Confession time: I have a bit of a thing about suede. In fact, if I’d been born in frontier times, I would have worn one of those fringed buckskin outfits rocked by Daniel Boon.
Instead, when I turned 30, a couple of years back (ahem), I had a tailor make me a suede car coat, with deep pockets and a heavy zip.
It came in a rich brown hue and I loved that thing to bits; I wore it until it looked like a sad old wombat with the mange. A bit like Yours Truly.
I was reminded of that jacket’s store-new splendidness when I slipped into the contoured, low-slung bucket seats of the Lexus LC500h ($190,200 RRP plus on-road costs; $205,200 as tested) and was immediately surrounded by russet-coloured Alcantara.
Okay, so it’s technically not suede, but it fooled me and before I even pressed the start button, I found myself marvelling at its sensuous touch. Perhaps I should see someone about that…
Suffice it to say, the stuff made a big impression, but that’s just one of many things about the big Lexus coupe that does just that.
From a brand better known for solidly conservative middle-of-the-road luxury fare, the LC boldly goes where no Lexus has before; out on a limb with dramatic, futuristic looks.
With its wide hips, pinched waist, crisp lines and dramatic lighting details, this is undoubtedly the boldest Lexus yet; a styling statement that confirms the Japanese luxury brand can mix it with the best of its European rivals.
Straight out of Blade Runner
Channelling elements of the mighty LF-A supercar, the LC looks straight out of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, with its classic 2+2 coupe proportions lending it an athletic ‘poised-to-pounce’ profile.
Lexus itself describes the LC’s avant-garde styling as a “contemporary interpretation of the finest traditions of the grand tourer”, and we’re inclined to agree.
Everywhere you look there's something to admire, such as the Katana sword swipes of its daytime running lights, or the way the cross-wiring of the spindle grille widens towards the road, as if the grille had been stretched over the nose while still molten.
The gorgeously-finished carbon-fibre roof is part of an optional enhancement pack (that’ll be $15K, thanks) which adds that lovely leather and Alcantara upholstery, 10-way power-adjustable sports front seats, carbon-fibre scuff plates and technical enhancements dubbed ‘Lexus Dynamic Handling’.
The latter includes four-wheel steering, variable gear ratio steering, active rear spoiler, and a limited-slip differential.
While digital dashboards are de rigueur in luxury cars these days, Lexus has taken a different path with the LC’s single instrument dial that physically shifts sideways to expose an additional information screen.
It's what the designers call a ‘surprise and delight’ feature, the gentle whirr of the dial’s tiny electric motor speaking of Swiss-watch precision.
Other standard LC features include head-up display, eight-inch multi-information display, heated and ventilated front seats, sports pedals, and magnesium alloy paddle shifters. There’s also a 10.3-inch multimedia display with voice recognition, and a bespoke Mark Levinson 918-watt 13 speaker premium sound system.
No snarl, just a whirr
Fire things up and there's something that immediately fails to live up to the promise made by its stunning supercar looks. The Lexus starts not with the expected guttural snarl but an electric whirr, the hybrid drivetrain easing you away in battery-electric mode.
Even when you get into the throttle a bit and awaken the V6, its note is subdued and overlaid with the sound of the CVT transmission and the gentle whirr of electrics. It's not offensive, just a little underwhelming after all the drama of the exterior styling.
The LC 500h combines a 3.5-litre petrol V6 with an electric motor generator and a lithium-ion battery to deliver respectable combined outputs of 264kW and 348Nm, which in combination with a 10-speed transmission shifts the big coupe from 0-100km/h in 5.0 seconds.
By way of comparison, the raucous 5.0-litre V8 of its stablemate, the LC500, thumps out 351kW/500Nm and manages the sprint just half a second quicker.
Despite the lack of aural drama the hybrid coupe is a lovely thing to drive, accelerating and shifting easily and riding the bumps with a refinement not always found on more firmly-suspended rivals, despite 21-inch forged alloys.
There's an underlying discipline to its adaptive multi-link front and rear sports suspension, and a precision to its steering that suggests it's up for the job if cornering is your thing.
The low roof and bonnet lines help in this regard, too, enabling a low centre of gravity which translates to minimal body roll and quick reactions to steering inputs.
Before I picked up the LC500h I must admit to being a little disappointed that I wouldn't be tearing about in its stablemate the LC500, with its bellowing NASCAR soundtrack. But having spent a week in the hybrid I came to appreciate the merit of a car that looks this good but still delivers a quieter, more refined driving experience.
If anything, instead of bemoaning the lack of V8 power, I found the more laid-back nature of its hybrid powertrain allowed me to appreciate the many other wonderful attributes of this car. Plus, it has lots of faux suede. Did I mention that?