The Lexus LC 500, armed with a firestorm V8, is terrific, but is there reason to buy one new?
2023 Lexus LC 500 V8 review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
I love the V8-equipped Lexus LC 500. Worth of cherish, lust, and adoration, this is a monumentally fabulous car and achievement by Lexus. Yet, for how much I love it, the car is simply too old to recommend buying brand new. Reason for this sentiment is the hard fact that the LC 500 has been on sale now, basically unchanged, for over seven years. For that matter alone, and given the archaic electronics inside, you can easily still buy the exact same car for tens of thousands less with some miles already on it and hope it stands up to Lexus' renowned, lasting quality and reliability. A bit of dinosaur in 2023, this is a super-GT that knows which heartstrings to tug.
Often, I start with the positives and then work to the negatives, but I want to get the detractors out of the way first as to not dwell on the inconveniences that sadly do plague this magnificent creation. Really, though, there's just one glaring aspect that affects the entire user interface and experience: the electronics. It's no secret that I have despised the infotainment/center display systems in Lexus vehicles (and I'm far, far from alone), and the LC 500, despite the sensational outward and inward appearance, has the most unusable and badly designed interface in a car today. Utilizing a finicky mousepad for control that lacks accuracy, this stupid system requires way more concentration than should be given during driving; It frankly sucks.
Sorry for the informality, but it's so cumbersome in use that it's appalling it was ever released to the public, let alone make it out of the beta stage. Good luck trying to adjust your climate or heated seats while driving without a Jedi-level of connection through the Force. Shoot, to turn off air conditioning, you even have to dig through the menus because that all-important item was left off from the physical climate keys below for whatever dumb reason. Instead, you get an off button for the climate, because the up or down arrows to increase and decrease the fan speed can't actually be adjusted to zero.
As with all Lexus, there are beeps and bongs galore, too, so be extra mindful of enduring that aural ambush on the daily. I further dislike that you have to be stopped to completely disable traction control in what is an inherently sporting car. Speaking of being a sporting car, and this might seem far-fetched, but the LC 500 isn't that fast. I'd say "isn't that fast anymore," but it was never that quick to begin with. These days, a Mustang GT or Camaro SS will deliver a TKO to you at the traffic lights while any direct rival, like a base Porsche 911 or a BMW M850i, will leave you absolutely scatter-brained and disappointed in your new purchase despite the thunderous noise. For those concerned about numbers rather than experiences, the 467 horsepower V8 does motivate the LC 500 from 0-60 MPH in 4.2 seconds. It is fast, but it just isn't that fast in the face of ever-improving competitors. Oh, and the trunk ought to be larger.
Annoying drivel and realities aside, I am completely still head over heels for a V8-powered LC 500. I mean, just look at it - it's sensational, like it's traveling a million miles an hour standing still. Taking cues from the LFA supercar, the LC still looks like an all-star runway model nearly a full decade after the original show-stopping concept was released. And then there's a cabin that is crafted to such a high level of quality, with the most supple leather and Cartier-grade metals this side of $200,000. I've sat in an Aston Martin DB11 before, and in terms of pure luxury and craftsmanship, the Lexus gives up almost nothing to the Aston. In other words, you could stick a Bentley badge on the steering wheel, you nobody would second guess it. Additionally, beyond the shear caliber of richness, there are endearing swoops and curves that envelope the doors and occupants in dramatic, baroque fashion. In fact, if Bernini himself was said to have sculpted this exquisite shape (or at least have inspired it), I wouldn't bat an eye.
So, it looks expensive inside and out - far beyond the asking price - nearly making it seem like a bargain in that case. However, once fired up, it's the engine that dominates the driving experience. Yes, I said the car isn't that fast, but does it really matter when it has this much character? Neglecting modern turbocharging, this five-liter beauty revs to over 7,000 RPM and sounds like a constant barrage of artillery fire as it bangs through the gears with quick succession. You know when the Rohirrim charges at the Pelennor Fields? I reckon it must've sounded a bit like this. At least the orcs heard a good noise at their end.
