Lexus has increased the performance of its new halo vehicle, the 2018 LC 500, slated to go on sale in the U.S. next May.
A new dual intake, lower friction, and better exhaust have increased performance figures for the 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V-8 engine to 471 hp from the previously announced 467 hp. Torque has been bumped up to 398 lb-ft from the estimated 389 lb-ft when the production coupe was unveiled in January at the 2016 North American International Auto Show.
The LC 500h hybrid has a 3.5-liter V-6 and an electric motor, good for 354 horsepower. It uses a multi-stage hybrid system with a four-speed final drive to create 10 different gear ratios, making it feel like a 10-speed transmission instead of a CVT, which is more in keeping with the expected performance of a high-speed sports coupe.
The LC 500 and LC 500h hybrid are global cars but about 80 percent of sales—or about 400 a month—are expected to be sold in the U.S. The hybrid was designed with China in mind.
Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date, but the LC 500 is expected to start above $90,000 with a $10,000 premium to upgrade to the LC 500h. Lexus executives expect about 20 percent of customers to opt for the hybrid.
The car will be offered in four trim levels: base, Touring, Sport, and Sport Plus. The automaker is still deciding whether to open the order books ahead of the on-sale date. Annual volumes will be low: about 5,000, appealing largely to male buyers. The new flagship will compete with the BMW 650i, Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe, Maserati GranTurismo, and even the smaller Jaguar F-Type and Porsche 911.
Chief Engineer Koji Sato was working on the Lexus GS five years ago when, at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda noted Lexus was conspicuously absent. Sato was determined to remedy that.
"That was the starting point for this car," said Sato who was assigned to the new project. Lexus gave the first hint of what was to come with the LF-LC concept unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit that was a design exercise only—senior management had no intention of turning it into a production car at that time.
The LC 500 will be the first production car on the automaker's new rear-drive premium platform that will also underpin the next LS sedan expected in the fall of 2017. The new look of the next-generation LS is expected to take cues from the LF-FC concept car shown at the Tokyo auto show in 2015.
The new rear-drive platform could also spawn a crossover in the future and was engineered with the rigidity needed for a convertible, Sato said.
Sato said the challenge was keeping the flavor of the concept through to the production vehicle. Heis confident the flowing lines and big rear haunches accomplish that. The driving dynamics had to be there as well. To that end, the car has a 52/48 weight distribution and low center of gravity.
The LC 500 and LC 500h will be built at the Lexus plant in Motomachi, Japan, a plant that makes limited-production vehicles such as the LFA sports car and the Toyota Mirai fuel-cell sedan.
Leading up to the spring sale date, the LC 500 will make a lot of personal appearances, as it did at this year's Pebble Beach car week. It will participate in Cars and Coffee events, auto shows, food and wine festivals, and even product placements in a feature film, said Brian Bolain, general manager of Product and Consumer Marketing for Lexus.
The automaker will gather advance information from would-be customers on their color and feature preferences to guide the specs of the first batch of cars ordered from the plant. Some participants in a clinic were allowed to drive early models to experience how it looks, drives, and even growls differently than a traditional Lexus. Lexus is also promoting the car through sponsorships including golf's U.S. Open Championship.
"It is a bigger budget than usual because it is a halo car," Bolain said, disproportionate to low sales because of the impact it is expected to have on the brand as a whole and because it is Lexus' first foray into a new segment.