A HIGH-performance GT is not the most obvious place to find the calm combination of a hybrid engine and CVT automatic gearbox. But Lexus has persevered with both over the years, so it’s no real surprise to see them on offer in the stunning new LC 500h – but with a twist. First, let’s just drink in the design that’s sure to turn heads. It’s not traditionally beautiful – there are too many sharp edges and intersecting lines for that -but from the low spindle grille, shallow LED headlights, front wings that sit low over the front wheels, floating roof and 3D-effect rear lights, there’s plenty to keep you interested. Lexus hasn’t hit the high notes with its sportier models since the LFA supercar in 2010. But there’s a determination in the team behind the LC (led by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda) that we’ve not seen before. There’s a VS version for the traditionalist, but this hybrid will surprise a few people and keep tech fans happy – it really is very clever. So let’s deal with the CVT gearbox and it’s often-criticised ‘rubber band feel’.
Even Lexus folk agree it hasn’t been perfect: “There are some aspects that I myself as a CVT user wish were different,” Koju Oshima, LC Hybrid System Engineer told us. Of course, when it comes to efficiency, a CVT is ideal – it just doesn’t feel very nice.
So Oshimasan and his team have added a four-speed transmission to the back of the box. With three ‘engineered’ CVT steps for each of the first three gears in the standard box, plus the fourth being effectively an overdrive, it means, in essence, you get a ten-speed gearbox, just as you do in the VS. Lexus calls it a “multi-stage shift device”, but does it work? Surprisingly, yes it does. Where you used to floor the throttle and wince as the engine revs rise and stay there, the four-speed box will change down a whole gear (that means going from ninth to sixth on the 10-speed scale) and move through the gears much the same way as a traditional auto would.
It even offers slightly slicker changes. There’s still a slight hold of the revs before a ‘ratio’ is swapped, but you get a lovely engine note that’s enhanced and fed into the cabin mechanically rather than electronically. It adds to the enjoyment of the car – especially if you get a kick out of knowing how the tech works under the skin. Performance wise, the 0-60mph sprint is only a fraction slower than the V8. The extra weight of the hybrid system also seems to make the ride a bit firmer, but not uncomfortable, whether you’re in Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport or Sport+ modes.
For a GT, the hybrid can be hustled well. There’s plenty of grip, the steering is accurate, if not alive with feedback, and the rhythm that Lexus’s engineers talk about is there in abundance as you flow from corner to corner, and punch through the (mostly artificial) gears. It bodes well for other models that will use the LC’s new GA-L (Global Architecture Luxury) platform, starting with next years new LS limousine, as well as the new GS and IS models. The LC’s interior gets some delightful details, such as the door panels that flow through to the bonnet lines and on towards the grille. But there are too many buttons, and Lexus has kept the infuriating Remote Touch control for the infotainment system.
Quality is exceptional, though, and the seats are really comfy, whether you go for this Luxury spec, with material that flows over the shoulders like Superman’s cape, or the grippier seats in Sport and Sport+ models. Sport also changes the roof from glass to carbon fibre, while Sport+ adds a limited-slip differential, rear-wheel steering and active aero (a lift-up rear spoiler). With the car not expected in the UK until next summer, it’s tricky to estimate pricing given varying exchange rates, but Lexus expects it to start from around £80,000.