(Pocket-lint) – When we first got behind the wheel of Lexus’ LC500, back in 2018, we knew it was the start of something special. Because Lexus had made a GT that transcended expectations, that looked visually stunning, that was exceptional to drive, and that was almost absurdly comfortable.
Then the Japanese luxe car-marker brought out a more economically viable hybrid version, the LC500h, swapping the original’s naturally aspirated 5-litre V8 engine in place of a V6 hybrid setup – which, while technologically remarkable and the first of its kind, sapped some of the fun out of proceedings.
For its third appearance, in the guise of the Lexus LC500 Convertible, Lexus has saved up its best effort yet. Not only does the soft-top incarnation deliver on the original car’s strengths, it also finally has a tech setup that’s actually usable thanks to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
A visual symphony
Not only is the Lexus LC500 Convertible a visual symphony of design, it also sounds tremendous – especially with the top down – thanks to that naturally aspirated 5-litre V8 engine under the hood.
If you’ve been pondering purchasing a Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type, this Lexus is the car that could entirely change your mind. It’s just that much more of a head-turner that demands everyone’s attention – because it’s a lesser seen and, therefore, more exciting prospect.
Admittedly we can’t see that current scarcity lasting too long – as there’s a strong chance this convertible will outsell its LC500 cousins. We Brits do love a convertible, come rain or shine, so the LC500 Convertible will be an important car for Lexus in the UK.
Despite the design template being a few years old now, the radical nature of its appearance still holds true. Just as was said of the coupe, the Convertible is “a wonderful piece of design – simple yet complex; attacking yet restrained; attractive yet challenging”. With the top down we think it looks even better in convertible form.
The LC500 Convertible’s futuristic looks continue with futuristic functionality too. Approach the car and the flush doorhandles pop out to greet you, just like you’ll see on the all-electric Porsche Taycan.
With the door open, the interior reveals itself to be a place of luxury. It’s fairly subdued on the eyes, but it’s almost absurdly comfortable to sit here, the plush leather-coated seats have all manner of electric adjustments and just hold your legs and body in the right way – nothing’s too firm, too ‘proddy’ – and the seat and steering wheel electronically maneouvre into place to ensure you’ve got enough comfort room between drives.
As we learned at Lexus’ Tokyo HQ back in 2019, the brand prides itself on being different. Inside most cars these days you’ll find strips of plastic, but at this top-end of production Lexus is among those offering hand-stitched leather. Simple as that could appear, the form given to the panels is very distinctive, with an almost hand-drawn fluidity that’s not just good-looking but enhances comfort.
The centre tunnel houses the soft-top controls, with a press-and-hold on the concealed trigger lifting the roof through its motions. It’ll do this up to 32mph, too, so if there’s a spot of rain and you need to conceal yourself in the cabin then there’s no need to stop.
Such physical controls are indicative of Lexus’ setup: unlike many other brands obsessed with having touchpanel-only controls, the LC500 Convertible is predominantly controlled by buttons and switches. It’s classic in that sense, even if you might deem it as too old school in that regard, but at least it’s always easy to know what’s where and what you’re doing.
That said, some functions – such as the heated steering wheel and heated collar – are a little buried within the menus and fiddly to adjust using the mouse-like touchpad that Lexus has used for too long. You’ll get used to it, but it initially feels counterintuitive.
A beast on the road
The headline feature of the LC500 Convertible is its naturally aspirated 5-litre V8 engine. It delivers 457bhp through those rear wheels, making it quite the beast on the road. With a top speed of 167mph, it’s got plenty of get-up-and-go about it.
There’s no gimmickry about this engine either – no sound pumped into the cabin, no turbo, no bells and whistles really – leaving just the roaring sound of those eight cylinders, mated with a 10-speed automatic gearbox, to bring the excitement.
And excite it does: whether pootling along gently, or slamming foot to floor to release all that power, it’s enough to cosset your whole body into those plush seats and hold you there, heart thumping.
And that’s just in ‘Normal’ mode. To the left side of the wheel – positioned at quite a reach, really – is the dial for Sport and Sport+ (and Eco) modes – which, in the case of the first two, really sees this convertible come alive, kicking and screaming. It holds itself well, despite being a 100kg (or potentially more, depending on config) heavier than the original coupe, making corners tight.
While all that power can exhilirate, what’s so wonderful about the LC500 is how refined and balanced it feels. It’s super smooth when cruising along at pace down motorways – but you’ll always be ready to step things up a notch as and when you need it.
Tech improvements and shortcomings
If there was one thing that held the LC500 back it was its tech setup. We’ve long criticised Lexus for its slowness in moving with the times. But, finally, the LC500 Convertible is among the first crop of Lexus cars to jump a massive hurdle. Why? Because both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are on board, so if you plug your phone in then you’ll get easy access to the services you most wish to use.
It sounds almost trivial, but it’s really not: this addition means you could live with the LC500 Convertible as a daily driver car. We used Android Auto and it meant a satnav system that actually worked – no more fiddling about with archaic address entry. It meant we could listen to whatever we wanted via our Spotify subscription.
It’s not 100 per cent perfect in its integration. Disconnecting a phone means it’s a bit of a struggle to relocate the Android Auto icon within Lexus’ main menu – it doesn’t automatically fire up after the first time for some reason. We were also only able to deliver Google Assistant voice commands once successfully, rather than more consecutive times after that.
Nonetheless, this is all trivial and fixable software-related stuff. Having the main visuals in eyeshot on that 10.3-inch screen and the controls integrated on the steering wheel means ease of use at all times. It’s a big and much needed step forward for Lexus.
However, Lexus can’t help but stick to its roots. That means there’s still a CD/DVD slot for discs (that you probably no longer own) right in front of the gearstick – we’re not even kidding. It means the mouse-like controller’s somewhat perilous control motion is still a learning curve. And, but of course, the classic Lexus clock is still pride of place. In a way this is all part of the Japanese make-up that makes a Lexus a Lexus.
The Lexus LC500 Convertible feels special both inside and out. Hit the road with the sunshine on your neck, the wind in your hair, and the sound of that naturally aspirated 5-litre V8 engine back pride of place and there’s really nothing else quite like it.
Lexus has finally embraced Android Auto and Apple CarPlay too – meaning this is a car you could live with day to day in terms of functionality and comfort. Or, when the mood takes, forget about the satnav babble and music interference and simply while away the hours just driving this wonderful machine.
The LC500 Convertible could well be the last of a dying breed given that engine – but if that’s the case then it’s all the more reason to savour what is the convertible king for 2021. It’s a truly special, emotive car to drive.
Writing by Mike Lowe.