The Lexus LC Convertible offers the potential for a fresh direction for this premium Japanese brand. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The LC Convertible is, says Lexus, "one of the most sought-after vehicles we've produced". It's the first time the brand has properly ventured up towards the three-figure price bracket and to justify that, this open-topped sports car will have to be very desirable indeed. All the signs are that it is. It's come equipped to take on the luxury convertible segment's very top contenders, with drive dynamics that work on the track as well as on the highway. Plus there's styling that'll cause a stir in the High Street and a gorgeous cabin.
"From the moment we finished this car", says Lexus Group Vice President David Christ, "we've been thinking of what comes next. This car signals the future direction of our brand". Clearly then, the LC Convertible is significant - more than just a derivative of the impressive LC Coupe. Like that fixed-top model, it's aimed directly at the BMW 8 Series and the Porsche 911 - and as with those cars, more powerful versions will inevitably follow.
If the brand can be successful in this model's more exalted price bracket, Lexus will feel confident about producing super-luxury SUVs and boardroom-level saloons - and much else might open out.
Not long ago, if Lexus had launched a car into this segment, it would have been a direct competitor to the Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet. But it says much for the way that the LC Coupe has changed our perceptions of what this brand's dynamically capable of that we now have no trouble in perceiving this LC Convertible as a rival to far more sporting large luxury soft tops like the Porsche 911 Cabriolet.
There's only one engine on offer, a 32-valve old-school normally aspirated petrol V8, but it's more than up to the job of moving this car along very quickly indeed, storming to 62mph in 5.0s en route to 168mph. Inevitably, this 457bhp 5.0-litre powertrain lacks the torque that would come as part of the turbo technology that all this car's competitors use, but Lexus reckon you won't really register that thanks to the trick this V8-powered LC has up its sleeve; a 10-speed automatic gearbox. The idea is that with so many gears, you simply won't notice the atmospheric 5.0-litre unit's relative lack of pulling power because of the way this car compensates with such a closely-stacked multitude of ratios.
This open-topped model represents the Lexus brand's first use of a fabric folding top, rather than one with metal-folding panels. It doesn't activate quite as quickly as the roof of an open-topped Aston Martin Vantage, but a raising or lowering time of just 15 seconds is more than acceptable and it can happen at speeds of up to 31mph. With the roof in place, refinement is virtually as good as that of the fixed-top LC Coupe and you can really concentrate on this car's surprisingly drive dynamics. Yes, it slightly favours comfort over dynamism (as opposed to a rival Porsche 911 Cabriolet in which it's the other way round), but we think many potential customs might prefer that. And, if you wish, you can improve handling bite by stretching to the top 'Sport+ Package' model we tried, which also includes more responsive variable-ratio steering and a Torsen limited slip differential to help get power down through the corners.
Design and Build
The LC Convertible trades the Coupe model's 'floating' roof line for a sloping fabric roof that flows into a long, flat rear deck. Lexus claims that this convertible top can be opened in only 15 seconds and operated at speeds of up to 31mph. To keep wind buffeting down, there's a transparent wind deflector behind the rear seats. Yes, you get rear seats; there's a 2+2 seating layout that essentially the same as that on the LC Coupe, though rear seat space is slightly compromised by the roof mechanism and its storage compartment, as is boot capacity.
At the wheel, you are looked after by seat heaters, neck heaters and a heated steering wheel, all of which are automatically activated depending on the outside temperature and the position of the fabric top. As with all LC models, there's a rotary touchpad-controlled 10.25-inch infotainment screen, a digital instrument binnacle and a premium stereo system. As you'd expect, the materials and finishing are faultless, as is the gadget count. The driver's cockpit has been ergonomically designed to instil confidence and invite spirited driving, with an intuitive layout of the controls and a well-judged seating position. The driver's hip point has been located as close as possible to the car's centre of gravity, maximising direct feedback of the vehicle's dynamic performance. You get a pretty small boot though, just 149-litres in size.
Market and Model
From launch of this LC 500 V8 Convertible, pricing started at around £91,000 for the standard model, but many customers will want to find the extra fee - nearly £6,000 more - necessary for the 'Sport+ Pack' version we're trying here. If you're comparing to the LC 500 Coupe, think in terms of this Convertible needing a premium of around £10,000 over the fixed top in standard form; the premium is more like £6,000 if you're considering the 'Sport+ Pack' model. Unlike with the Coupe, there's no Hybrid engine option.
What about rivals? You'll have a very pleasant task checking out all of these. Lexus pricing positions this LC above the slightly smaller Jaguar F-TYPE P450 RWD Convertible (which at the time of this test cost around £75,000). And slightly below cars like the Maserati MC20 Convertible and the Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet - at the time of this test, the Porsche cost around £104,000, but even that represents a substantial saving on the £125,000 that Mercedes wants of you for their S-Class 560 Cabriolet.
Cost of Ownership
Predictably, you're going to need deep pockets to run an LC 500 Convertible; it could be no other way with a luxury cabrio powered by an old-school normally aspirated 5.0-litre petrol V8. Official WLTP figures suggest a combined fuel consumption figure of 24.1mpg and a smoky CO2 return of 275g/km. For reasons we've explained elsewhere in this review, unlike with the LC Coupe, there's no option of specifying an alternative 3.5-litre V6 Hybrid engine to improve things either.
All of which means that you'll probably find it a touch painful to be looking at fuel read-out too often, though at least the massive 82-litre fuel tank provides a theoretical 435 miles of driving range. Lexus has done its best to maximise what's possible from this engine, claiming that it's optimised the exhaust layout and the engine control system. Plus of course, there's the sophisticated 10-speed auto transmission, which you'd think would use the engine's revs more effectively.
On the plus side, residual values should look pretty healthy, at least as good as those of the posh Teutonic brands. After three years and 3,000 miles, independent experts reckon that an LC 500 will still be worth around 51% what you originally paid for it. Remember too when considering depreciation that an LC is better equipped than many of its German rivals. To match this car's spec, you'd have to spend extra cash on options with those cars, money you're unlikely to get back again at resale time.
The LC Convertible is a logical extension of the Lexus product range but for those fortunate enough to eventually own one, it'll represent anything but a logical purchase decision. This is the kind of car you don't want to have to sensibly justify, a way to reward yourself for decades of toil.
Previously, if you wanted such a thing, didn't want a track-tamed roadster-style model and couldn't quite stretch to a convertible from Bentley or Rolls-Royce, something of a compromise was required. Either the luxury of a Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet or BMW 8 Series convertible. Or the sharper handling of a Porsche 911 Cabriolet or Maserati Cabrio. This Lexus has a pretty good stab at providing the best of both worlds. And that makes it very desirable indeed.