Mountain Wheels: Drop-top Lexus LC 500 is a head-turning, open-air ride
It is not often that an automobile manages to be the most futuristic and most solidly old-school set of wheels at the same time, but that’s part of the retro-futuristic appeal of Lexus’s LC 500 — especially its much-anticipated, all-new convertible version.
I’ve had a couple of opportunities to drive the fast and funky hybrid version of the LC, a high-end 2+2 cruising machine that looks like it already comes from the 2030s, thanks in part to style originated by Lexus’s super-rare LFA supercar. That included a week back in May with the super-distinctive sports car, the hybrid to end all hybrids.
But the past week got me seat time in a preproduction version of the new 2021 model year convertible, also my first opportunity with the vehicle’s standard 5.0-liter V-8 gasoline engine, and that was an absolute riot. Especially as I had to complete a small house move with the not-exactly spacious LC, which features a 3.4-cubic-foot trunk big enough for maybe a set of golf clubs, and tiny rear seats that are good for a couple of upright 12-packs of Pepsi and not much else.
The LC, as you might have guessed, is designed for light, high-speed travel and geared toward those who absolutely want to be the center of attention. It also costs almost twice as much as a new Corvette — mine starts at $101,000, but eclipsed $111,000 with massive 21-inch forged wheels, a head-up display, limited slip differential and a super-leathery touring package.
The juxtaposition is all quite real: The car’s ultra-sleek nose, sculpted body and amazingly polyangular rear flanks totally make it look like a show car. But that aluminum-block V-8 feels like something out of a 1970s muscle car, with 471 horsepower and exhaust that is almost never not loud. And maybe 25 mpg, if you can resist the urge to keep the throttle flattened, otherwise you’ll get 20, as I did. It’ll do zeto to 60 in 4.6 seconds and is electronically limited to 168 hair-tossing mph.
The LC convertible has been given an ultra-low-profile soft top with generous heated rear glass and relatively small blind spots while up — as was necessary for much of the week’s tremendously bad air conditions on the Front Range.
If you can find the hidden switchgear (I needed to Google its location, as it is indeed concealed in the broad center console), that roof blazes away under a series of whirring plates, pulleys and motors that’s straight-up “Transformers.” It’s very fast, too, opening or closing in under 16 seconds. This leaves you with a slightly elevated but absolutely flat rear deck and trunk, no obstacles or rear headrests of any kind and only a 2-inch-tall plexiglass wind deflector.
Then, you really are the coolest guy on the block, except maybe with the Texas plates mine sported. The exhaust rumble easily turns into a cacophonous scream, echoing off highway underpasses and blaaating and blurting off canyon walls. And is, of course, piped into the cabin to accentuate all that noise.
You can cruise easily all day but a full plunge of the accelerator will indeed work you very quickly through the LC’s 10-speed transmission. Unlike last week’s Miata, the LC is not at all a small car, with an overall length of 187.4 inches and a curb weight of 4,540 pounds — 200 more than the hard-top version — and you’ll very quickly feel that mass in the corners. It’s not quite as stiff as the hard-top, either, with a bit of tangible body flex over potholes and speed bumps.
Cornering is still loads of fun, however, especially with those gigantic 21-inch race tires, though I mostly kinda took it easy as there’s also 75.6 inches of width to contend with, not to mention that very low-to-the-ground aerodynamic lip up front.
Cabin finishings are immaculate, with textured leather everywhere, some very aggressive race seats and an oddly concise passenger seat edged in by two very tall “hang on” handles — the left one of which I frequently used to help haul myself into place.
On the other hand, if you want all those looks and mileage closer to 30 or maybe even 35 mpg, consider the LC hybrid, which is one of two variants of the hard-top model. I took the LC 500H on a 10-hour drive back in the spring and while the super-high-end power was not quite the same — flooring it produces noises like a nuclear-powered vacuum cleaner — it also often runs absolutely silently. According to its onboard computer, someone managed to pull 1.5 Gs in a corner on its 21-inch race wheels. I am not sure if that was me.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays 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. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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