After driving the Lexus LC500 Coupe just over two years ago, I was both impressed and disappointed. There was so much to like about the LC500 but also so much to dislike. Just to recap: its engine was, and still is, a masterpiece, its looks were killer and its interior was made from the finest materials.
However, its interior ergonomics were a mess, its transmission was frustrating and its infotainment system was just about the worst I’d ever used. So when the chance came to test the newly add, and slightly updated, Lexus LC500 Convertible, I was very excited to give it another shot.
Ironically, my drop-top test car wore the exact same color combination as my original fixed roof tester. Which was a bit disappointing, as I wanted to try out a different color combo but I’m not going to complain about driving a six-figure luxury GT, regardless of its color. More than anything, though, I wanted to hear that engine without a pesky roof interfering with my fun.
Japanese V8 Magic
America is the country most known for putting out great V8s. However, the 5.0 liter powerplant in the Lexus LC500 might just be the most enjoyable V8 currently on sale. That might be an overly bold statement but it’s one I’m sticking by. I’m going also to stick by this next claim — the LC500’s V8 is the best sounding V8 in the world. You can keep your Ferrari V8s, AMG V8s and even the new Corvette V8. The Lexus LC500 Convertible at full chat, with the roof down, provides one of the absolute greatest internal combustion noises I’ve ever heard.
At low rpm, it puts out a quiet, civilized burble; the sort you’d expect from a big V8-powered luxury sedan. Let the revs climb past 3,000 rpm, though, and the naturally-aspirated V8 lets out a vicious, violent wail, as if it’s ripping through the fabric of spacetime. The Lexus was dropped off at my house just one day after giving back the sensational-sounding C8 Corvette and it was also in my possession while I had a BMW M2 CS tester next to it in the driveway. The Lexus made both cars sound like play things, especially the six-cylinder Bimmer.
It’s more than just noise, though. The way it revs so cleanly, without the burden of having to wait for turbo-boost, is such a breath of fresh air. In today’s era of turbocharged everything, it’s easily to genuinely forget what it’s like to drive a naturally-aspirated engine and, when you finally do so again, it’s such a rewarding experience. When large-displacement, naturally-aspirated engines finally die off, the Lexus 5.0 liter V8 will be considered among the all time greats. No question, it’s a first-ballot hall of famer.
Admittedly, it’s not the punchiest of engines, with only 471 horsepower, 398 lb-ft and a 0-60 mph time of around 4.7 seconds. Those numbers make it both the weakest and the slowest car in its segment by a huge margin. But I couldn’t care less while driving it. Nail the throttle at 3,000 rpm and the combination of forward thrust and explosive noise is far more enjoyable than any mind-melting blast to 60 mph in one of its German competitors.
The best part? No artificial pops and bangs from the exhaust. I don’t know why every German car company things that automotive flatulence is the key to exciting exhausts because it isn’t. I blame Jaguar. The LC has none of it and it’s all the better for it.
Sadly, the Transmission Can’t Keep Up
For as brilliant as its engine is, and it is absolutely brilliant, its transmission is a bit of a letdown. It’s a ten-speed torque-converter automatic and, sadly, it’s seriously underwhelming. Firstly, ten gears is far too many. Who wants to shift through ten gears, sequentially, with paddles? It’s madness.
Secondly, the actual transmission itself is the definition of a slushbox. Full throttle upshifts might be the slowest I’ve seen from an automatic in over a decade, even in manual mode and in its sportiest settings. They just slowly slush together in a mushy, relaxed manner. While that’s fine for GT cruising, it’s not what you want when you’re flogging it.
That’s exacerbated by the fact that the engine wants snappier shifts, it craves them. It revs so wonderfully that it begs for rapid-fire upshifts. Yet, you just can’t get them, no matter what sort of setting combination you try. It’s just not programmed to be snappy.
When left to its own devises, it’s fine but it’s a bit reluctant to drop down a couple of gears, which can be frustrating when you’re in ninth or tenth gear on the highway and you want to pass someone. And when you shift yourself, you have to drop far too many cogs to get ample passing power.
If Lexus were to ditch that ten-speed and swap it for a ZF-sourced eight-speed, the Lexus LC500 Convertible would have the near-perfect powertrain. Yet, for some reason, Lexus stubbornly sticks with the slow and frustrating ten-speed.
Ride and Handling are Improved
From what I remember of the LC500 Coupe, it was a good but not great handling car. I distinctly remember it having a decent ride but that sharper bumps would send shock waves through the cabin. This time, though, Lexus seems to have nailed the ride/handling balance.
The Lexus LC500 Convertible is downright comfy over broken pavement. Its massive wheels still allow some jolts through but only over the worst of road conditions. For the most part, it’s soft and comfortable, without ever having that classic Lexus float. The ride is beautifully balance and perfect for a big, comfy GT.
