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First Drive: Lexus LS 500 and LC 500 Convertible receive added swathes of luxury

Lexus continues to define the luxury in luxury car

TopGear Reporter
August 27, 2021
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They - don't ask me who 'they' are - say that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Furthermore, the argument goes that "beauty doesn't exist on its own and that it is entirely dependent on the observer". As far as the Lexus LC 500 Convertible is concerned, though, I say "you'd have to be as blind as a bat to find anything that’s not exquisitely pleasant to behold”.

That’s just one side of the coin, though. With the LC 500, Lexus also introduced its updated flagship LS 500 sedan models – a car that's dotted on the polar opposite side of the luxury spectrum than where you'd find the LC and yet there are also so many similarities other than just the badge. But more on that later…

Unrivalled design

First, let’s discuss the most obvious differentiator; the design. Well, just here it’s pretty easy to reach the conclusion that the two models cater to two very different aspirations. The LS is the power suit, exuding influence while the LC lets the allegorical hair down all the while maintaining a fashionable composure.

And, to answer that nagging voice in the back of your head, no, neither models are exactly what one would call new but rather an improvement on a recipe once thought to be the epitome of perfect-adjacent. The LS 500 has new headlights that now project an 'L' signature (no prizes for guessing why an L) while also boasting active high beams the marque calls "BladeScan” which was first implemented on its RX SUV. The radiator grilles also received a reworked appearance that on a subtle level adds to the presence factor.

Sticking with LS, though, there's also an F Sport model and while it's fundamentally the same car, the sport-specific additions create a very different air around this LS. All it took was the addition of a grillier mesh-design grille, 20” F Sport wheels and some side badging to accomplish this.

As for the LC 500 Convertible, as you probably noticed its one major change is that it now has an all-season roof component. According to Lexus, all it took was the redesign of three major panels – when I say all it took… it must have been hundreds of design meetings, a few thousand sketches and millions of calculations to achieve the same clean look as the coupe. And yet, the proof is in the car.

There's not even any tangible extra weight to compensate for what is traditionally compromised rigidity due to the absence of a steel roof. Instead, the Takumi craftsmen (that's what Lexus calls its experts on all things car art) has figured a way to work with what they have by adding additional spot welds to the existing skeleton. It's essentially rewriting the Torsional Forces chapter in the original physics handbook.

Luxury-centric interior

Top of mind, I can’t think of a car manufacturer that slots in below the five-bar marker that executes the luxury in luxury interior quite as well as Lexus. It’s intricate to the point where you don’t know where to look and yet, it’s also focused with clever geometric elements drawing your eyes to specific focal points.

This is especially evident in the LS range where the designers had a much more generous canvas at their disposal. And with the updated LS, this is no different. Instead, it received some additional artistic strokes to elevate the cabin even further; like deeper stitch points. When first driving the LS 500 three years ago I can’t recall peering over the stitching and thinking that it was on the side of shallow but hey, Lexus is renowned for its attention to detail that really complements the larger sum of elements. There are also two colours available for the interior namely standard black and a crimson and black combination which is also my favourite of the two.

The F Sport gets a dedicated interior package, a steering wheel with an F Sport logo, F Sport pedals, sports seats (yes, with an F Sport logo) just so you’re absolutely certain of the fact that you are indeed in the sport model as well as some additional niceties like aluminium door trimmings. 

LS now also has touch-display functionality on its 12.3” infotainment system that, while alleviating some of the load from the sluggish trackpad (especially for right-hand-drive markets), still proved to be a bit of a chore to operate. While I'm sure familiarity with the system will largely remedy this, the system is still comparably unintuitive to what the competition offers.

The LC, despite having a distinctly different interior feel, boast similar levels of opulence compared to its LS 500 sibling. I'd even go as far as saying that despite the smaller working canvas, it feels just a bit better executed. A case in point is the analogue clock: in the LS 500, it looks relegated to the side of the infotainment system like it was an afterthought on the design brief. On the LC, it takes centre-stage with its prominence. Two very different cars, I know, but it's the more subtle sense of luxury in the LC that I prefer.

And speaking of subtle luxury; the convertible has what is called the Lexus Climate Concierge and while that sounds all extravagant and upmarket what it does is very simple… It warms your neck when driving with the roof down. Add to that some clever wind-deflection techniques and a 13-speaker Mark Levinson sound system and there are virtually none of the traditional drop-top drawbacks on this luxury cruiser.

Driving force

While I could go on for aeons about all the little luxury touches like perforation and how many which directions you can adjust the seats, it's time to get to the business of driving and technical parlance. So, let's get the technical speak out of the way first.

The Lexus LS 500 is powered by a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 that produces 310 kW and 600 Nm of torque that’s true for both the standard and F Sport models. Shock, horror and clasping of hands, how can the Lexus flagship only be powered by a teeny-tiny V6? Well, in simple terms, this engine has been developed specifically for the LS. The idea is that it produces near-V8 levels of power without gulping up a town’s supply worth of unleaded fuel.

On the more traditional, baritonic front, there's the LC 500 that still makes use of the tried and proven Lexus 5.0-litre V8 that has graced our ears with mechanical music for a while now. It produces 351 kW and 540 Nm of torque without the aid of any forced induction. Both cars send power to the rear wheels using a 10-speed auto.

The business end of these figures represents something that's quite surprising. The LS 500, despite its smaller V6 engine, felt marginally more dynamic in its power delivery when dialled into its Sport setting than the brawnier V8 of the LC and yet, it's 0.3 seconds slower to 100 km/h with a claimed time of five seconds. This despite its near-200 kilograms of added bulk over the convertible.

While I didn’t do much of the mountain pass apex-clipping in the LC, the LS 500 impressed no end here. Sure, it shifted its weight around, there’s no getting around that, but it was sure-footed, eager and more than willing to tackle just about any corner. Dial it down, and it morphs into a comfortable and relatively quiet cruiser that can overtake with the ferocity of a land missile. 

There's plenty of comfortable cruising to be done with the LC 500 as well but be warned the soundtrack when you do decide to press on. It's intoxicating as it resonates off the surroundings tempting you to drive a bit like a dingo. We had to pay special attention to this as we did a few kilometres of game driving in the Kruger National Park with the LC 500 – perhaps it was the low seating position that meant we didn't see much other than some warthogs?

Overall impressions

This isn't the part where I convince you that either of the Lexus models is a bargain. The simple fact is that at R2,204,300 for the LS 500 F Sport, R2,397,900 for the erm LS 500 and R2,345,500 for the Lexus LC 500 Convertible they are on the pricier end of pricey. But then again, you get Takumi craftsmanship of the highest order and levels of luxury that, at this price point, can’t be beat in my opinion.

And here I’m not referring to how many USB ports the back seats have – I mean that sense of occasion and the sum of small superfluous-on-the-surface details that come together to paint one extraordinary picture.

Sure, the LS 500 might not be the prettiest car, but its road presence can't be denied. On the other hand, I think that the LC 500 might just be one of the most attractive collection of metal pieces that has ever graced the road – much, I suppose, like the Mona Lisa is to the art-gazing community. But like this famous painting, you don't buy a Lexus because it's pretty at all the right angles; you buy it because it embodies the very best craftsmanship that has gone into constructing it. 

Words: Deon van der Walt

Pictures: Lexus SA


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