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First drive: Lexus LC 500H

What is it?

THE LC is a large luxury coupe designed to be the new flagship of the Lexus range but it’s difficult to pinpoint a direct rival. To the Japanese car manufacturer’s credit, it has forged its own path with the development of this car to make something fairly unique.

Lexus considers the likes of the Porsche 911 and BMW 6-Series as attracting similar types of customers but in the words of chief engineer Koji Sato, ‘we focused on emotional value rather than specs’, so direct comparisons can be tricky — to the LC’s benefit, I hasten to add.

What’s new?

Apart from the two engine options, most of the major talking points of the LC are totally new. For a start, the chassis it’s built on gets its first outing and will also underpin the LS luxury saloon, while the suspension system took six months to perfect.

However, the big story is the multi-stage hybrid transmission, which uses a mix of traditional automatic technology and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) commonly used in hybrid vehicles. The idea is that you get the flexibility of an eco-friendly CVT and the performance-orientated capabilities of an old school auto in one 10-speed transmission — but the reality is that it’s easily flummoxed and takes a lot of getting used to.

What’s under the bonnet?

Lift the long, sculpted bonnet and there’s a 3.5-litre petrol V6 nestled in the engine bay. It’s mated to a lithium-ion battery, which together provide an output of 472bhp. What’s more impressive for a car of this size is that it’ll return a claimed 44mpg — in spirited driving on high-speed German autobahns and Austrian mountain passes we managed a respectable 25mpg, so with more relaxed driving, mid-30s should be manageable.

There’s also a 471bhp 5.0-litre V8 version available, which uses much more fuel but makes a fantastic noise and is a delight to rev out.

What’s it like to drive?

On the open road, the LC 500h is a sublime cruiser. With exceptionally comfortable seats and a ride that makes even rough roads feel silky smooth, there are few cars that can do long-distance schleps in such a relaxing manner.

However, what’s just as impressive is how it handles a winding back road. For a circa-two-tonne car to be quite so fleet-footed is marvellous. Naturally, with a car of this size it responds better when you find a smooth rhythm rather than chuck it into corners but it settles into direction changes with admirable aplomb.

How does it look?

When it comes to styling, there’s no debate to be had — the LC 500 is stunning. When Lexus revealed the LF-LC concept back in 2012 no one in their right mind suspected the production version would look that good but it truly does.

There are extravagant details throughout, from the daytime running lights that could have been carved by the hand of Zorro, to the muscular rear arches that dominate the view from your wing mirrors. This car is an event and turns heads wherever it goes.

What’s it like inside?

Lexus interiors can be a bit hit and miss. Often looking a bit like a 1980s vision of the future, the bold styling doesn’t always work. However, this time the nail has been hit squarely on the head. The seats are ludicrously comfortable, the seating position is perfect and the design is quirky enough to be interesting without feeling try-hard.

It’s not perfect, though. At six-feet-tall I couldn’t sit in the rear seats without leaning my head to one side, while the infotainment trackpad continues to grate. Meanwhile, the drive mode selector sits atop the instrument binnacle and requires a stretch to use.

What’s the spec like?

There are three trim levels available — Luxury, Sport and Sport+. Interestingly, Lexus has made the pricing identical, whether you opt for the V8 or hybrid powertrain, because it wants customers to buy the one they want not the one they can afford.

Luxury-spec cars, which start at £76,595, get a suite of safety technologies as standard, premium-feeling leather upholstery and a 10.25-inch display with in-built navigation. The Sport package costs £5,000 extra and adds 21-inch alloy wheels, extremely comfortable Alcantara upholstery and a carbon-fibre roof. Opt for the top-spec Sport+ package from £85,895 and you get upgraded handling kit and rear-steer technology for sharper cornering.

Verdict

It’s easy to fall quickly in love with the Lexus LC 500h. Those looking for a sportier drive would be better-suited going for the V8 because the hybrid’s transmission and engine note get in the way of enjoyment.

However, as a luxury GT car the LC is exceptional. It’s comfortable, composed and — with the hybrid at least — running it won’t leave your wallet empty.

Facts at a glance

Model as tested: Lexus LC 500h Sport
Price: £80,595
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol and electric motor
Power: 472bhp
Torque: 648Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
MPG: 43.5
Emissions: 148g/km