Lexus LC500 First Drive – Complete with a pre-emptive poster.

It’s hard to be certain what prompts or in fact warrants longevity for a poster on a bedroom wall. Growing up, the pictures of pop groups, girls and even various cars that adorned the walls of my room seemed to change as quickly as my mood (which as a teenager was hyperfast) however; there were images of certain supercars that remained consistent and resolute, permanently affixed to my gallery’s wallpaper – it would appear that my interest in these cars was unwavering. Looking back, I have been unsure as to what raised these cars from a passing fad to nigh-on cult status, But; having just attended the launch of the Lexus LC500, I feel I may have a much clearer understanding.

Yes (some) cars are indeed art, yes there is the ‘top trump’ speed and power data that starts the jaw to drop and yes (often) peer pressure and a ridiculous price tag comes into play – so getting hung up on the wall is not that difficult; But in my humble opinion I believe it’s ‘how you discover’ a car that really brings it to life (your life) and gives you that true attachment, and; so it seems do Lexus.

Since its inception almost thirty years ago, Lexus has been a luxury car brand that has set seriously high standards in superior quality, however; even they admit that until around 2012 they have umm, lacked excitement. On an axis grid, Lexus plotted themselves slap bang in the middle of ‘Conventional/Conservative’, a good place to be but hardly awe inspiring or poster worthy. 2012 saw the brand launch a more adventurous design theme with things like the GS, IS, RC and the groundbreaking LFA, and this began moving them across the great axis divide towards ‘Exciting’. This year, sees them move towards their ultimate aim, Exciting/Visionary, with the release of the LC500 and we were invited to the South Island to find out all about it.

The launch was set within a stone’s throw of the epic snow capped Southern Alps, not a bad place to start. Queenstown is one of NZ’s most exciting cities, year round it offers adventure and thrills, with activities designed to get the pulse racing – And this is where we got our first glimpse of the LC500, on the grounds of the gloriously luxurious Millbrook estate. We spent a considerable amount of time pawing over the exterior (no keys until the next morning), admiring its tapered body styling and flared rear wheel arches, it’s every bit the sportscar – First impressions were good, but our experience had just begun. Dinner was held at one of NZ’s best restaurants Saffron in historic Arrowtown, Pete Gawron’s team served up a storm of irresistible contemporary delights, then it was back to our respective villa’s for some very posh shut eye and dreams of things to come.

The next morning it was a frosty start, literally. A thick blanket of white covered both grounds and the cars – but rather than this causing concern, this just added to the excitement. After all, things would undoubtedly warm up when we got behind the wheel.

Lexus had given us both models (Hybrid and V8) to get better acquainted with – but predictably; I chose the naturally aspirated brute to kick things off. The route they’d planned took us up over the glorious Crown ranges, passing by Wanaka and on to our final destination – Highlands Motorsport Park – this was going to be a fun day.

The roads were coated in winter grit making the V8 waggle its tail like a happy puppy every time you pushed down hard on the accelerator, but in a truly smile inducing way, it’s very manageable. Four stops for Driver and car changes ensured that I got to pilot and passenger both vehicles but there was plenty more drive time to come.

Having sampled the LC500 on the open road we arrived at Highlands to get the Top Trump info. The presentation was all big screens and engaging videos. Lexus stated their case for the need to move into the ‘exciting/visionary’ category well, as they put it, ‘the definition of luxury is changing and Lexus are changing with it’. No more is it all about the acquisition of products or brand name bragging rights, we (people in general) are looking for more depth, more of a back story, more of an involving brand interaction before purchase – hence the introduction of their new tagline ‘Experience Amazing’.

From the Omotenashi (to entertain guests wholeheartedly) of their showrooms, to the Takumi Craftsmanship in the preparation of the cars themselves, from their bold new design language to the imaginative technology that underpins it all – Lexus want you to be wowed and more importantly, to experience what they have to offer. Which set the tone for their new supercar.

The LC500 comes to us from the same factory that produced the LFA and it shows. It’s a luxury coupe with GT proportions. Stunning design with Supercar stats (and of course heritage). From the seductive grille (that took over 6 months to design) to its muscular haunches it’s ready and waiting to take you where you want to go – quickly. But with a 200L boot, you can pack enough to spend a while when you get there – wherever ‘there’ is.

3 LED projector headlamps eliminate the need for cumbersome pop up headlights (although I am a fan of these) and the LC500 comes with multi-reflection effect tail lamps (that have an infinity look). Then comes the Pop out (ahhh) door handles, 21” forged alloy wheels and a very tactile ultra modern and connected interior, draped in leather, Alcantara, and satin metal. It has an integrated 10.3” crystal clear screen that connects you to all the technology that Lexus is renowned for including the 900watt Mark Levinson stereo system.

While on the subject of power; let’s talk performance. The Hybrid 3.5L V6 produces a very satisfying 264kW/348Nm while the gruff and sporty naturally aspirated V8 booms out a whopping 351kW/540Nm (I guess you can pick powertrain I prefer). Both have 10 ‘gears’ at their disposal (the hybrid is a very clever set up) And there is no doubt that the Aerodynamics work (from the front skirt, underbody, and vents behind the doors), as the GoPro I slapped on the rear end had virtually zero wind noise on playback – just the sweet V8 note coming from the twin exhausts. With 6 piston calipers on the front and four on the back, it scrubs off the speed with mind warping urgency.

With chat time over, we headed down to the complex course that is Highlands, I have been driven around the track before and with its 28 different combinations, let’s just say I was happy to have a guide beside me. First up was the hybrids, apparently to allow us to get track familiar (I guess that meant slow and steady – yeah right). Right foot down had the V6/electric combo revving high immediately. We headed straight towards a fast chicane followed by a very long right hander, the LC500 took both with incredible poise. With the racing driver yelling ‘brake’ and ‘turn in’ instructions (I didn’t need to be told to accelerate), we took the hybrid sportscar on a thrilling 3 lap drive. It was good, great in fact but somehow felt like a prelude to the main event – the nasty snarling V8 (that I wanted to hug afterward). Take all of what you have just read, multiply it by 2 and smother it in attitude, then you’ll begin to get an understanding of my mindset. From the get go my attachment was more visceral, the storm of sound that comes from all around the cabin when you let all 8 pots loose is hardly what you’d call gregarious but in saying that, it’s like discovering that the loud and bolshie guy that just entered the room, actually has something important to say – and boy did I want to listen. In short though, despite it being the same track with the same navigator the V8 was a much more intense ride with far more smiles at the end. 

Finally, it was time to burn rubber – quite literally. The hot lap (with a driver of marginally superior skills to me) included aggressive acceleration, precision turns, braking late, oh and letting the LC500 billow plumes of white smoke from its rear tyres as it intentionally oversteered around the corners, leaving plenty of licorice marks on the track (did someone say RJ’s?). It would appear that my guide did know what he was talking about after all.

The entire LC500 launch was educational and involving. Lexus let us sample the GT on spectacular South Island roads and allowed us to try out its performance credentials on the track – it was hard not to grow attached. Then again I guess Lexus already knew that, as not only did our take away press kit include the usual USB stick with specs and images but they also took the trouble to slip in a Poster of the supercar – genius. However, despite the bonding experience I had with the car; the wife still wouldn’t let me put it on our bedroom wall, claiming family pics are more important (spoilsport). But when I get the keys again in a few weeks time and take my son for a spin, I have no doubt he will be reaching for the sticky tape – and so the cycle will begin again.

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