Here’s a question for you. If you wanted to buy a sports car, in which direction would you look? Chances are that it would be towards Europe, where companies like Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, McLaren and many others have been reeling off iconic models for decades, cars that have come to define the very nature of performance-oriented motoring. Some among you may look further west towards the USA, which has been home to some legendary models as well. Not many, however, will turn their attention eastward to Japan, a country whose automobile industry has become synonymous with words like reliability, efficiency, and value for money, and not so much with thrill-a-minute, adrenaline-pumping car.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll discover that some of the greatest sports cars of *all time* have come from Japan. Petrolheads will find names like the Honda NSX, the Nissan GT-R, the Mazda Miata, the Datsun 250 Z, the Toyota Supra and the Mitsubishi 3000 GTO rolling easily off their tongues – every one of these cars has delighted and astounded the automotive world in its own way. With a legacy like this, it’s little wonder that Lexus too has dipped its toes into the world of sports cars, with the LC500h being the latest addition to its range of this kind of model that hasn’t (if Lexus were to be honest) exactly set the world afire (other than the insane, limited-run LFA, which was essentially a Formula 1 car trying to pass off as a road-legal model). The ‘h’ in the name indicates the fact that this is a V6-based hybrid; the ‘regular’ LC500 is not, and comes with a V8 engine, but only the hybrid version is coming to India
I’ll tell you what – if you want a sports car that looks like nothing else on the road, you may want to consider this one. Most Lexus models have fairly ‘safe’ design attributes, aimed as they are at the upper end of the executive car segment, but with the LC (‘luxury coupe’), the design team was clearly told to let down its hair, show up in Friday casuals and have a bit of a party. In profile, it has a beautiful, flowing shape from front to rear; viewed head-on, there’s a sense of dynamism and aggression, accentuated by its wider tread at the rear, its flared fenders, and the pulled-in doors. The huge grille — which is a bit of a polarising element on other Lexus models — actually works well here, giving the LC a sense of real character and purpose. The car is full of slashes and creases — the headlights, tail lights, exhaust tips, boot lid et al — which combine cohesively with its swooping, coupe lines. I’m pretty certain that some will dismiss the LC as doing too much visually, but I am not in that camp — its futuristic, almost video game-like, and it works. Oh, and it has one of the best-painted bodies you’ll ever see on a car.
In a car at this level, you want to be damn sure that you’re getting an interior that lives up to the external design, and Lexus delivers here too. The company prides itself on its ‘takumi’ craftsmanship — where its craftspersons and inspectors have decades of training at their particular skills — and the cabin shows this. It looks stunning, to begin with, kitted out in fine beige leather and metal. Like a good sports coupe should do, the cabin makes you feel like you’re sitting in an aircraft cockpit, and the interior lines flow from the front to the rear; it’s a snug place, but never cramped, and properly luxurious, with the ergonomics spot on. As the driver, all the essential controls are placed so that you can operate them without taking your eyes off the road; as the passenger, ‘panic’ handles are placed just so, to grab and hold for those moments when the driver decides to unexpectedly floor the throttle.
What happens when the driver does this? If you’re expecting a brute-force launch, with plumes of tyre smoke, the rear fishtailing and invectives being spewed, you’re in the wrong car. Rather, the LC keeps the drama to a minimum and opts for the no-nonsense approach – get off the line cleanly and then keep going. I have to admit that I prefer my sports cars to shout a little louder and display more than a hint of bar-room brawler, but this vehicle is aimed at a different sort of buyer, one that wants dollops of refinement, quality and style combined with performance that is useable rather than terrifying. The engine is baby’s backside smooth, with a hint of a growl at higher revs, and it’s certainly no laggard – 354 bhp and 348 Nm of torque mean that you always have reserves of motive force, which is delivered in a sophisticated way by the 10-speed automatic gearbox. I drove the car in Japan, where they’re *very* particular about following the rules, so I couldn’t push the car as much as I would have liked, but with a top speed of 248 kph, you won’t be short of bragging rights.
Again, because of my somewhat limited time with the car and the fact that I couldn’t indulge my inner hooligan with it, its true handling abilities remained unexplored. I could tell, though, that the engineers at Lexus hadn’t spared any effort towards making it agile enough to keep things interesting, and comfortable enough to assure the driver that they weren’t wrestling a pissed off leopard that could, at any moment, detach their arm. The LC is the kind of sports car that pretty much anyone can drive, and though that may run counter to the purist’s view that a true sports car needs a true driver, the fact remains that not everyone wants to buy a car that will instantly raise their heart rate to 120 BPM and keep it there indefinitely. The ride quality is in the same vein – plush enough to keep your teeth happy, and firm enough to qualify as a sports model
The LC500h is thus a fairly unique proposition in the world of sports and performance cars. It looks stunning, and is futuristic enough to make you think that it will leave you gasping for air, but it’s in fact a friendly, eminently drivable car that you can easily take to work and back every day, even in a city like Mumbai; whether that qualifies it as a true sports car depends on what grade of petrol runs through your veins. When it comes to India next year at an estimated price of Rs 1.5 crore (ex-showroom), it will be at a price disadvantage with cars like the Porsche 718 Cayman, the Jaguar F-Type Coupe and the Ford Mustang, but if you spring for it, you will stand out from the crowd, even in that rarified playground.
AT A GLANCE
3.5-litre V6-based hybrid
Rs 1.5 crore estimated
12-speaker audio, 10.3-inch touchscreen, trackpad, dynamic voice control, sports seats