2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible Review
It's magnificent, yes. What else did you expect?
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman.
It's rare to be wowed by something so genetically mundane as a Lexus. However, I remember seeing the Lexus LF-LC concept for the first time all those 8 years ago at the Pebble Beach Concours D'elegance and being confoundedly wowed. Besides the hyper-expensive LFA supercar, Lexus wasn't supposed to make cars this exciting. When the LC 500 (LC means luxury coupe) finally came to fruition several years later with essentially the exact same styling as that striking concept, I was beyond excited. I honestly didn't think Lexus had the cajones to build it, yet fast forward to this strange year and we now have a convertible variant. And I'd be lying if I said this wasn't my most looked-forward to car of 2020.
Is it brilliant and yes, magnificent? Rhetorical question. I mean, just look at it. With the roof chopped off, this has every bit of presence and visual tension as any $300,000 Bentley or Ferrari front-engined convertible. It's hard to explain why the LC looks so good in my eyes. If you isolate certain elements, it has an almost 'suggestion box' quality; a mish-mash of different ideas. But on the whole, it looks harmonious and the business. The oversized Predator grille works even. My favorite aspect is the hugely accented and satisfying rear wheel arch. Shakira was right because the hips don't lie. Pop the fabric roof up and it doesn't suffer from awkward convertible roofs like others fall victim to. Think first-generation Porsche Boxster; that's an awkward roof. By the way, that paint is called Infrared. As a statement piece, the Lexus garnered many admiring stares on every trip.
The looks aren't the reason I'm excited for a convertible version of something like the LC 500, though. Rather, it's the Targaryan dragon-like atmospheric V8 under the hood. Containing 5-liters of could instead be described as magma, this masterpiece bequeaths any form of turbocharging for good 'ole RPMs and displacement. What's that have to do with a convertible you might ask? Easy; With the roof tucked neatly in its trunk, every time you stamp on the throttle you might as well be leading the Duke of Wellington's cavalry into the Battle of Waterloo. Actually, it's more akin to a battery of howitzers. With that canvas top hidden, you don't just hear this thunderous attack as much as you're part of it; It's the difference of being in the bleachers verse on stage.
It's also incredibly addictive. My first two days of driving only netted an average consumption of 12 MPG. Trust me when I say you would be tempted to drive in the same manner. This is easily one of the best aural performances of any stock, production vehicle you can buy right now at any price. It also serves a not so subtle reminder of why the V8 is such a beloved configuration, but don't think for a second it sounds like an old lazy muscle car. Combined with such a charismatic engine and marksman-esque up and downshifts with an obligatory .50 cal crack near the redline, this is the theatre that makes petrolheads go weak in the knees.
More on that motor: it makes a herd of 471 horses at 7,100 RPM along with 398 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 RPM. Free of restraint, the V8 revs cleanly and with eagerness all the way to over 7,000 angry RPM. While flexible at all RPMs, the intensity really starts to build over 3,500 RPM, when the exhaust opens up and the intake honk begins its Hans Zimmer-like crescendo. The transmission is a responsively quick 10-speed automatic; no need for a dual-clutch 'box here. What's better is how hard this engine pulls all the way to the rev limiter, meaning you can work this engine hard and use all of it.
The benchmark 0-60 MPH took 4.8 seconds and 50-70 2 seconds flat. On paper there are much faster cars for sale; A new base Porsche 911 will walk away from it. But, it never feels slow because it's anything except that. Just watch the speedo and you'll be amazed how quickly the speed builds. Once you have the engine ramped up to max attack, you're never left wanting for more power - just the next gear. While turbocharging would give more pace, the character and sounds are undeniable and now makes for a unique engine in this segment. The hybrid LC 500 is good, too, but it ain't this.
During my tenure with the Lexus, I was (somehow) blessed with never ending November blue skies and sun, so of course the roof was removed for about 85% of my driving. 45 degrees morning? Who cares! With the windows up and the heated seats, heated steering wheel, the neck warmers, and the normal heat on, I would begin to sweat even. I kid you not, this convertible on the freeway and with windows up has less wind noise than most other coupes or cars of any kind. I don't understand the aerodynamic trickery here, yet the isolation from wind noise is astonishing not to mention the heating abilities to help you survive winter. Sure, if you want your hair to blow around like Fabbio, just lower the windows.
I took the LC 500 on one of my favorite roads called Wentworth Springs. It snakes up along at elevation from small Georgetown all the way in the thick of the Tahoe National Forest near the eponymous great lake. My friend decided to come along in his modified Porsche 911 Carrera S, one of the 997 variety. With the sun out and those heating amenities on duty to combat the 50 degree Thanksgiving air, the thrills of open-top motoring cannot be second-guessed. Add to that the open, beautiful environment around you, immersing yourself in the deep blue sky above and the tunnels of trees, a convertible just makes sense right here right now. Why would you ever cover up the world around you? Wes Bentley's character in American Beauty says at one point, "There's so much beauty in the world." From this vantage point, it's easy to concur with this sensory overload.
