Lexus made its first inroads into the UK in the mid-1990s with a whacking big saloon powered by a 4.0-litre V8 engine.
In fact, many of its early cars – even the smaller IS – hit these shores with large-displacement petrol engines under the bonnet.
But in recent years the brand has become increasingly associated with hybrid technology. Everything from its CT hatchback to the large RX SUV can be specified with a petrol-electric drivetrain aimed at maintaining the luxury drive but reducing the monetary and environmental costs.
Lexus LC 500
Engine: 5.0-litre, V8, petrol
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Top speed: 168mph
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
CO2 emissions: 267g/km
Even the dramatic LC coupe is offered with a hybrid drivetrain featuring 3.5-litre V6 engine linked to an electric motor. Lexus say that the LC500h’s multi-stage hybrid system offers true performance while being “environmentally efficient”. It’s certainly a glimpse of the future, with everyone from BMW to Porsche adding hybrid systems to their famed performance models.
However, Lexus hasn’t completely forgotten its roots so alongside that 3.5-litre hybrid sits a full-blooded naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8.
A development of the engine from the RC F and GS F, it produces 471bhp and 398lb/ft of torque and revs all the way up to a 7,300rpm red line. It’s a high-tech interpretation of the kind of engine that has stirred petrolheads’ souls for decades.
The press pack for the LC 500 declares boldly: “The driver will experience a powerful acceleration feel and the kind of engine note that only a normally aspirated V8 can deliver.” They’re not kidding. The kick delivered by that big old block is exhilarating, surging up through the ten – yep, ten – gears of the auto box without pause. Official figures put its 0-62mph time at 4.4 seconds and it feels every bit that quick. The sensation is enhanced by the noise of the engine. Some trick acoustic engineering helps but the mechanical shriek as it tears up the revs is spectacular and virtually unmatched in this day and age.
All that power and torque is fed to the rear wheels as part of a package built on the new GA-L platform. For the LC, it’s been developed to offer a tightly controlled, dynamic drive thanks to a low centre of gravity, lightweight materials and multi-link suspension front and rear.
For a large car it’s certainly agile. On twisting roads the LC 500 snaps from one direction to another instantly but there’s a lightness to the steering that leaves you feeling a touch removed from the action. It’s composed and balanced, though, and does a good job of disguising its size.
Lexus are positioning the LC 500 as a grand tourer but a fairly stiff ride – thanks in part to 21-inch wheels and run-flat tyres – and the raucous engine note make it more of a short-blast sports coupe than a continent crosser.
While its performance is the beating – hammering – heart of the LC 500, Lexus is also putting a lot of store in how it looks and feels.
In trying to stay close to the LF-LC concept, the LC’s designers have created a flowing mix of swooping curves and dramatic angles. From headlights that look as if they’ve been sliced into the tight bodywork back to the roof edges inspired by Japanese swords, this is a car that looks like no other. In a car park full of exotic machines it still stood out like a gleaming spaceship.
The interior, too, stands out – as different from the standard European fare as you can get. You sit low, with the cockpit wrapping around you. A single-level instrument panel stretches across the dash – designed to keep all the data closer to the driver’s eyeline, says Lexus. It looks and feels high-tech but compared with the likes of Mercedes and Audi it’s a little scattershot and fussy.
Still, for some buyers the whole ultra-modern aesthetic will appear more than the staid, conventional look of European rivals and the sheer character of that drivertrain more than makes up for its interior shortcomings.
In a world where we’re moving towards performance EVs and hybrid sports cars the LC 500 could be an anachronism but even a few minutes in the company of that thrilling V8 with its noise and power will convince anyone that there’s still no replacement for displacement.