I’m just back from my first drive of the new Lexus LC coupe. Frankly, I could have spent the whole press preview just looking at the car. (For the record, Lexus held the press preview in Hawaii, so I would have been happy to spend the whole time doing just about anything.) I still can’t get over the fact that the production version looks so much like the concept car … or just that it looks like a concept car, period.
But I was there to drive the LC, and drive it I did.
Now, I think I know what you’re thinking: a 471-hp V8 over a 354-hp hybrid? No contest. But not for me. I think … and you can only imagine how painful it is to type these words … I think I like the hybrid better than the V8.
Hear me out, people. Hear me out.
For the record, the V8 is pretty darn amazing. It’s fast — zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds, according to Lexus — and it makes all the noises a V8 is supposed to make, with a grumbly, rumbly idle and a rebel yell at full tilt.
The LC 500 Hybrid makes none of those noises. Frankly, it’s a pretty big deal that Lexus even gave the darn thing the same exhaust outlets as the V8. (Most Toyota-Lexus hybrids have none.) If you floor the accelerator with the system in neutral, the best it can manage is a sort of petulant whirr.
Get it out on the open road, though, and I promise, it’s another story.
See, this isn’t an ordinary Toyota hybrid system. Well, that’s not entirely true — it is actually an ordinary Toyota hybrid system, at least to a point. The transmission is the same kind of power-split unit found on the Prius. (A lot of people, including Toyota’s own people, call it a CVT, and while it works like a CVT, the innards are different. If I have the technology right — and it’s always possible I don’t — it’s basically a planetary gearset with the gas engine and two motors as inputs.)
But things change at the output end, because instead of driving the wheels, the hybrid tranny drives another transmission. It’s a 4-speed automatic designed to broaden the effective range of the CVT-that-may-or-may-not-be-a-CVT.
The transmission-behind-a-transmission is designed to make the whole shebang feel like the regular LC’s 10-speed tranny. At least, I think it’s supposed to simulate ten speeds — I can’t tell for sure, because while the Lexus people were explaining how the thing worked, my head was busy exploding at the idea of bolting a 4-speed auto ‘box to a hybrid drivetrain.
In the real world, that’s just what it does. (Simulate a 10-speed, by the way, not explode like my head.) Floor the pedal and the LC 500 Hybrid sounds like a Formula 1 racer. More accurately, it sounds like a Formula 1 racer in a video game, but I’m okay with that.
There’s little indication the CVT is doing any CVT-ing. The engine jumps to its redline, hangs there for just a fraction of a second, and then whap, the transmission snaps off an upshift. That little hang is the only indication there might be some mechanical tomfoolery other than ordinary gears meshing with other ordinary gears.
I’m told that some of the shifts are real shifts and some are simulated, part of a shell game being played by the power-split CVT, with the 4-speed playing the shill. For the life of me, I can’t tell which is which. One of the Lexus staffers told me that on early powertrain mules, it was easy to tell the real shifts from the simu-shifts, but successive improvements made them nearly indistinguishable. I sure as hell couldn’t tell the difference.
What’s cool about the hybrid is that it shifts more than the V8. Floor it off the line, and the hybrid might snap off four upshifts before you attract the ire of the cops; the V8 might only get in two. Normally, more shifts is a bad thing; you want that engine producing power. Not in the LC. All those shifts are … well, they’re just cool. And the screaming video-game soundtrack is a nifty high-tech replacement for the V8 bellow.
For the record, despite such a big horsepower gap, the hybrid isn’t much slower — Lexus claims a 0-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds, just 0.3 seconds slower than the V8.
Now, I know a lot of my car-writing buddies are going to jump all over me for my opinion. Hell, it already happened when I brought it up as part of the post-drive chatter. And you know what? Let ’em jump.
I’ll be out in an LC 500 Hybrid, listening to the upshifts. Find a Lexus LC for sale
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