Ten years. That’s how long we have before Liz and I are empty nesters, and some days, when the kids are shrieking, and the sink is full of dishes, and there is a huge pile of dirty clothes in the laundry room, and we’re struggling to help our 4th grader with common core math (hey, we’re comfortable with words, not numbers), we just can’t wait for the next decade to pass.
Yes, we know that when the day comes, and we drive away from our youngest’s freshman dorm, and we return to a quiet house, and we’ve got lots of time to fill, we’re going to miss the fast pace of family life.
Still, some nights, after the kids have gone to bed, we’ll share a few glasses of wine and dream about what we might do with those extra hours, days, and weekends. Road trips come to mind, like the ones we enjoyed together before marriage and children, and taking them in something like the 2018 Lexus LC 500 certainly would not suck.
To get a taste of what that might be like, Daily News Autos editor Christian Wardlaw and his wife, contributing writer Liz Kim, spent a week driving the new LC 500. Not together, of course. Because kids. But what follows are their thoughts of this fat-401K, empty-nester special, which had a price tag of $100,670 (including the destination charge of $995).
Yeah, umm, unless we hit Powerball we’re probably going to be driving something less expensive than this Lexus when the kids head off to school. But this is our story, anyway…
I don’t know where you’ll be in 10 years, dudebro, but I’ll be doing handstand beer bongs at the colleges into which our daughters have matriculated. When we walk down the streets, action will slow down as we power walk to get our acai bowls and all heads turn. I will be legend.
Actually, that’s kind of what driving the LC 500 is like. It is very much a head turner. A lady driving a lowly Lexus RC 200t next to me on the freeway nearly ran into the car in front of her while ogling my ride. This is one sexy Lexy — from the creases that emanate from the spindle grille and its low-slung and sultry stance to the very defined hip line when you’re gazing upon it from the rear. I’m not quite fond of the tail lamp treatment though. It reminds me a little too much of a Toyota Prius.
The giant wheel wells pretty much comprise the entire flank of the car, and the vents behind the doors give the LC’s profile a nice graphic element. My only suggestion would be the addition of just a touch of chrome for the inner corners of the headlamps to highlight their dramatic angle, rather than the black trim that’s there now.
Inside our test car, decked out in Toasted Caramel everything, it’s like you’re sitting inside a giant vat of said substance. Salivary gland-inducing materials, including faux suede and leather covering absolutely everything, create a visual and tactile spectacle that is really quite entertaining.
Driving at night is a treat, too, with beautiful ambient lighting casting a warm, subtle glow.
This might be the first Lexus I have ever lusted for. Yes, 15 years ago I wanted the IS SportCross. And yes, the LF-A was an engineering tour de force. But it wasn’t gorgeous whatsoever. The Lexus LC, however, is sensational, perhaps the first of the company’s products to naturally wear the company’s current design themes.
Whatever the case, I love the way it looks like a running concept car, and how it is so utterly unexpected from Lexus. Even in jaded Los Angeles, where Ferraris and Lamborghinis and McLarens are fairly common, this car swiveled heads everywhere I drove it and sparked more conversation than any car I’ve driven in quite some time.
I like the interior, too, which is driver-focused, upscale, modern, and different. Execution, however, especially in Toasted Caramel, leaves something to be desired. Everything inside our test car was this creamy brown hue — the dashboard, the door panels, the carpets, the seats, the headliner, everything. Without sharp contrasts, the monotone approach made the LC look a little cheap.
Infotainment system graphics that easily remind of cheaper Toyota models don’t help in this regard. A Lexus, especially one of this caliber, deserves a bespoke graphic overlay to put some distance between it and a run-of-the-mill Corolla.
If the monotone Toasted Caramel interior treatment could use greater contrast for improved visual interest and a more upscale appearance, there is no quibbling about the materials used to construct this car’s cabin. The only disappointing aspect of it was the hard plastic used on the backs of the steering wheel spokes, which feels and sounds inexpensive and hollow.
Front seat comfort is outstanding, despite offering no more than eight different ways of power adjustment. The optional Sport Package added Alcantara simulated suede inserts, and the seats were both heated and cooled. While a massage function would have been nice to have for longer highway drives, these deeply bolstered front seats are undeniably soothing just as they are.
Of course, you sit low and the doors are long, so getting into and out of the car, especially in cramped parking spaces, isn’t much fun.
