Mountain Wheels: High-end hybrid motoring in Lexus’ sexy LC and LS
One might not immediately equate six-figure luxury motoring with the fuel-saving aesthetic of hybrid technology, but if you’ve followed Lexus’ relationship with hybrid power, it shouldn’t surprise you.
Earlier this year, I got back-to-back drives with the very flashiest of the Japanese luxury brand’s new models, the low-slung 2019 LC sports coupe and the long and ultra-posh LS sedan, both equipped as hybrid models.
Both were priced at nearly $110,000 apiece, loaded to the gills with options and intoxicatingly leathery interiors, each created for an entirely different, high-visibility mission — one seemingly at odds with the Prius-derived notion of earth-friendly do-goodery.
But with Lexus, you can have your cake and eat it, too, and the inclusion of the company’s high-performance Multi-Stage hybrid system, a 3.5-liter V-6 and 310-volt battery/generator setup producing an equally un-hybrid-like 354 horsepower, suggests that Tesla has not necessarily cornered the market on pricey eco-motoring. The sportier LC 500h is even rated at 35 highway mpg; the big LS 500h could get you as high as 31 mpg on the highway.
My experiences with both were even more confounding as I had the deliriously high-performance, rear-wheel drive LC in a short break during the middle of winter snow — equipped with ultra-wide, high-performance, zero-grip summer tires and 21-inch wheels — and roads equally icy during time in the more all-season-friendly LS.
Consequently, my attempts to wring much out of the beautiful but precarious LC were a really, really bad idea. I ended up doing 4 mph for about 13 miles on a melt-and-frozen canyon road outside of Fort Collins, invoking prayers the whole way.
As the successor to the very ancient SC convertible, LC offers proportions and an experience something akin to the brutally taut RC, if one could imagine that vehicle then crossed with a Corvette and set up in a 2+2 seating format. Those rear seats are very much a nonissue, probably best for luggage as leathery as the surfaces themselves.
LC is absolutely the halo vehicle for Lexus’ ongoing stylistic transformation and sports wide-hipped Batmobile lines and angles straight off a stealth bomber.
Which is commensurate with its acceleration. You can switch it to “eco” and play up the hybrid angle, but “sport-plus” gives you absolutely maniacal launches and rear-end swingouts, redline warnings and red-faced readouts, blipping giddily through the transmission’s simulated 10 gears.
Just a guess, but I’d wager that it’s nearly as fast as the 471-HP V-8, its more standardized setup. Minus flat-out pedal-mashing, the tone is sonorous, not abrasive; you also can operate in no-engine, all-electric mode up to 87 mph, amazingly enough.
One is literally cocooned in the LC’s Alcantara-wrapped cabin, with a stack of audio, navigation and HVAC controls that look more like ultra-stylish vintage 1970s audio equipment than buttony bits. Seats are deep and fiercely bolstered; an oversized center console channel emphasizes personal space on those long grand-touring trips you will invariably take.
Things are a little more comfortable but no less spectacular in the grand and imposing LS, the 206-inch long Japanese alternative to the Mercedes S-Class: gracious, striking and full of surprising design details.
The glowing dash trim, six-string guitar styled metal trim on the air vents and a cascade of symphonic swirl to the whole package — heavily accentuated by my test vehicle’s audacious, $12,000 white pillowed leather upgrades.
That big and brawny character does mean a little less immediacy from much the same hybrid system, and I did not get quite the same king-of-the-world acceleration; no wonder, but certainly making the hybrid option more appropriate to very high-end rideshare drivers than boulevard bombers. I ran it in cold weather, mostly on the highway, and got only 24 overall mpg.
LS was perhaps more impressive for its platform of new technology, including a gigantic head-up display, which visualized and warned of traffic approaching from the sides of intersections.
The seats offered a full suite of massage functions (try the shiatsu refresh setting if you’re feeling groggy after a long drive), while the even more comfortable, customer-oriented rear seats get power recline, heat and even full cabin audio control, via a large touchscreen in an oversized second-row console.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley.
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