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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Why driving the Lexus’s LC 500h is an almost a simulator-like experience

Lexus is pinning a lot on the LC 500 – it’s intended to represent a descendant of the LFA, and it’s directly based on the LF-LC concept.
The Lexus LC 500h offers excellent fuel economy and styling that will attract attention, but at Dh395,000, it’s at the rarefied end of the scale. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
The Lexus LC 500h offers excellent fuel economy and styling that will attract attention, but at Dh395,000, it’s at the rarefied end of the scale. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

If you’re aiming to make a memorable impression when launching an entirely new car, it never harms to release it into the wild in a colour that brightens even our sun-kissed part of the world. So, sunglasses on and take a peep at Lexus’s remarkable LC 500, or in the specific terms of the car that you see here, its hybrid incarnation, the LC 500h.

In this eye-popping shade, the Lexus lends itself to all manner of cartoonish comparisons: is that finished in Tweety Pie yellow or attempting to be an automotive approximation of Chuck from the Angry Birds? Its “crying” teardrop headlamps are matched only by the striking hindquarters, which vaguely resemble the face of a member of American rock band Kiss as styled by The Simpsons’ ­animators.

Lexus is pinning a lot on the LC 500 – it’s intended to represent a descendant of the LFA, and it’s directly based on the LF-LC concept. The coupé’s styling is unique and no mistake, crafted around Lexus’s latter-day trademark polygon grille – possibly the first car from the Japanese manufacturer to confidently wear it well. The forward-thinking exterior extends to pop-out door handles, a feature that’s becoming increasingly commonplace as vehicles below supercar level chase improved aerodynamics, from Teslas to the superlative Aston Martin DB11.

Visually, it’s unarguably divisive. During my few days with the car, my opinion about its looks changes almost daily, but there’s no doubt that, love it or hate it, you can’t fail but notice it. And, in the hybrid at least, the experience behind the wheel is almost as surreal. If it isn’t entirely oxymoronic to say so, it might very well be the closest that any car manufacturer has come to making a real-life driving simulation.

Perhaps the throatier big brother LC 500, powered by a naturally aspirated 5.0L V8 unit, has a different “weight” to it. We’re not talking about a physical thing, per se; it’s more akin to the weight you feel when you copy a section of text on your computer and feel like there’s something attached to your mouse until you paste it back onto the page. The LC 500h feels so light and dainty, by comparison, that you almost get the impression that you’re not even connected to its outputs – particularly ingenious considering the car tips the scales at almost two-and-a-half tonnes.

In automatic, that extends to the transmission, which employs the Big Brother-evoking Driver’s Mind Index, a gizmo that effectively second guesses what you’re about to do so that the car can optimise gear selection. Thankfully things aren’t entirely 1984, with paddle-shifting available, should you choose to control your own destiny.

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The specs

Price, base / as tested Dh395,000

Engine 3.5L V6

Gearbox Multi-stage hybrid

Power 354hp @ 6,600rpm

Torque 348Nm @ 4,900rpm

Fuel economy, combined 5.8L / 100km

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You might want to take things back into your own hands in Sport mode, considering that it mainly just seems to wildly over-rev when given some gas. It requires flipping into Sport+ to lend the LC 500h some actual oomph, although the hybrid motor is so glassy smooth that you can barely comprehend the pace you’re picking up. In full electric-vehicle mode, it can hit the UAE’s highway speed limit without the petrol engine even needing to be engaged.

Sitting above quad exhausts, the boot is fairly conservatively proportioned, while inside the largely futuristic cabin, there are a few subtle nods to the fact that we’re not actually living in the year 2075, such as the analogue clock on the long, swooping, cut-away dash. The traction-control and driving-mode knobs are positioned, slightly eccentrically, as almost horn-like flourishes either side of the speedo/­tachometer display.

Some of the functionality also brings things back down to earth: the infotainment trackpad is fiddly and distracting to use while driving; and despite my best efforts, the satnav wouldn’t turn off during my test drive, with no obvious button to disengage the directions. Sticking with the best conventions of 2+2s, there’s room for two adults up-front and two Borrowers in the rear. The gearstick, oddly, is of a similar scale to your likely back-seat passengers.

Whatever the visual charms on display here, no car exists in a vacuum. And at a starting price of Dh395,000 for the hybrid or V8 – there’s also a Dh450,000 “Carbon” edition of the latter – you have to wonder how many potential customers in such a buying bracket will also want more of a thoroughbred two-door wonder for their cash. After all, at that marker, it’s pitched squarely into Porsche 911 ­Carrera money.

But in its own way, the LC 500h is one of a kind – it’s not going to redefine any limits when it comes to pure driving thrills, but it’s a genuine watermark when it comes to personality and looks, with a handful of saving the planet thrown in for good measure via its excellent fuel economy. And the first two parts of that triumvirate aren’t something that you can say about many of ­Lexus’s all-too-often bland babies, past or present.

aworkman@thenational.ae