decent amount of cargo space. The trunk easily swallowed a weekend’s worth of bags for two people.

Driving performance & MPG

While Lexus’ RC F GT3 race cars did battle on the track at Lime Rock, we found plenty of opportunities to let the LC 500h off its leash on the surrounding roads. On the road, the LC 500h only acts like a hybrid when you want it to.

The LC 500h hybrid powertrain consists of a 3.5-liter V6 and an electric motor, which send a combined 354 horsepower to the rear wheels. Unlike most Toyota and Lexus hybrids, which use the actual hybrid system in place of a transmission, the LC 500h also has a four-speed automatic couple to the whole assembly.

Full-throttle acceleration provides a nice punch in the back and a pleasing growl from the engine.

Lexus says this Rube Goldbergian setup was designed to make the powertrain more responsive. The really impressive thing, though, is how seamlessly all of the pieces work together. The LC 500h effortlessly switches back and forth between gasoline and electric power, providing smooth power delivery throughout. Lexus claims 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, and a top speed of 155 mph.

Full-throttle acceleration provides a nice punch in the back and a pleasing growl from the engine, but the LC 500h can also cruise serenely on electric power for short bursts. The suspension pulls the same double act, controlling body motions nicely while offering a comfortable ride. For the most part, the LC 500h handled poorly-maintained roads with aplomb, although certain stretches of freeway produced a consistent shuddering sensation.

From behind the wheel, the LC 500h always feels like a pretty big car, but it’s remarkably easy to place on the road. Along with powerful brakes, that gives you the confidence to really attack corners. Like most hybrids, the LC 500h incorporates both regenerative braking and mechanical brakes, but pedal feel is still fairly linear and natural. The LC 500h doesn’t have the immediacy of some sports cars, but it is very satisfying to drive.

Most sports cars are built for those cherished moments when the driver has a clear shot at a great stretch of road. The LC 500h doesn’t disappoint in those moments, but it also excels at handling everything in between.

The LC 500h also has an advantage over most sports cars when it comes to fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 30 mpg combined (26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway), which is pretty good for a car with 354 hp weighing 4,435 pounds.

Safety

It may be built for sporty driving, but the LC 500h includes a host of driver-assist features that either provide a helping hand or serve as electronic backseat drivers, depending on your perspective.

2018 Lexus LC 500h
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The standard Lexus Safety System+ includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning with steering assist, and automatic high beams. The lane-keep assist seemed overly sensitive, chiming in every time a wheel got even close to a lane marking, but it’s easily defeated by pressing a button on the steering wheel.

The LC 500h is a fairly new model, and so it hasn’t received official crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

How DT would outfit this car

The LC 500h is a perfectly good package, but the V8-powered LC 500 is more powerful (471 hp) and 0.3 second quicker to 60 mph. A big V8 is also probably a better match for the LC’s extroverted looks than the hybrid setup. That being said, the hybrid offers better fuel economy, and there’s something to be said for its quiet, electric-assisted ride.

Buyers who want a good daily driver should go for the LC 500h.

We didn’t have the opportunity to drive both cars back to back, so we’ll reserve judgment for now. But buyers looking for a more traditional sports car experience will want the LC 500. Buyers who want a good daily driver should go for the LC 500h.

As far as options, we’d swap out our test car’s glass roof with the available carbon fiber piece. That should help lower the center of gravity, and give the LC a cooler look. Selecting the carbon fiber roof requires checking the box for the Sport Package, which also includes a limited-slip differential Alcantara sport seats, and 21-inch forged wheels.

In place of our test car’s restrained Nightfall Mica paint, we’d go for Infrared, a more extroverted bright red hue that we think shows off the LC’s exterior styling a bit better.

Our Take

The 2018 Lexus LC 500h tries to balance performance and emotion with comfort and efficiency. That makes it a more practical alternative to pure sports cars, but also a bit less exciting.

Is there a better alternative?

The LC certainly has the street presence of similarly priced sports cars like the Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type R, and it will likely be a lot easier to live with. But those cars offer a more engaging driving experience, and it will always be more impressive to say you drive a Porsche or Jag than a Lexus.

On the other hand, the LC is also luxurious enough to potentially warrant cross shopping with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe. The Mercedes has a much more luxurious interior, more elaborate tech, and more space. But the LC is the more enjoyable car to drive by far.

Factoring in the LC 500h’s hybrid powertrain, a potential shopper might also want to consider the BMW i8. As a plug-in hybrid, the i8 wins the efficiency contest. It’s also a bit more engaging to drive, and attracts even more stares than the Lexus. But the BMW is in no way luxurious, lacks cargo space, and is more difficult to get in and out of.

Other cars may be more focused on performance, luxury, or efficiency, but the LC 500h is the only one that does it all.

How long will it last?

The LC 500h is a brand-new model, so it’s hard to estimate future reliability. But Lexus has a good reputation in this area. Lexus’ basic warranty is 4 years/50,000 miles, with a 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Should you get one?

Yes. The 2018 Lexus LC 500h offers a combination of performance and luxury that should put it on any buyer’s radar. While other cars shine by focusing on a specific area, the LC 500h aims for a broader appeal without feeling diluted.