Mountain Wheels: Lexus’ larger lineup offers AWD cruisers and summertime screamers
Now that we are truly in the middle of winter everywhere in Colorado, I warn you that some of the following modelwide overview of Lexus products may be more suitable for a primary residence in Texas than here in snowbound Summit County.
I am indeed hoping to get rides soon in some more all-weather-ready models, such as the new 2022 LX 600, as well as more details on Lexus’ first all-electric, the RZ 450e.
For our High Country purposes, the most versatile of the bunch I drove was the very impressive LS 500 luxury sedan, which I had as an all-wheel drive model, priced at $88,885. It’s the company’s flagship non-SUV, with looks and details commensurate to equally large German models, though the grandiose nature of the vehicle offers smooth and sophisticated cruising and just the spark of adventure. Tiny Shrek-ear-style knobs also promise a snow mode to go along with the AWD system.
Crank it into sport-plus mode, and the twin-turbo, 416-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 starts to behave like a V-8 and is certainly more than enough for this extremely passenger-friendly cruiser — and also got me about 25 mpg in the process. And design is absolutely fabulous, with an S-Class-styled wave theme throughout the cabin and suede-infused and heavily bolstered seats. Hey, even the seat belt receptacles light up at night.
On the smaller side but still available with AWD, the IS 350 is a stylish option for drivers more interested in a $44,900 entry price but still want 311 horsepower and many of the trademark bells and whistles. Mine was, however, an F Sport AWD with 19-inch BBS wheels, a carbon fiber rear spoiler and the full Mark Levinson audio system, so it was actually $56,790, which began to seem like a bit for a vehicle with hardly any rear seat room whatsoever.
Its 3.5-liter nonturbo V-6 needs lots and lots of high-altitude coaxing to get that horsepower – the sport mode switches here elicited zero extra response for me. That is too bad, as the car is still very striking, with intensely sporty seats, but it strikes me that a new Camry might be able to beat the IS.
Lexus’ beautiful and deliciously unusual LC 500 sports coupe, a high-power, 2+2 summertime careening machine, took on even more Sun Belt charm as it appeared this summer as the breathtaking convertible version. All totaled, including a beautiful semi-aniline leather package, sound system and massive, hyper-polished 21-inch wheels, it’s priced at $113,320 and still packs all 471 horses from its old-school 5.0-liter V-8.
A Corvette (or even Supra) it is not, when pushed more than a little — even with its ultrawide and low-set stance — but you might appreciate the ’90s Vette noises the exhaust almost always seems to make. As the Japanese counterpart to a Mercedes SL roadster, the fast-acting, power-dropping roof produces universally clear views for you and your passenger — and the groceries you can fit in those diminutive rear seats. New for 2022 is the option of a factory Bespoke Build customization program.
Finally, the really fun stuff: The RC, which I now see stands for Radical Coupe, is actually a little shorter than even the IS and has been around since 2014, with a significant face-lift in 2018 and again last year. It’s mostly known as the platform for an even more brutal version of that 5.0-liter V-8, turning it into an actual race car.
Last summer, I got to take a full-day road trip from Golden, through Fraser to Walden and down the Poudre Canyon and back in an RC 350, built up as an F Sport AWD model and priced at $58,905. These more traditional versions of the RC feature either a 2.0-liter turbo-four with 241 horsepower or the 3.5-liter V-6 with either 260 or 311 horsepower.
I remarked how, even with a shorter wheelbase than IS, the RC 350 hit a sweet spot when it came to long-distance touring, with much more accessible power (including the bold yellow bezels and screaming exhaust in sport-plus mode) and over 25 mpg.
The year ended, however, with a short, dry-road shot in December in that ultra-exclusive, 50-unit RC F Fuji Speedway edition ($102,510), which does indeed include a 472-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 and more carbon fiber than I’ve ever seen on the roof, spoilers, lower doors and a retractable rear wing spoiler. More importantly, it also had tremendously expensive Brembo carbon ceramic brakes, which allows one to rein it in after sub-4-second zero to 60 bursts.
It was, in a word, marvelous, and not really that terrifying, as the race enhancements mean its dry-road grip, hold and ultra-rigidity are made for high-speed track duty, and everything else is pretty low-key by comparison.
Acceleration was indeed literally head-snapping and tire-smoking, and there seemed to be no reason at all to ever take it out of its high-revving, super-loud race setting.
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 Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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