LC500: Lexus coupe chasing Kiwi honours

They’re calling it the ‘lighthouse model for a new Lexus’ – and it’s set to shine on the Kiwi market in just over a year, perhaps making a racing start.


LAST summer it was the incredible LF-A, next weekend it’ll be the turn of the GS-F – and maybe, this time next year, the exciting Lexus sports coupe just revealed in Detroit might be the next to make its New Zealand market debut with an on-circuit role.

Lexus New Zealand has confirmed the LC500, a provocative V8 two-plus-two powered by a thundering 351kW 5.0-litre described by its maker as the “strongest ever statement of our brand direction”, will be on sale here from as early as April 2017.

However, Kiwis might yet achieve an earlier sneak preview of the model’s spectacular shape and sizzle.

Spencer Morris, product general manager, agrees there might be potential of securing a pilot built example out of Japan to run as a track ambassador for the annual motor-racing series activity that Toyota New Zealand supports.

Lexus New Zealand has established an active role in association with Toyota Racing Series, a quickfire single-seater international competition contested every January and February and culminating with the New Zealand Grand Prix at its home circuit, Manfeild in the Manawatu.

Last year Lexus NZ delivered a $750,000 V10 LFA for hot lap demonstration. It will also debut the new $174,900 GS-F, with the same quad-cam V8 as the LC500, in the same role when the 2016 series kicks off in Christchurch this weekend.

Morris agrees the ‘summer of performance’ promotion is an excellent way of showing off the Lexus brand and doesn’t dismiss the 4760mm long and 1920mm wide LC500 would make powerful impact in that role.

“The halo effect a car like this has is huge. We’re certainly very excited by it – it’s a pretty mouth-watering prospect for our Lexus lineup.

“With those kind of looks, too, it’s going to attract a lot of attention.”

Could the LC500 be available to fulfil the on-track role?

“It would depend if we could get one .. I think production doesn’t start early enough but, if we could get our hands on one for that kind of promotion then, by all means, it would be great.”

Whenever it arrives, the LC500 is set to make powerful impact in another respect, too, in resetting expectation of what a high-performance luxury sports coupe should cost.

Though no sticker has been set, Morris says there’s potential LC500 will position below the brand’s current price chart-topper, the LS in $300,000 long-wheelbase form.

“I’m not going to speculate on price point … my expectation is that it will be above $200,000 but I really don’t have a handle on what the price will be … but I’m not sure it will be above the LS.”

The car might not become a big seller – initial expectation is that it might accrue maybe just 10 customers per year – but it will be a powerful halo for the brand, Morris says, and he won’t be surprised if potential customers inquiry is triggered by yesterday’s global reveal.

Whether it will assume flagship status over the LS, the car that started it all for Toyota’s luxury brand, or co-share that role is also uncertain.

“It’s certainly the flagship sports car. I suppose the LS is always going to be a flagship due to its sheer size and the prestige associated with it.”

Unveiling at the North American International Auto Show confirmed that the production model has stayed true to an earlier styling study, the LF-LC.

The reveal also confirmed it is the first Lexus underpinned by the company's new Global Architecture Luxury platform and will feature the world's first 10-speed automatic transmission in a luxury vehicle.

As a blueprint for all future front-engined, rear drive Lexus models and the most torsionally rigid ever produced by the company, the GAL platform is also destined to underpin the next generation of the LS, presumed to be a 2018 offer in New Zealand.

LC500 was a special project for Toyota president Akio Toyoda, who sees it as a symbol of Lexus’s new spirit.

“A few years ago we decided to guide the future of the brand with products that had more passion and distinction in the luxury market,” he told showgoers.

“This flagship luxury coupe's proportions, stunning design and performance make a strong statement about our brands' emotional direction, and will grow the Lexus luxury appeal globally.”

Talk that a hybrid version is in the wind is certainly not dismissed by Morris and there’s also been speculation, supported by the new platform said to be the most torsionally-rigid ever produced by Lexus (stronger even than the LFA’s carbon-fibre unit), that a convertible might also be created.

To keep weight low, the roof is fashioned from carbon-fibre, while the body makes the most intensive use of high-strength steel in the company’s history. Most exterior panels such as the bonnet, mudguards and doors are aluminium. Weight distribution between the axles is a near-ideal 52/48.

The LC500 gets multilink suspension all round, employing a dual-ball joint on both the upper and lower controls arms for better wheel control and more precise steering. Stiff front suspension towers aid rigidity, while forged aluminium control arms reduce unsprung mass.

Cited rivals are the 375kW Mercedes-AMG GT, 404kW Jaguar F-Type V8 R, 338kW Maserati GranTurismo and 316kW Porsche 911 Carrera GTS.