My favorite part of driving the new LC 500 grand tourer through the Martian lava landscape of Hawaii’s Big Island came courtesy of a Honda Civic driver who, upon passing me in the other direction, leaned halfway out his window and flipped me off. Not sure why he did that, but it was apropos: Lexus has, with the LC 500, issued a firm and successful “fuck you” to their competitors.
Lexus has bided its time for years, observing the grand tourer segment and reading the consumer landscape. As such, the all-new LC 500 is so original and impressive in design execution that it automatically rises to the top — above BMW’s stale 6-Series and Mercedes’ admittedly very plush but quite staid S-Class Coupe. That translates to a big win for Lexus and a super exciting opportunity for car buyers and enthusiasts, and it should make Germany nervous as hell.
Both the Bimmer and the Benz are wonderful cars: sporty and luxurious in all the right ways, in line with the brands themselves. That said, the 6-Series is now six years old, and while the S-Class Coupe was recently redone, it’s still derivative of a car that’s been around for a long time. The LC 500, on the other hand, is a near facsimile of the concept car that debuted in 2012. Which is both bizarre and very important.
Concept cars are just that: concepts. They herald stepwise upcoming design language or technological changes that will eventually influence a brand’s cars. Rarely do concept cars ever make it into production without massive changes. Add to that the fact that Lexus hasn’t had a big grand touring coupe of this kind for a long, long time: the RC is a smaller and sportier offering; the SC 300/400 from the early ’90s was close, but, well, that was 26 years ago; and the updated SC convertible just…doesn’t count, because it was weird. Couple those factors and you have two kinds of newness: a concept-to-showroom unicorn and an all-new segment-buster.
The LC 500 is based on an entirely new front-engine, rear-drive platform. It’s got ultra compact, high-tech LED headlights. The weird “spindle grille” for which Lexus is notorious has been modified to blend more beautifully with the car’s design, both inside and out. In the media briefing before my drive, the word “flow” was used six times in the space of five minutes, and the car was compared to both a ballet dancer spinning and a short-stemmed wine glass. Hyperbole aside, the brand is excited about this car.
In person, the LC 500 has major presence and seems large. Its curves and ducts and, well, “flow” are all very beautiful to behold. It’s meant to make an aesthetic and performance statement, which is achieved with aplomb. It’s fast, it’s loud, and it’s immediately intuitive, comfortable and fun to drive. Luxury and tech are modern and top-notch; specifically, Lexus did away with the awkward mouse-like control for infotainment in favor of a clickable touchpad. There’s a new 10-speed transmission, rear steering and a true dual exhaust. There is also, for whatever reason, a hybrid version, which I avoided driving out of sheer principle.
Appropriate for an all-new launch, Lexus has been on the marketing offensive, albeit in a quizzically dubious way. There are promised placements in upcoming Marvel superhero movies, which is fine, but an LC 500 Super Bowl ad featured the brand’s new voice: Minnie Driver. (Surname and sultry voice aside, she’s a somewhat of an odd choice to me.)
Lexus also introduced a new corporate slogan — Experience Amazing — which, I hate to say it, sucks. To me, the brand will always (and should always) embody their old slogan, “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.” With the LC 500, they’re reinventing the luxury coupe grand tourer, which, especially compared to its competition, is an indication of the brand’s overall direction: a pursuit of originality and perfection. It comes really close. The LC500 is a very, very attractive shot across the bow of the competition. It also makes Honda fanboys rage, probably because their Japanese brand won’t ever make a car this good. Which is enough for me.