And you might as well pretend that this car doesn’t have rear seats. Kids won’t have any leg room unless the adults sitting in front are short, and adults won’t have any leg or headroom. I actually climbed in, and the only way for me to sit back there was to bend my neck toward the center of vehicle and hold my head in that position. Most likely, you’ll use the back seat as a beautifully finished cargo space.
You’re the only one who would think to tap on the back of a steering wheel to what materials were used there. I didn’t notice. What I did notice is that Lexus does a fabulous job of creating a quality cabin with zero build quality issues, and the materials were top-notch. The bolstering is indeed aggressive, hugging you in like an overly enthusiastic, bosomy aunt.
Once you manage to climb on in, you’re just as happy as a clam, although the “oh crap” handles for the passenger, which are located on the lower part of the center console and the door, are really just silly affectations. You’ve gotta lean forward to grab them, which pitches your abdomen forward in a very uncomfortable way.
I’m sure that there must be some people who buy cars like this — or the Porsche 911 — justifying it as a family car, citing its vestigial rear seats. Don’t believe them. Even our petite 7-year-old, who doesn’t meet the ride height requirements of all the rides at Disneyland, complained loudly and often about having to ride back there. Adults? Just don’t. This car is a two-seater.
So it’s settled, the LC is a two-seater. It doesn’t matter that the trunk is so tiny, because you can always load your LV duffels onto the parcel shelf also known as the back seat. Done.
Now you can move along to concentrate on learning the Lexus Enform infotainment system, because it really does require a steep learning curve and a lot of focus.
The infotainment screen measures 10.3 inches diagonally, and shows you a lot of information, but it’s horizontally oriented, so the display feels squished and puny. The Remote Touch Interface (RTI) touchpad simply isn’t very responsive to inputs, the system itself is not intuitive, and although the additional buttons and spin wheels are appreciated, overall, this falls behind compared to my favorite system from Audi.
I do like that the e-shifter is a lever, and somewhat mimics that of a traditional shifter rather than supplying a knob or buttons. What I’m not a fan of is these latest, newfangled, receding door handles; we had the LC right after a Range Rover Velar, which also had the trick handles. Look, I know that it makes the car look sleek when locked, but it’s kind of a pain to wait for it to extrude, and the action simply does not feel very secure when you’re pulling it.
Function takes a backseat to form when it comes to the Lexus LC. To some degree, this is expected in a car so heavily dependent on style and emotional appeal to sell. But in some cases, the LC’s ergonomic flaws are simply unnecessary.
For example, the transmission shifter doesn’t need to be this complicated. It beeps when you’re in Reverse, the first clue that perhaps engineers made it too hard for the driver to determine if he or she has that gear engaged. Once you’re done reversing, you must remember to push the stick left and then down to select Drive. If you forget, you end up in Neutral, revving the engine and going nowhere. Arriving at your destination at night, the Park button really ought to glow red or something to make it easier to find and to understand where you need to push. Unlike Liz, I’d prefer a knob or buttons to this mess.
Next on my hit list is the Remote Touch Interface (RTI) for the infotainment system display. It requires too much precision, too much fingertip and eye coordination, and too much of the driver’s attention to use properly, or safely. Making matters worse, we drove the LC during a week of Santa Ana wind conditions, which strips the humidity out of the air and leaves skin dry. Frequently, it would not respond to inputs due to my dry fingertips.
Furthermore, while Lexus provides a volume knob for the stereo system and a shortcut button to the map, everything else is buried within the infotainment system, which means you need to use the RTI, voice commands, or steering wheel controls to access them. And if you want to make adjustments to the head-up display, you’re essentially embarking upon a treasure hunt.
While this version of the touchpad RTI is an improvement over previous executions, it remains inferior to the company’s computer mouse-type RTI — which itself has been a source of complaint for years. You might also complain that the infotainment system doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though some people think the company’s proprietary Entune App Suite is an acceptable substitute.
While I’m on the subject, it is worth noting that this car’s optional Mark Levinson Reference surround sound system is terrific, especially in terms of music imaging. You feel immersed in the sound, like you’re right on stage amidst the performers. Quite impressive.
Unimpressive describes the LC’s trunk, which measures 5.4 cubic feet. You can fit a couple of airline carry-ons, a garment bag, and a couple of backpack-sized duffel bags, and that’s about it. Everything else will need to go into the back seat.
Unlike Liz, I didn’t mind the trick door handles, though I can’t help but wonder what happens if they fail to deploy for some reason. How would you get into the car?
Unless you’ve driven a Lexus LFA, the new LC will prove a bigger thrill than any car to ever wear the company’s stylized “L” badge.
