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On the highway, while fiddling around the various controls, I discovered something that stood out in an otherwise spectacular cabin. The LC 500h gets four drive modes, including Sport and Sport+ which can jazz up suspension, steering, and, of course, the powertrain. But the rotary stub to toggle among the various modes is a stretch to reach as it juts out from the top left corner of the driver’s instrument binnacle. Every time you want to change the driving mode, you’re forced to move forwards to reach it. Instead of this unconventional approach, having the toggle switch near the gear-lever or even on the steering wheel would have made it a lot more convenient. Apart from this minor hiccup, it’s an exceptional cabin in terms of design, use of materials, and the Takumi-level of craftsmanship it offers. In fact, during the entrance exam, upholstery craftsmen are asked to create an origami cat using their non-dominant hands only. That, too, in less than 90 seconds just to test their skill level.

No wonder the cabin is so mighty impressive. To top it, there is a whole list of modern features, including adaptive cruise control, heads-up display, an eight-inch TFT driver’s information control, steering-mounted Siri Eyes Free voice command system, 10.3-inch colour display, Amazon Alexa integration, and Apple CarPlay. And an equally long list of safety equipment such as Lane Safety System, Lane Keep Assist, front and side airbags, and brake assist with EBD. Our Sport+ came with an additional kit like the Variable Gear Ratio Steering and Active Rear Steering.

Another update on the new LC 500h is the updated touchpad which is the only chink in the armour, as it still doesn’t feel as intuitive as the rotary dials that European counterparts offer. In the right-hand drive version, it gets even more difficult to manage the infotainment system using the left hand. Unless, of course, you’re a certified Lexus upholstery craftsman.

Time to get familiar with its clever powertrain. The “500” in the name can be a bit misleading as the LC hybrid with a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 is assisted by a 132-kW electric motor. It depends on an 84-cell lithium-ion battery which is comparatively compact and lightweight. But the interesting part is the complexed transmission — a unique CVT-equipped hybrid that offers 10 gears but not all are physical. To make this combination work, Lexus have introduced a brand-new hybrid transaxle. The system consists of an E-CVT and a conventional four-speed automatic. CVTs, as you know, can have infinite ratios, but here the E-CVT has been tuned to offer three distinct ratios that use the four-speed auto simply as a “shift device”. Essentially, the three ratios of the CVT simulate the first three gears of the automatic gearbox to create a total of nine shifts. The fourth gear of the auto works as an overdrive to keep the engine rpm relatively low even while the LC cruises at high speeds.

It’s genuinely a smart system which manages to ensure perfect gearing for every situation, almost instantaneously. If you like you can keep travelling in silence, using just electric power. The LC 500h’s powertrain is extremely refined and barely audible within the cabin. It’s so quiet and looks so radical that it feels like driving a spacecraft from the future. For more action, step on the gas and the V6 and electric motor dish a combined 359 hp which can be attained from 50 km/h onwards.

I know, the hybrid’s performance might not sound as dramatic on paper or even to the ears as it lacks the usual grunts and growls the competition offers. But twist the drive mode to Sport+ and the interactive dials become aggressive, the V6 sounds throaty, and steering, suspension and performance are amped up as well. The low first gear ratio aids low-end performance and makes the hybrid reach from 0 to 100 km/h in just five seconds, that is, just 0.2 seconds short of the larger V8-powered LC 500. Depending on your driving style, the gearbox can calibrate itself and offer seamless shifts. It did take me a while to get used to the large paddle-shifts, but I did adapt to them on the go. Shifting 10 gears manually just feels never-ending and cumbersome. It is best to leave the complex system to manage itself.

Even on the narrow roads of Shikashima island and hobbled by the speed limits, the Lexus felt quick and left us most impressed by its handling. The hilly roads looked straight out of an “Initial D” episode, but every corner (read: drifting opportunity) was marred by a set of rumble strips. On the available sweeping hill, I made most of the Sport+ version’s variable-rate steering and rear-wheel steering. You’ll barely notice the long and wide dimensions of the LC as the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front ones and make turn-ins sharper. The steering is light and effortless and very precise while the well-balanced chassis provides confident front-end grip and ample feel from the rear wheels. This boosts the car’s stability during fast-paced corners. The ride is equally grand as the multi-link rear suspension allows the LC to sail over rumblers and bumps.

I had the opportunity to drive the LFA in Japan many years ago and it has remained the best driving Lexus in my books till now. The LC is a technological marvel with its equally plush cockpit, silky smooth engine, clever transmission, and an exterior design that leaves a lasting impression. It’s also very reassuring that it gets the Toyota back-up and reliability. When it comes to India towards the end of this year, it will carry a sticker of about Rs 1.8 crore, making it a great option if you seek something truly out of the ordinary.

 

About the author: Sarmad Kadiri

 

 

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