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2018 Lexus LC 500h review: fuel efficiency over passion

The Lexus LC 500 has been a bit of a revelation to us. While many of the performance based Lexus vehicles of late have felt like they fell short of the mark, the LC 500 moved the goal posts. With interior fit and finish that feels more Ferrari than Toyota, and swooping exterior lines that scream excitement, the top of the line Lexus impresses on all counts. Last year we tested the 471-horsepower V8 version, with a rip-roaring engine note and visceral performance. Lexus also released a version with an extremely complex hybrid drivetrain. On paper, the combination of a V6 engine, two electric motors and two transmissions looks interesting. Let’s see if that translates from the driver’s seat.

Walking up to the LC 500h, there’s not much to tell you anything is different. A few badges are all that differentiates it from it’s gas-guzzling cousin, but once you get inside the differences get easier to spot. The sound from the engine is the big one, coming from one of the best sounding V8’s, well, ever. The hybrid’s V6 hums along, singing a decidedly more reserved tune. It’s not a bad sound, and without the memory of the rowdy cousin, this one would probably even excite us. It’s more of a hum-and-whine sound as the different drivetrains mesh together. It even sounds complex, and at times that complexity shows through in the driving experience as well.2018 Lexus LC 500h review | Chicago News

At this point, we should probably go over just what’s going on under the hood of this coupe. The 295hp Atkinson-cycle V6 is supplemented by two electric motors, with a combined output of 177hp. They are applied to the drivetrain by a CVT (continuously variable transmission) which then drives the wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission. If you’re scratching your head right now, don’t worry – we are too, and we drove the thing. Ultimately, the software turns all that into 10 distinct forward gears when in manual mode, but in automatic mode it feels more like a CVT. It’s a little quicker in automatic mode too, but it feels disconnected.

In manual mode, it definitely feels more connected to the driver, but it’s a bit slower. That’s hard to get our head around, because the manual mode is preferred for the enthusiast driver. Ultimately the forward drive is still very impressive, with 354hp in total and 4.8 seconds from zero-to-sixty. The bigger issue is that all that extra drivetrain complexity adds weight. Tipping the scales at over 4500lb, the coupe is not as light as it appears. So what do all these trade-offs give in terms of improved mileage?

The ratings are 26mpg City and 35mpg Highway, with a combined rating of 30mpg. These ratings are slighting confusing to us, as typically hybrids perform better in a city environment. We didn’t see quite anything like these numbers, but we did get an average close to 28mpg. With all the ‘spirited’ driving we did, that is still very impressive. The ratings are 10-11mpg better than the V8, but if you’re buying a $100k sports-coupe, does that really change your mind?

There’s no doubt that hybrid drivetrains and electric vehicles are the future, but we think in this case Lexus would have been better served by adding the electric aids to the already potent V8. We respect the technical achievement of the driveline in this hybrid, it doesn’t quite fit the athletic exterior. That being said, if you’re dying to drive one of these coupes and want to still save some fuel, you’re not going to be disappointed behind the wheel of this LC 500h.

2018 Lexus LC 500h review | Chicago News

Special thanks to the Lexus Division of the Toyota Motor Corporation for providing the 2018 Lexus LC 500h for review. 

Our review of the 2018 Lexus LC 500 (originally published December 15th, 2017)