Fortified with a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8, the same one installed in the GS F and RC F performance models, the LC 500 makes 471 horsepower and 398 lb.-ft. of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission with multiple driving modes and a set of long, slender magnesium paddle shifters feeds the power to the car’s rear wheels.
Delivering a rumble, roar, and wail that can go head-to-head with the most viscerally and aurally entertaining vehicles costing $50,000 either side of it, the V8 is an outstanding engine. Push the accelerator to the floor, and the traction control warning light flashes as the car works to maximize wheel grip and minimize spin. Speed is utterly effortless, and instantly accessible.
Though it has 10 gears to sort through, the automatic does so brilliantly. In Sport and Sport+ driving models, the downshift rev matching function, combined with a definitive engine bark, signals to the driver that a downshift or three has occurred, preparing the powertrain for robust response upon corner exit. Using the paddle shifters adds to the fun, and though they aren’t column-mounted, the steering is fast enough that finding and using them isn’t a problem.
Quick, sharp, and accurate, the steering is a delight, and nothing inside the cabin gets in the way of your elbows when you’re working the wheel through a set of S-curves. Handling is exceptionally good, and while the car is wide, decent outward visibility makes accurate placement on narrow canyon roads a snap. Running the car hard on a warm day, I detected some brake fade through the pedal, but the LC nevertheless executed a panic stop with authority.
Though the LC supplies impressive performance, there isn’t a penalty in terms of its demeanor in the city. It is stiff, even in Comfort mode with the chassis setting in Normal, but this car won’t beat you up. It isn’t brittle whatsoever. Drive it in Sport S or Sport+ for awhile, then switch to Comfort, and you can sense the car relaxing, like it is exhaling and settling down after an extended period of focus and energy.
Lexus also provides an Eco mode, and I tried it for a bit, but most of the time I left the car in Comfort mode. Even without using Eco, the LC 500 returned 19.5 mpg on my test loop, beating the EPA estimate of 19 mpg in combined driving.
As far as driving assistance systems are concerned, they work in subtle, virtually unnoticeable fashion. The only exception I encountered was out on Mulholland Highway’s waning winter afternoon light. Just as I pitched the car into a tight left-hand curve, the collision warning system momentarily took a brightly gleaming guardrail for a potential threat and took fairly urgent countermeasures until it figured out there was no danger.
Summing up, the Lexus LC 500 is terrific to drive, providing a blend of performance, luxury, style, and (presumably) reliability that often challenges other vehicles at this price point. The end result is a Lexus that you actually desire.
You take a heavy car with a low center of gravity, stick a powerful engine on it, and all manner of equipment on it to not only make it more fun to drive but also take some of the human error equation out of it, and you can’t help but have a winning combination.
So go ahead. Pitch it into a curve at supra-legal speeds — no problem. Goose the right pedal coming out of the turn — the purr of the V8 turns into a snarl, while gunning it on a straightaway transforms it to a growl.
The steering is heavily weighted and precise, the brakes are magnificent, and the suspension works its magic whether it’s asked to keep this ponderous car level on a serpentine road, or traversing imperfect roads around town. Unlike pure sports cars, that hit you with the force of a sledgehammer if you’re driving on all but the smoothest of asphalt, the Lexus is much more forgiving, and remains civilized when you go over bumps.
No matter the road, this Lexus is a pleasure to drive. Job one, done.
Lexus did an admirable job of creating an athlete dressed in a tuxedo. For the first time in a long time, the company has built a car that appeals not only to the left and right side of the brain, but to the viscera, as well.
Yes, the LC is more of a heavy, luxury-laden cruiser than a singularly purposed sports car that is an ascetic both in weight and creature comforts. But that’s just how I like it. It’s not only a pleasure on the track or on canyon roads, it’s also a lovely car in which to cruise drive down L.A.’s trendy Robertson Blvd.
Sign me up, and yes, Chris, you can come, too.
You can buy lots of terrific cars for $100,000 or less, but at its as-tested price, I still felt as though the Lexus LC is a bit of a bargain.
With its impressive performance, head-turning concept-car design, creature comforts, and relative civility, this is a great choice for a six-figure shopper who doesn’t want to drive the same megabuck coupe that everyone else does. That would certainly describe me, if I had megabucks.
But the car’s detestable infotainment system, from the RTI to the Toyota Corolla graphics, could potentially make such a marriage short-lived.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, please share it using the “Join the Conversation” buttons below, and thank you for visiting Daily News Autos.