Make no mistake, though, the LC can hustle. Steering is nicely weighted and surprisingly accurate. Of course, it’s completely numb but it should be in a big GT; it’s built for comfort, not for speed. However, you can place the LC accurately enough and have a good bit of fun tossing it around.
One issue I did have with it was that, over some really rough pavement, I did notice some chassis flex and vibration. Without a roof, the LC500 Convertible seems to have lost a decent bit of torsional rigidity. For the most part, it’s absolutely fine but some harsher bumps can expose a bit of flex.
I wasn’t expecting that, either, as Lexus is typically known for outstanding build quality. Overall, though, the LC500 feels mostly solid and even the flex that does occur isn’t a deal-breaker and is sort of understood.
What I appreciated about my time with the Lexus was the fact that it really leaned into its GT-nature. It’s not a car that tries to be something it’s not; it doesn’t try to be a sports car or a supercar; it’s unashamedly a grand-tourer. Because of that, its singular focus, the Lexus LC500 Convertible feels purposeful and honest, which is really quite charming.
Looks Great, Inside and Out
Several year on and the Lexus LC is still one of the best looking coupes/convertibles on the road. It’s an absolute stunner. Now, admittedly, it’s not the most traditionally pretty looking GT in the segment and is a bit of an acquired taste. However, once that taste is acquired, you can really begin to appreciate its beauty. Its grille is still a bit of a controversial topic and it still looks like the Predator but everything else is stellar and really unique. I do think the LC500 Coupe is the better looking car but the Convertible looks great with the top down.
What potentially stands out even more than the exterior design is the interior design. The cabin of the Lexus LC500 Convertible is sensational to look at and sit in. It’s beautifully sculpted, with so much depth and so many layers to its design. The materials, fit and finish are all outstanding as well. Even something as simple as turning the aluminum volume knob, which features a smooth operation with no physical clicks, feels special. It’s one of the best looking, most interesting cabins on the market. Until you try to use anything.
While the LC500’s cabin is gorgeous, it’s absolutely infuriating. It blows my mind how Lexus is able to craft such sensational looking cabins and put not the slightest effort into ergonomics. When you sit inside of a BMW or a Porsche, you can tell there were 25 meetings with all of the interior designers about where to place the fan control buttons.
Conversely, you can tell some guy showed up on a Friday, with a sandwich in one hand, and just started putting buttons inside the LC500. For instance, why are the sport and traction knobs mounted to the side of the gauge cluster, like Frankenstein’s neck bolts? Why are the heated seat controls buried in the infotainment screen? Speaking of infotainment, why does this one exist at all?
The following statement is not hyperbole: Lexus’ infotainment system is the worst one ever fitted to an automobile. Ever. Firstly, a mouse pad is just nonsensical to use while driving. Secondly, you have to use it to swipe the glowing orb cursor thing onto certain icons and it will snap to them. But there are too many icons and you can’t freely move the cursor, as it sort of just snap to the different icons in a specific order. So why not just use a swivel wheel?
Using it is so frustrating that I refused to do so. In fact, during my week with it, I kept the climate control screen up the entire time. That way, I could control my heated seats and steering wheel (as well as the lovely warm air neck vents) and not touch anything else. I never actually listened to the stereo, which I know features a brilliant Mark Levinson unit, because I couldn’t be bothered to deal with the infotainment. That said, I didn’t need a radio, as the LC500’s V8 soundtrack was better than any song I could have put on.
The Lexus LC500 Convertible is a brilliant grand touring car, with stunning looks, a lovely cabin to sit in, a supple ride and the best sounding naturally-aspirated V8 on the planet. To be honest, the LC500 is worth buying for its engine alone, it’s that good.
However, the car as a whole is let down but its frustrating cabin technology. That might seem trivial but, as an owner, you’d have to live with that everyday. Every time you’d want to adjust the radio, put on your heated seat or use navigation, you’d have to use that monstrosity of an system, which would be incredibly annoying.
That said, if you can live with that, and I sincerely suggest that you try, there’s so much else to love about the Lexus LC500 Convertible that it’s likely worth it. And while the Coupe looks better, I think it’s the Convertible that you want. Not only does dropping the top provide that sense of open-air driving but you get to hear the glorious, spine-tingling V8 completely un-corrupted by a roof.
Do I think the Lexus LC500 Convertible is worth buying over its competitors, like the BMW 8 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe/Convertible? It’s tough to say but I guess it comes down to your priorities. Audi doesn’t really have a direct competitor, as the closest thing to the LC500 Convertible Audi has is the R8 Spyder and that’s quite a bit more expensive. However, if you’re looking for an outstanding all-around car, then you’re probably better off with one of the Germans.
They’re just more well-rounded, have better tech and are easier to live with on regular basis, while also being brutally fast and also very nice to drive. However, if you want something that’s more of a toy, something to take out on the weekends and savor as a special driving experience, I think the Lexus is probably the better bet.