Tehnology, eh? What a wondrous thing. It greases the sides of our lives, trimming time and effort from humdrum tasks, connecting us to everyone we’ve ever shared a classroom, or an office, or saliva with and has the potential to save our planet from a watery demise.
But is that necessarily a good thing? At what point do the benefits cease and we turn around to find a world populated with toneless, emotionless blobs of flesh, more concerned with social media feeds than real, visceral experiences?
As luck would have it, Lexus has brewed up the ideal experiment to answer our in-no-way hyperbolic musings. Here we have two dramatically styled luxury coupes spawned from the 2012 LP-LC Concept and based on a new lighter, stiffer rear-drive platform – identical twins but with polar opposite approaches to the same task: hurling you down a road and making you look sexy while you’re at it.
One – the LC500h – is a spectacularly complicated hybrid harnessing V6 petrol and electrical power for devilish performance and virtuous fuel economy, the other – the LC500 – is a tasty bit of old-school muscle with a naturally aspirated V8 intent on bullying the rear tyres. This is Facebook vs the phone book, Amazon vs Woolworths, a heart emoji vs a handwritten love letter.
We begin with the LC500h, because frankly it’s the one I’m most intrigued about. Ever since attending a tech briefing back in February where my skull was crammed to breaking point with information on this new Multi Stage Hybrid System, I’ve been bursting to find out whether Lexus really has built something with a CVT gearbox that’s actually worth driving, as opposed to hitting repeatedly with a large stick. Total output from the 295bhp 3.5-litre V6 and 177bhp electric motor (fed by Lexus’s first lithium-ion battery, found behind the rear seats) is, confusingly, 354bhp. That’s sent to the rear wheels through a CVT gearbox and propels you 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and on to 155mph. Sounds fairly healthy, right? Minus the CVT bit, of course.
Lexus’s solution to improving flawed transmission technology? Throw more technology at it. You can indulge your inner engineer in the panel over the page, but the general idea is this: by bolting a four-speed automatic onto a CVT, they have simulated a 10-speed automatic gearbox. You can flick through the ratios manually with the paddles or let it do its own thing, and Lexus claims it dispenses with the infuriating rubber-band feeling, where revs don’t match speed or throttle position, making the whole thing sound like a badly dubbed movie.
Sadly, it’s still more rubbery than an S&M convention. Seize the paddles and there are 10 defined steps to choose from, but the shifts themselves are laborious compared to the torque-converter autos and twin-clutchers we’ve become used to. It also has an annoying habit of changing up automatically if you don’t pull the right paddle early enough, which is rather often with 10 closely stacked ‘gears’. Meanwhile, the revs do rise and fall more closely with your right foot, but it’s still a far from linear relationship, with flares and dips when the sound should be constant. Really gun it and even in manual mode the V6 whines away at the top of its rev range, constantly searching fora minutely more efficient ratio, so while you’re probably travelling quite quickly, there’s little reward in doing so.
Drive flat-out and the powert rain feels messy, indirect and wholly unsatisfying. However, it’s not all bad news. With the electric motor chiming in, acceleration from a standstill and sub-30mph is punchy- useful if you spend your time stop-start driving around town. Leave the gearbox in auto and it does a better job at staying in the torque band than these ham fists could manage, perfect fora brisk cruise. And it’ll return a claimed 44mpg as opposed to circa 24mpg for the V8.
The LC500h we tried was in Luxury spec, so without the carbon-fibre roof and sportier seats you get if you stump up for a Sport or Sport+ model (all trim levels are available with both powertrains). It also does without the mechanical diff and rear-steering you get exclusively with the Sport+, which is worth bearing in mind. Even so, on a series of twisty back roads west of Seville, it felt every one of its 1,985kg.
On one tightening right-hander, I carried a fraction too much speed in and the nose squealed wide. I gathered it back up in time to mount a crest and feel the wheels go light before hitting a wet patch on the other side, causing the rear to slew out of line. And before you blame a lack of talent, I genuinely wasn’t at full tilt – our test car simply felt too big, too heavy and too lacking in electronic trickery to be able to throw around. Lucky, then, that on the motorway drive to our next destination it proved extremely good at being a Lexus – quiet as a doctor’s waiting room and with a sumptuous floaty ride quality that makes long journeys a joy.
You’ll notice I’m yet to wade in on the exterior or interior design, I’m a believer that ultimately these things are up to your own eyeballs, but I can act as a guide. The LC isn’t a beautiful car, not in the same way a DB9 flows so effortlessly from nose to tail, but it’s as striking as anything under £100,000 gets. That sprawling spindle front grille is an acquired taste, especially with a numberplate plastered across the middle of it, as is the jumble of design cues around the cut-off C-pillar, but thanks to an unfeasibly low bonnet and a pinched waist followed by a brutally wide rear track the overall stance is epic. Even better, dare I say, than the more exotic LFA it picks up the mad-Lexus mantle from.
The interior is typical Lexus, all three-dimensional dash architecture and granite build quality. The seating position, especially with the grippier Alcantara sports seats, is low, legs out in front, perfect. There’s even a nod to the LFA with the moving instrument binnacle behind the wheel. Yes, there’s a splurge of buttons and touchpads screens and stalks sprouting from every surface that require a PhD to operate, but it’s executed with flair and attention to detail. And for a car that’s destined to become a protest vote against German stalwarts like the BMW 6-Series and new Mercedes E-Class Coupe (due early 2017), or as a half-price alternative to Brits like the Aston Martin DB11 and Bentley Continental GT, being wilfully different is surely the way to go.