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2018 Lexus LC 500h: More Sports Car or More Hybrid?

2018 Lexus LC 500h: More Sports Car or More Hybrid?

— The 2018 Lexus LC 500h is the hybrid version of the striking sports coupe, and while the LC 500 relies on a 5.0-liter V-8 for its power, the LC 500h gets something else entirely. With this specific powertrain comes an identity crisis: Is it more of a sports car or more of a hybrid? How well does it satisfy both aspirations? 

Most people have moved past thinking of "hybrid" as a dirty word when it relates to performance cars. The Acura NSX and BMW i8 use their hybrid drivetrains to improve both efficiency and performance, and the LC 500h has the same aspirations. It has some work to do to get there.

In our review of the LC 500, I said that it's more of a grand touring car than a sports car, and the LC 500h adds more weight (4,435 pounds versus 4,280 pounds) and makes less power. Like the LC 500, the LC 500h shares a lot of its powertrain components with other vehicles already in the Lexus lineup: the RX 450h and the GS 450h. All three hybrids use a 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline Used Engine , dual-electric motors and a continuously variable automatic transmission along with a lithium-ion battery pack. However, in the LC 500h, it gets some major updates and makes more power, with a combined system output of 354 horsepower.

 

2018 Lexus LC 500h

Lexus equipped the LC 500h with the automaker's first "multistage" hybrid drivetrain, merging  two transmissions together: a four-speed automatic and a CVT. The CVT couples with the first three gears of the automatic to make nine speeds and the final gear is used as an overdrive. Lexus also says that this system allows the electric motors to provide more assistance at lower speeds and that the LC 500h can go up to 87 mph on electric power alone. However, when I tried to test it, the gas Used Engine still cut in very early whenever you touched the throttle with anything less than gentle input. I wasn't able to get past 30-35 mph on electric because I ran out of patience — as did the cars behind me.

For a more nuanced explanation of how the transmission works, check out this video:

 


 

Conceivably, Lexus could have chosen any number of simulated speeds with this transmission but settled on 10 speeds, which matches the 10-speed automatic in the LC 500. While I found the more conventional automatic transmission in the LC 500 to be a willing dance partner, I did have some issues with the simulated gearing in the LC 500h.

At highway speeds or when accelerating with the car in D, which lets the computer pick the gears, it couldn't make up its mind. Downshifts weren't clean; moving from the overdrive gear down to a passing gear was a two-, sometimes three-step process. It would also hold gears at strange speeds, especially in Normal or Sport/Sport Plus driving modes. Moving the LC 500h into Eco mode mitigated this a bit, but it also deadened the throttle response too much for my taste.

 

2018 Lexus LC 500h

Move the shifter into manual mode and take control of the gears yourself, and the experience improves. Shifts happen crisply and smoothly without any jerkiness. And Lexus' experience making hybrids shows through — when the gas Used Engine comes on, there isn't a shudder or a noticeable delay as with hybrids from other automakers.

Ultimately, these issues could be overcome by a more robust powertrain. Though it's only a few tenths slower than the zero-to-60-mph time put up by the LC 500 with its V-8 (4.4 seconds versus 4.7 seconds for the hybrid), it feels much slower when driving aggressively. The hybrid powertrain simply doesn't make enough power to make the car feel sporty. It's more of a momentum car than one that likes to put power down on corner exit.

 

2018 Lexus LC 500h

 

When driven hard, the LC 500h also suffers from the same nose heaviness as the LC 500 and needs a steering rack with a tighter ratio for quicker turn-in to feel sportier. I also found myself missing the exhaust note from the LC 500's V-8; the LC 500h is almost silent. Even with the Used Engine running, it continues to remind you that this isn't a true sports car. When it comes to performance, the LC 500h is much more of a hybrid — but it's damn good at being a hybrid.

 

The LC 500 only gets an EPA-estimated 16/26/19 mpg city/highway/combined, but the LC 500h blows that away with an estimated 26/35/30 mpg (both take premium fuel). The LC 500h also has a slightly larger gas tank and offers an EPA-estimated 666 miles of range, which beats the LC 500's range by more than 200 miles.

While the LC 500h may not match its hybrid sports car contemporaries in certain areas, it's an incredibly stylish and comfortable coupe, and is one of the best touring cars around today.

 

2018 Lexus LC 500h


 

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