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Friday
Mar242017

Preview: 2018 Lexus LC 500, LC 500h

It has been a bit over five years since Lexus launched the LF-LC concept at the 2012 North American International Auto show, promising it would lead to a production model quite close to the concept. Four years later, Lexus pulled the covers off the production version, and now — a little more than one year later — the general public finally can buy Lexus’s new flagship.

Unlike the previous flagship, the hand-built LFA, the LC is more conventional, more luxurious and more acceptable to the buying public. It’s not a sporting vehicle totally out of character with the brand, powered by an engine architecture similar to those found in Formula 1 two generations ago. The LC, which will be built on a new platform shared with the upcoming LS and next generation GS sedans, is powered by a pair of current Lexus powertrains; the 5.0-liter V8 used in the GS-F and RC F, and a multi-stage hybrid powertrain based around the current Atkinson cycle 3.5-liter V6.

Oddly, both models are called LC 500, with the hybrid version getting a lower case “h” suffix added to its name. A more accurate designation would be LC 350h. Nevertheless, the non-suffixed version is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 with 471 horsepower and 398 lb.-ft. of torque, and features Toyota’s D-4S fuel injection system that uses both direct and port fuel injectors. And while the engineers say the direct injection supports the engine's high 12.3:1 compression ratio and the port injectors enhance low-speed response, the port injectors also combat a common problem with direct-injected engines — carbon deposits — by washing the backside of the intake vales with gasoline. The horsepower peak is reached at 7,100 rpm, while the torque peak stretches from 4,800-5,600 rpm. Under acceleration, the V8 runs an Otto cycle, and switches to a more efficient Atkinson cycle while cruising. In order to enhance the experience, the LC 500 is fitted with both a special resonance tube between the intake manifold and firewall that amplifies intake sounds, and an adjustable Active Exhaust valve that allows the driver to adjust the sound level of the exhaust.
 
The V8 is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, a first in the luxury segment, that allows manual shifting via steering wheel-mounted magnesium paddles. The unit’s electronic control system monitors acceleration, braking and lateral forces in order to anticipate the driver’s needs. The lock-up torque converter does not activate when starting from a dead stop in order to provide a more direct feel and improve fuel efficiency, and the powertrain’s responsiveness can be changed via the console-mounted Drive Mode Select selector. As expected, this optimizes the engine and shift response under acceleration, while fully opening the Active Exhaust baffles in the aerodynamically shaped muffler.

In the LC 500h, the D-4S-equipped 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine is mated to a pair of electric motor generators, a planetary-type continuously variable transmission, and a four-speed automatic transmission. Yes, a four-speed automatic. Together the two gear sets alter output in four stages, and provide the equivalent of 10 ratios. The new design gives more electric assist at lower vehicle speeds, lets the car cruise at speeds up to 87 mph with the gasoline engine turned off, and amplifies the combined gas-electric power output through the four-speed automatic instead of a reduction gear. Lexus claims the 354 hp (combined) powertrain is the first hybrid in its lineup that can spin its rear wheels on a dry surface. It’s also the first to use a compact lithium-ion battery. In keeping with the engineers’ desire to concentrate the platform’s center of gravity low in the chassis and toward its center, the nearly 311 volt battery pack is located between the rear seats and luggage compartment.

Lexus claims the LC has the stiffest architecture it has ever produced; its torsional rigidity higher than the predominately carbon fiber LFA. The hood, front fenders and door skins are made from aluminum, and CFRP sheet-molding compound is used for the inner panels of the doors and trunk. Steel is used for the rear fenders, and combined with aluminum via self-piercing rivets to form the front suspension towers. Buyers can order an optional carbon fiber roof cap to replace the standard bonded glass roof panel. The carbon roof is made in the same Motomachi factory used to produce panels for the LFA. The visible weave panel is created by clamping pre-cut raw carbon fiber in a mold before injecting resin.

To save weight and improve weight distribution, the LC uses run-flat tires, eliminates the spare tire, and locates the 12-volte battery in the trunk. Drivetrain mass is located behind the front axle line, the driver and passenger hip and heel points have been lowered, and the wheels pushed out to the corners of the car. Weight distribution for the LC 500h is 52:48, while this measure for the V8-powered LC 500 is unknown at this time.
 
Buyers have a choice of Michelin Pilot Super Sport of Bridgestone Potenza S001 run-flat tires in 20- or 21-in. sizes. The wheel design is the same for each model, as are the tire sizes. The base tires sizes are 245/45RF-20 and 275/40RF-20, while the optional treads measure 245/40RF-21 and 275/35RF-21 front and rear. Braking is by six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers, and the available Lexus Dynamic Handling System synchronizes the electric power steering and Variable Gear Ratio Steering with the Active Rear Steering system.

The LC 500 is priced at $92,000, while the LC 500h starts at $96,510. — CAS


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