Rob Taylor grabs an early drive in the last word in luxury from Lexus Wolverhampton, the brand-new LC.
I arrive loaded with anticipation and acutely aware of what a privilege it is to be afforded the chance to drive the new Lexus LC. I’m also struck by my strong perceptions of the luxury brand – that is to say that I presume to know Lexus already. Throughout my day it becomes abundantly clear that I don’t and, moreover, that Britain’s car-buying public don’t either.
New Sales Manager Sacha Noble touches upon this shortly after I am received into the flagship dealership on Bilston Road. He’s interested to see how I perceive the Lexus brand, how this dealer experience matches my expectations. I tell him that Lexus is parent company Toyota’s luxury arm, a big player in the U.S market; it is synonymous with Hybrid technology and CVT transmissions in the UK; it traditionally provides strong residual values for customers, and that since the early 1990s the company has built a formidable reputation for vehicle reliability. And that already I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome from his friendly team of staff and by the overall relaxing feel of the showroom, which is entirely at odds with many other premium car retailers – I even jest that their ethos is as cold as the steel edifice in which they work. But Sacha’s shop isn’t like that – he’ll even allow fans to come into his showroom to take photos of the cars.
Lexus Wolverhampton is nothing like the norm. Sacha himself is a genuine car enthusiast with a background in luxury and performance car sales; a wellspring of knowledge. I learn all sorts of stuff – how Lexus employs master craftsman – in Japanese they are the ‘Takumi’ – to hand finish its cars (which seems entirely against Toyota’s ethos of automated production); how rare the LC will be in the UK (they’ll be around 300) and how to quickly identify a hybrid LC from its V8 twin (look at the colour of the Lexus badge upfront).
We both agree that there should be a lot more Lexus vehicles on UK roads, but changing perceptions can be tough. Often inherited and absorbed subconsciously, our attitudes and opinions are usually written upon us against our will. Marketing is, of course, key to this. To paraphrase William Burroughs, the merchant of premium cars doesn’t sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. In a nutshell Mercedes Benz, Audi et al shout loudest. But things are changing – and about time too.
I’ve long held the belief that Lexus offers consumers an untapped gold mine of riches. And the LC shows off said riches better than anything else from the stable. Brimming with cutting-edge tech (it’s the first Lexus to use a Lithium-ion battery) and stuffed to the gunwales with style and elegance, this is the halo model to end all others. It is the summation of exactly where Lexus is right now, pointing to where it’s going next.
Stunning to behold from every vantage point, the angular styling drips luxury from every exquisitely finished panel. It uses lightweight aluminium for the bonnet, wings and doors and you can spec a carbon fibre roof. With a petrol-electric Hybrid engine (of course!) that has a 295 bhp V6 at its heart, this Grand Tourer provides a user-friendly total output of 354 bhp. It comes in various guises – Luxury, Sport etc – but the version I have here is Sport+. This is the pick of the litter, especially for fans still pining after the mythical LFA (watch closely how the digital dials dance for shades of the long-dead V10 colossus). This variant adds a limited slip differential, rear-wheel steering and active aerodynamics (read: pop-up spoiler): so far, so sporty, however, this is no Nissan GT-R. Yes, it’s full of technology but it’s not a weapons-grade Nurburgring-attack vehicle. The LC is a refined cruiser, built to monster miles in supreme comfort (it is Librarian-quiet at high speed), not blitz time-trials.
There are many different driving modes, one for every mood in fact. You can interrupt the automatic transmission by poking paddles, but you won’t want to. In fact despite being more than capable of handling a twisty B-road, the LC is in its element in loping A-road conditions: it gifts to its passengers Sybaritic levels of comfort – from infinitely adjustable seats clad in sumptuous Alacantara fabric and copious living space to a high-end analogue clock and an optional Mark Levinson sound system with 12.3” Multimedia screen (£1,000). Interior craftsmanship is peerless and enough to leave many other premium brands red-faced, especially given the relatively keen pricing: this range-topping LC costs £85,895, and unlike its rivals Lexus gives you almost everything as-standard, so don’t expect optional extras to push prices through the roof.
A keen performer in the city with the electric motor chipping in, it is especially swift from standstill – covering 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds. It feels wieldy and useable too, never too low or large for tight gaps or gnarly parking spots. Watching the optional Full Colour Head-up Display (£995) project onto the onrushing tarmac is never tedious. And neither is the much-maligned CVT transmission: now thoroughly sorted for performance and featuring a 10-speed set-up, it is an incredibly adept performer that allows the beefy V6 full room to breathe, providing a thrilling soundtrack.
Japan has a history of sticking it to the big motoring manufacturers: Mazda’s MX-5 showed MG how to build a roadster; Honda’s NSX taught Ferrari a thing or two and now there’s the LC. From what I’ve seen, you can forget about BMW and Audi, this Lexus is good enough to scare even Aston Martin.
Lexus Wolverhampton, Bilston Road, Wolverhampton WV2 2QE. Tel: 01902 690042