By Derek Price
Cynics say creativity in the car industry is dead.
Whether because of strict safety regulations, the scourge of consumer focus groups or fear of critical backlash, today’s cars look more alike than ever before.
At least one car, though, has managed to escape the cycle of visual plagiarism: the Lexus LC.
While it’s expensive, with a starting price just under $93,000, it justifies that price as a piece of rolling artwork. It’s also more useful than the duct-taped banana that just sold for $120,000 at Art Basel in Miami.
The fact that the sleek, modern LC exists in a world of lookalike cars is surprising. That it came from Lexus — perhaps the most conservative, focus-group-led brand on the planet until recently — is even more remarkable and proof that, no matter the excuses, originality is still possible if the manufacturer has enough courage.
Make no mistake, it took guts to create this car.
Aside from the bold design choices — the headlights with their giant drooping tear ducts, the massive “spindle” grille that cascades down until it’s just barely above the pavement, the slits and flourishes that adorn its timeless sports-coupe shape — the LC also makes some serious concessions to practicality.
The back seat is tiny with limited head room, making this realistically a two-seater. The front fascia extends so close to the ground that it feels at risk of scraping every pothole and speed bump. These are things that would make left-brained focus groups cringe, but a right-brained designer said, “So what?”
The result is a car that’s as drop-dead gorgeous as anything built in the last 20 years.
There’s no question it turns heads and is, to my eyes at least, absolutely beautiful. Whether the influence is real or imagined, it seems to have inherited the spirit of Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space,” right down to the sweeping shape of its door handles. Just as that sculpture helped usher in the age of abstraction in the 1920s, the LC’s shape seems to be heralding a new era, bridging the gap to whatever comes next.
Making the driving experience match the spaceship looks is a challenge, and it’s interesting that Lexus picked a rather old-school engine — a naturally aspirated V8 — to power its most futuristic car. The contrast is ironic but also feels right, again linking the old to the new.
The 5.0-liter engine rumbles and roars as it sends 471 horsepower to the rear wheels, just as God intended.
It also does a spectacular job splitting its personalities between an intense sports-car mode and a more comfortable, smooth and relaxing comfort mode.
Changes for the latest car help deliver that breadth. The transmission shifts have been tweaked so they’re smoother at partial throttle and quicker — almost violently so — when you mash the gas pedal onto the floorboard.
The adaptive suspension also was changed to offer a wider range of responsiveness, making the switch in firmness between its softest and hardest settings more obvious.
The end result is a car with delightfully split personalities. It’s quiet, polite and refined when you want it to be, then goes wild when you turn a knob and put it in Sport+ mode.
Pricing starts at $92,950 for the V8-powered LC 500 or $97,460 for the hybrid version. If you want a drop-top version, Lexus recently announced that an LC convertible will be coming in 2021.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Lexus LC 500 ($92,950). Options: Flare yellow paint ($595), sport package with carbon roof ($2,960). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $97,530
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Length: 187.4 in.
Width: 75.6 in.
Height: 53 in.
Engine: 5.0-liter V8 (471 hp, 398 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 26 highway
Why buy it?
It’s fast, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful. It has the look and feel of an exotic car with the reliable reputation of a Lexus.