A Concept Car That Captivates

Published 6 years ago

Lexus launched an expensive plan to enter F1 way back in 1983. Not quite Formula One, but a project code named Flagship One which was to take the Japanese car manufacturer into a new realm of luxury to compete with the elite German marques.

It started with a simple challenge from Founder Eiji Toyoda – build the world’s best car. It culminated in the launch of the acclaimed LS 400 after a feverish five years.

The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection took $1 billion, 450 prototypes, 60 designers and 400 engineers. And the expertise of a special “Team One” unit from leading agency Saatchi & Saatchi to pioneer the marketing.


The legend goes that the F1 designers rented a home in Laguna Beach to get a glimpse of the well-heeled American consumer and their motoring minds.

The project wasn’t aimed at the home market – rather the United States. And the core reason was a trade agreement between the Japanese government and US trade officials to restrict the export of less expensive models.

In an automobile version of the Space Race, Honda got into the American arena with the Acura and Nissan reached for the skies with the Infiniti.

Some reports claimed the LS 400 had better handling and performance and shockwaves rocked the Mercedes Benz and BMW camps with Cadillacs and Lincolns being traded in and German luxury vehicle sales dropping by almost 30%.


The Golden Road Ahead

By 1999 Lexus had recorded the millionth vehicle sold in the US and in 2005 there was an organizational separation from Toyota, with dedicated designers and engineers working exclusively for the brand.

Despite the fact that the Lexus offering was comparable to the German leaders and left the showroom floors with some fancy features included in the price, it wasn’t a package to get the adrenaline pumping.

The sporting badges of Merc AMG and the BMW M division had been wheel-spinning to capture the drivers who want more than a quiet and leisurely jaunt to the shopping center and certainly relish the looks and audio levels to get noticed en route.


The Japanese reply, fresh off the drawing board of the F-Sport Division, came in the form of the IS F, launched in 2007 and the much vaunted LFA – custom built to the last detail. It was only in production for two years and the allotted 500 specialized models found relatively happy homes.

“The LFA is an icon now and possibly always will be – we don’t need to replace it to keep that status. It is a car we can reference for another 25 years if we choose. Its status is assured,” said European boss, Alain Uyttenhoven.

“It is possible that we will one day create another supercar, but in my view a super high-end machine is not what we need right now.”

Enter highway left the Lexus LC 500. The concept car drew gasps five years ago and Lexus have been one of the few automakers brave enough to take a dream design to the production line.


Maybe not a supercar – the definitions vary – but not light on the wallet at a retail price of $130,000.

“Not only has Lexus delivered a design with high visual impact, it has also developed ground-breaking engineering and technology for the LC 500. This isn’t simply a car that looks good – the LC 500 has been engineered in every dimension to deliver a very special driving experience,” says Calvyn Hamman, Sales and Marketing Senior Vice president of Lexus South Africa.

And with such a long title, he should know! While sportscar designs can be hotly debated, this one is hard to ignore. It almost seems to perch on the tarmac like a squat sprinter waiting for the buzzer.

The meshed grille, like a more macho version of the Mercedes diamond front end, reaches out to you with its contoured mould. It is flanked by recessed and diminutive triple LED headlights that blend into the bodywork in a Star Wars fashion.


The “Experience Amazing” theme flows to the rear with L-shaped taillights that have an acclaimed “afterburner” effect courtesy of 80 concentric LEDs per lamp.

Lexus LC 500 (Photo by www.lexus.co.za)

Open the door and the interior is dashing with crisp metallic lines, the controls easily at hand and the seats firm and supportive.

But don’t plan on taking any six-footers in the back seats – like most GT cars this is really the home of Yorkies on their way to the parlor.


When it comes to infotainment systems, the cry of the decade seems to be for systems to delight a 16-year-old but take a bit of head scratching for the Stoneage.com generation.

So you may have got used to the touchscreen or the round click wheels – or even voice recognition – to command your high-tech steed.

Now we have the track-pad – very much like the device on your laptop. I’m sure it can control anything from heating the seats to ordering a hot take-away. And given weeks of practice it may feel like an extension of your left hand.

But it is finicky, to say the least, and by carelessly resting your elbow near the ultra-sensitive pad you may find the climate control battling the Arctic or iTunes blasting out from your cellphone. Fortunately there are the old fashioned knobs and switches for some of the basic requirements at the wheel!

Porsche Panamera: Kicking Ass With A New Boot

The daring overall creation is wrapped around a normally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 which propels the LC to 100km/h in a swift 4.7 seconds with the most pleasantly guttural sound yet to be emitted by a Lexus. Yet not quite in the league of a Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type R and it only really sings at the higher revs.

What is absolutely phenomenal is the 10-speed box which is so smooth that it’s a challenge not to paddle up and down through the gears to feel the silky transitions or get an additional growl from the exhausts.

It is a hefty beast but delivers an engaging drive that sometimes sees you straying over the speed limit. And you have no excuses – the heads up display will give you ample warning.

There have also been many profit warnings in the motor trade in recent years. Lexus doesn’t disclose too much publicly about their financial operations but insiders say the division contributes a healthy share to Toyota’s bottom line.

The Group recently raised its full-year profit forecast by 16%, citing expectations of a weaker Yen. So now they say a profit of $16.8 million is on the cards – slightly down from last year.

“Our organization has been working to evolve with the changing consumer tastes in luxury,” says Tokuo Fukuichi, President of Lexus International.

“The new LC embodies a shift in forward-thinking culture, and is a glimpse into the products and experiences you can expect from Lexus in the coming years.”

South Africans will only get a fleeting taste right now. There are just a handful of LC 500s heading this way and the hybrid LS 500h is restricted to selected overseas markets.

Will the new flagship herald the next chapter in the Lexus tome and feed down the line to all the upcoming models? It has been an encouraging new beginning. – Written by Derek Watts

Related Topics: #Car, #Driving, #LC 500, #Lexus, #Motoring.