Response is impressive, too, acting instantaneously to your right foot's inputs with one of the sport driving modes selected, and there is a smoothness, too, with no abrupt fueling issues nor a transmission lost-in-translation. This 10-speed is exceptionally good for a torque-converter unit, behaving far more civilized, yet also miles snappier than the eight-speed auto in lesser Lexus models, like the GS F or RC F for example. And you know what? It's slow compared to rivals, but it's hardly a slow car, with each journey through the first few gears exuding an exuberance and level of joy because of this charming character that few others can match.
Handling isn't razor-sharp in terms of outright ability, but the LC 500 still behaves wondrously given its luxurious, grand touring mission and over-4,000 curb weight. As long as you don't expect a Lotus Elise, because it isn't one, then the LC 500 is a mighty instrument capable of subverting expectations. The steering is always alert, yet never darty in any drive mode, and possesses naturally neutral weighting that builds with confidence as steering effort increases. There are a few degrees of body roll when pushing, owing to the porky scale reading and soft suspension, but it's never out of control, making for tidy transitions. When the car does lean, that increases assurance and confidence, too, as the driver can feel the car and what it's doing below and around them. Understeer will win out when the tires have been overworked, but it's really hard to get that point and a real chore to make happen on public roads. Note: this is not a track car, yet I have no doubt it will still perform admirably in its abilities. With some track experience, one can easily upset many new unassuming, casual Porsche owners.
One of my favorite roads, a local gem for car and motorcycle enthusiasts alike called Salmon Falls, was a perfect setting to wring the LC 500 a little. Driven at 8/10ths, the big Lexus is in its sweet spot, not yet overwhelming its tires and able to carry hellacious pace, all with a massive grin on your face as you go up and down the gears. For a luxury grand touring machine, the involvement available is what transcends this car beyond the expectations of being just a sloppy happy cruiser. This test vehicle came equipped with the $10,000 Dynamic Handling Package, and though pricey, the rear wheel steering that's included does noticeably increase agility, most prevalent at lower speeds where it pivots around you, and the Torsen limited-slip differential does a wonderful job putting power down with little fuss. Even with the traction control still enabled on Salmon Falls, power was rarely cut as the rear end was able to distribute energy efficiently to the right places for surprising traction. Some traction controls can be total killjoys, but the traction hardly intervened as it didn't have to. You know a diff and chassis are mechanically working well together when the traction control hardly interferes with a 5-liter V8.
Perhaps the most impressive trait, considering the performance and fun that are available when asked, the LC 500 is one of the most comfortable and quietest cars I've driven. The ride quality is surreal, seemingly gliding over bumps like Aladdin's carpet, and when cruising over 70 MPH on the freeway, you can carry conversations in whispers. It's a so soothing and relaxing experience as the leather chairs wrap around you like a tailored suit. You don't sit in the seats as much as you wear them. And because there are 10 gears, the V8 spins just 1,500 RPM on the highway, barely above idle, and will return close to 30 MPG on these long distances.
Which brings us back to that possibly alarming opening statement and sentiment. Despite its best efforts to thwart my love via the horrible electronics inside, my love for the LC 500 remains undiminished and reaffirms how much more enjoyable and impressive the 'standard' V8 model is instead of the underpowered V6 hybrid model. Problem is, the car has been out for six years and is more or less unchanged. It's still good value at $100K because of how luxurious it is, but because there's no advancements in the model, I'm not sure it's worth still buying new. Lexus has a new infotainment system in other models that is a massive upgrade, except it's mysteriously absent here thus far. Buy a lightly used one (or a CPO even) and you can save tens of thousands of dollars in what then becomes the luxurious GT bargain of the century. You can also wait for the expected updated model soon. Or, say sod it, and buy one brand new and be happy and enjoy your life. I know my life seemed better with an LC 500 in it...
2023 Lexus LC 500
As-tested price: $106,885
Pros: Gorgeous inside and out; Character-rich V8; many, many other things
Cons: Far outdated electronics; rivals are faster