Apart from mountain cruising, the Lexus belies its dimensions to delivery a scintillating driving experience through the bends, too. It's a large car, 187 inches long and 75 inches wide, (without the mirrors) and one that hits the scales at over 4,500 pounds at the curb. Yet somehow, the steering is wonderfully direct and intuitive in response and weighting despite a lack of feel. The wheel itself is magical to grasp and with purposeful and positive paddle shifters at fingertips' reach. Tuck the nose into a corner and the mass of the Lexus seems to disappear with a front that goes for an apex like white on rice (though I think some Lexus owners like their whole foods quinoa, too). There's a bit of roll, but that's only because this is a luxury GT car meant to also provide excellent ride quality (which it does). Plus, the roll feels only natural. It shouldn't have this much grip and willingness to turn, but it's there.
Up the pace and you can start to feel the front scrub into mild, but controllable understeer. The Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP run-flats had enough grip, but it would nice to experience the Lexus with new Pilot 4S tires. Once you find that dichotomy in its front balance, you learn to live right on the edge of the understeer where you're able to exploit and exercise the impressive rear end grip and Torsen limited slip differential to rifle you out of corners. I never did find it to be an oversteer monster in this drive, but it can be if heavily provoked with your right foot. A favorite wide, hairpin was the perfect place to test this, and it resulted in a beautiful and graceful powerslide accompanied with the V8s artillery fire.
Brakes provided firm and consistent pedal feel with prodigious stopping power from the 15.7" steel front rotors. They never faltered on the tighter, consecutive corners of Wentworth Springs. These sections had a process similar to this: Full-throttle, crack the whip into the next gear, ease firmly onto the brakes, trail-brake slightly as you turn in to control the weight and feel it load and unload the suspension, get the nose settled and pointed in the right direction, and then start squeezing the power on and on to the exit and repeat. It's easy to repeat and terrific fun.
Now, this is a convertible, which means that by removing the roof you are sacrificing rigidity. Can you feel it in this driving? Barely. Only in the most technical sections was my friend able to slightly eek away in his track-ready 911 (that also weighs literally 1,500 pounds less). Over harder bumps, you do get a faint of shudder through the chassis as a result of flex, and the ride might be marginally worse than the coupe (convertibles typically have stiffer suspension to compensate the loss of the roof and weight gain), but it's hardly noticeable, not when you're having this much fun. It's an achievement to deliver such a relaxed ride quality while retaining such great cornering composure still.
I haven't even begun to talk about the interior yet. Like the prior hybrid coupe I tried, this is a cabin space made to dazzle, and boy do I mean dazzle. Sure, it might cost over $100,000, but this could be the interior of a car costing 3 times that. That's how good this interior is. The leather could be from Buckingham Palace for all I know and the seats have endless support yet afford the same relaxation of your favorite La-Z-Boy recliner. The entire interior seems as if it was crafted together by the best surgeon in Beverly Hills; nipped and tucked to perfection, except none of this is fake. Oh and the driving position is the pinnacle of perfect. I do recommend the rather expensive touring pack $5,290, which gives the bassy Mark Levinson stereo, heated steering wheel, and neck warmers. Mainly, you'll want it for the additional cozy warmth in the cold months.
There are some detractors inside, however. The infotainment system to control the radio and climate, like most modern Lexuses, is awful. The use of an indirect mousepad can cause severe distraction in the quest (struggle) to change anything. I'm surprised there hasn't been a class-action against Lexus yet... But get your presets and let the troubles fade away, at least until you have to gingerly adjust the neck warmers on and off again. On rough freeway and with the roof in place, there were some rattles and noises that were not present in the coupe, though this should not be alarming as it expected in a convertible. What is shocking is how well the fabric does to isolate you from noise. Yeah, it's easily the quietest convertible I've ever been in from road and wind noise.
The next on the negative list are the rear seats. More like what rear seats? as they might as well not exist. My 6 foot tall friend somehow managed to Houdini his way back there and the result was laughable. The front passenger had to move their seat so far up as to lose their own legroom, but the worst was that with the roof down, his eyes were above the windshield. So, hopefully you like bugs and possible stones tossed up at you. With the roof folded away, he had to bend his neck and hunch in an awkward and painful manner. So yeah, don't sit back there. Oh, the trunk is too small, too, so pack light for Santa Ynez.
On that same gentle freeway cruise to wine country and the tasting rooms, you'll be delighted to know the Lexus won't binge away your gasoline quite as quickly. With the aid of the transmission's 10 gears, the LC yielded 30 MPG at 70 MPH. Yes, it'll border on single digits when you're having fun, but wafting around at speed returns impressive efficiency with the tall 10th gear. In normal driving, really trying to drive normal (and that isn't easy in this), I did see 22 MPG at least.
The Lexus LC 500 Convertible is a special vehicle. It's also a car that makes you special. Strike that, it makes you radiate with vibrancy; I was positively beaming after every drive and run through the gears. With the roof down, it exemplifies an already exemplary car by opening and exaggerating a new worldly sense above and around you. One hundred and change might sound like a lot, but for what this car can do and the quality infused throughout, it's actually a bargain.
2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible
Road Beat Rating: 5/5
As-tested Price: $113,320
Pros: That engine, the theatre, just look at it
Cons: Erm, outdated radio controls
Verdict: A near-perfect luxury GT car, and a rightful worthy Lexus Flagship