2018 Lexus LC 500h first drive: a glimpse into grand touring's future

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It’s clear that the path forward in the auto industry involves electrification. No market segment will be immune from it, though some will take longer to hop on the electrification train.

Toyota is the current king of hybrids, with its Prius and Camry models. The Japanese automaker’s luxury division, Lexus, is no stranger to hybrids as well, with hybrid variants of the popular RX crossover SUV and ES sedan.

So it was no surprise when Lexus unveiled the LC 500h hybrid at the 2016 Geneva motor show just months after the V-8 LC 500 model was shown at the 2016 Detroit auto show.

After spending a week with the 2018 Lexus LC 500h hybrid this spring, it’s clear that there are compromises in the march toward electrification, but hybridization is a perfect fit for a grand touring machine.

2018 Lexus LC 500h

2018 Lexus LC 500h

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The LC 500h buyer suffers no visual trade-off for choosing the hybrid over the V-8 model. The wild eye-catching concept-car design remains. Lexus does include some visual cues that this is a hybrid, though. The badges get a blue hue, chrome adorns the standard wheels, and a discrete hybrid badge identifies the model on each rocker panel. Aside from that, it’s the same drool-worthy LC coupe.

Inside, the only way to distinguish the hybrid from its V-8 sibling is to examine the gauge cluster. An EV light indicates the powertrain is ready to roll. Otherwise, it’s the standard LC 500 interior, right down to the supremely comfortable road-trip-worthy seats and the terrible infotainment system with a trackpad.

ALSO SEE: 10 things you need to know about the 2018 Lexus LC 500

2018 Lexus LC 500h

2018 Lexus LC 500h

Enlarge Photo

Where the LC 500h hybrid differs from its V-8 sibling is what’s under the hood. It’s powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 aided by two electric motors and hooked to a 4-speed automatic transmission. A 44-kwh lithium-ion battery pack supplies power for the motors. Total system output is 354 horsepower, down 113 hp from the V-8-powered LC 500.

Despite that deficit, the LC 500h runs 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds–just 0.3 second slower than the V-8 model–and has a top speed of 155 mph versus the V-8 model’s 168 mph limit.

2018 Lexus LC 500h

2018 Lexus LC 500h

Enlarge Photo

Off the line, the V-6 actually feels like it has more punch than the V-8 due to the instant torque of the electric motors, but that feeling fades above 30 mph where the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter builds its power with more gusto as the revs climb.

At cruising speed on the highway the hybrid powertrain isn’t as enthusiastic about throwing occupants back into their seats during aggressive passing maneuvers. The power is nowhere near as instantaneous as that of the V-8, and the transmission doesn’t feel as quick to shift as the V-8’s 10-speed automatic.

While the acceleration difference is surprisingly small, the aural excitement of the 5.0-liter V-8 simply can’t be matched by the hybrid powertrain. The V-8 has a burly exhaust note that bellows from the LC 500’s tailpipes, but the LC 500h plays a synthetic soundtrack that can be surprisingly loud, and at times, buzzy.

With an extra 155 pounds to carry over the V-8 model, the LC 500h suffers a minor handling penalty as well, but it’s not as drastic as you’d expect.

Like the V-8 model, though, the hybrid’s steering is precise, though feedback is muddy and the car doesn’t provide a crystal clear picture of what the wheels are doing.

READ: 2019 Aston Martin DB11 AMR first drive review: continuous improvement rings true

2018 Lexus LC 500h

2018 Lexus LC 500h

Enlarge Photo

The takeaway

Grand tourers are meant to look good while getting you where you want go rapidly and in style. The LC 500h meets these criteria as I found out on a weekend road trip to a wedding in Iowa from my home in Minnesota.

With 4.7 cubic feet of space, the trunk holds just enough for a weekend away for two. That’s 0.7 cubic feet less than the LC 500 due to the room needed for the lithium-ion battery pack. It has rear seats, but think of them as a parcel shelf for whatever luggage you can’t fit in the small trunk.

As we march into the future, the LC 500h shows that automakers can build a more efficient grand tourer without making significant compromises to design, performance, or comfort.

 
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