Lexus ventures into higher luxury tier with LC 500 coupe

Lexus is looking for the LC 500 to deliver a bold message to the industry: After more than a quarter century of reaching, the brand finally has earned a place alongside the Germans in the upper echelons of the luxury market. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT -- Toyota President Akio Toyoda made a rare appearance at the Detroit auto show Monday to make the case that Lexus intends to compete with Germany’s luxury giants not just for volume but also for glamour, power and prestige.

Exhibit A: the LC 500, a low-slung, rear-wheel-drive coupe that will crank 467 hp out of its 5.0-liter, V-8 engine and start at nearly $100,000.

It’s based on the LF-LC concept coupe that Lexus has been teasing auto show visitors with for years and rides on a new modular rwd platform called GA-L (global architecture for luxury vehicles), which will underpin future versions of Lexus’ sedans, starting with the full-size LS.

Lexus is looking for the LC 500 to deliver a bold message to the industry: After more than a quarter century of reaching, the brand finally has earned a place alongside the Germans in the upper echelons of the luxury market.

“The LC 500 has been an important product for Lexus and me personally,” Toyoda said in a statement ahead of the car’s Detroit debut on Monday. “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.”

Lexus has been nipping at the heels of BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. luxury sales race for several years. The Japanese brand -- which dominated U.S. sales charts for 11 consecutive years before its run ended in 2011 -- finally picked off Mercedes in 2015 to finish second. BMW finished first with 346,023 sales, followed by Lexus with 344,601 and then Mercedes with 343,088, excluding Sprinter deliveries.

But despite its impressive volumes -- driven by popularity contest winners such as the RX crossover and ES sedan -- Lexus has struggled to break into that rarefied tier where prices hit six digits and luxury brand images are defined (the limited-run LFA supercar notwithstanding).

With a high-end model such as the LC reinforcing a sense of elitism, the hope is that this air begins to permeate the Lexus lineup.

“It makes a huge amount of sense,” Tom Libby, manager of industry analysis at IHS, said of Lexus’ approach. “When you’re out on the road and see a [Mercedes] SL or S-class coupe, there’s a wow factor. It gives the brand much greater strength as an exclusive for only the very wealthy. That’s what every brand wants.”

Unlike the one-off LFA -- which ended production in December 2012 -- the LC 500 uses components shared with other Lexus vehicles. Sitting underneath a wide, flat hood is the 5.0-liter V-8 that Lexus uses in the GS F high-performance sports sedan and RC F coupe.

Forgoing the dual-clutch transmission found in many of its expected competitors, the LC 500 will use one of the industry’s first 10-speed automatic transmissions. Lexus is targeting a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of less than 4.5 seconds.

Despite the inevitable comparisons to other grand-touring coupes, such as the Jaguar F-Type or the Porsche 911, the LC 500’s 113-inch wheelbase puts it closer in size to the Mercedes S-class coupe or the BMW 6-series coupe.

Lexus didn’t release the car’s curb weight, but the automaker is aiming for 4,200 pounds. That’s about 500 pounds lighter than the S-class coupe (which is all-wheel drive) and just about on a par with BMW’s rwd 650i coupe.

Weight has been shaved with aluminum door skins mounted to a carbon-fiber door structure and an available carbon-fiber roof (a glass roof is standard). Weight distribution will be 52/48, according to Lexus.

Other goodies packed into the LC include an active exhaust system, an available active rear spoiler and 20- or 21-inch alloy wheels.

The LC 500 is expected to go on sale in the U.S. and Japan in the spring of 2017, at just a tick under $100,000. Variants such as a convertible, V-6 or hybrid model also are likely.

You can reach David Undercoffler at undercoffler@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/autonews_west

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