Up until this May, the Lexus flagship was a literal ship. The Lexus LY650 yacht measured more than 65 feet long, made up to 2700 horsepower, and cost nearly $4 million—until economic uncertainty torpedoed the project.
The $102,025 LC500 convertible is no yacht, but its fabric top folds in 15 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph, and that’s kind of the same thing. The sun on your face and the wind in your hair feel just as fresh whether you’re a billionaire sunbathing in the French Riviera or a mere millionaire headed to the lake house for the weekend.
Although it weighs a resolute 4500 pounds, we wouldn’t call the LC500 a barge. It’s more like a classic Chris-Craft for the road with a tight two-plus-two cockpit that looks out over a long and graceful bow. Pin the right pedal, and the LC500 moves like a boat rising on plane. The naturally aspirated 471-hp V-8 exhibits a brief lull as the tach winds up; it feels like a feature that adds to the theatrics rather than a flaw. The 5.0-liter emits a hearty growl down low that builds into a full-throated blare above 6000 rpm, sounding every bit as suggestive as a Jaguar F-type but without the tawdry pops and crackles.
Figure on a zero-to-60-mph run in the mid-four-second range and cornering grip closer to 0.90 g than 1.00 g. That’s just quick enough and sticky enough for a car that’s best enjoyed at a brisk pace, not an aggressive one. This is the kind of car you can drive while wearing Crocs and not feel like you should be taking it more seriously. It is easy to place through a fast sweeper and demonstrates admirable body control on rough pavement. Unlike the $93,975 coupe version, there’s some quiver and quake in the softtop LC500’s steering wheel that’s borne from structural flex rather than road feel, but this Lexus otherwise feels solid. The ride perfectly straddles the line between firm and soft, with only the largest heaves and cracks in the road causing the LC to hammer on its optional $2650 forged 21-inch wheels (20s are standard).
There are better choices in this arena for driving fast. The Porsche 911 and the F-type top the list. The LC500 lands right in the sweet spot where you expect a two-door Lexus to be. There’s a clear connection to the brand’s cushy sedans and SUVs in the supple leather, the immaculate detailing, and the sheer size of the thing. Yet the LC500 is also a celebration of soulful, naturally aspirated engines and the joy of open-air driving. It stirs emotions in ways that BMW’s number-generating machines don’t, and that’s exactly how it should be.
The only thing watering down the experience is Lexus’s unfathomable infotainment system. It uses a trackpad, which is a bad starting place, and gets worse by burying several key functions deep in the menu structure, such as the heated seat controls. On several screens within the 10.3-inch display, you navigate between virtual controls with left and right swipes while up and down flicks toggle whatever setting you happen to be hovering over. You might think you’ve felt rage before, but have you ever accidentally turned on the ventilated passenger’s seat while trying to turn on the heated driver’s seat—for the third time in two days?
If you can make it past this small detail that’s a major nuisance, the LC500 convertible is a refreshing alternative to six-figure cars that are wrapped up in performance numbers. The LC places the emphasis on the experience: the sound of eight cylinders uncorked, the feel and smell of lush leather, and the sight of that sculpted body that looks as if it were cast in a single mold. We’d like more of this, please, throughout the Lexus lineup and the greater industry.
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