(Pocket-lint) - It was about one year ago that we were sat behind the wheel of the Lexus LC500, complete with V8 engine under the hood, and were blown-away by the sheer ferocity and fun that setup brought with it.
Some 15 months later we're say behind the wheel of the LC500h, an altogether different car thanks to its V6 hybrid engine setup, and the first to feature such a powertrain (something even Ferrari is rumoured to be toying with for the near future).
But does an an electric-petrol hybrid in this context make sense? Is it really the future of sports cars?
Designed to turn heads
On the inside there's no real difference between the LC500 and the LC500h. Which, in many regards, is a great thing indeed.
As the first Lexus to ever be built on the company's front engine, rear wheel drive platform, the LC500 is a landmark car for the company. Now, that setup isn't new by any stretch of the imagination: it's indicative of most sports cars and GTs really.
But while we could name GT roadsters like the Porsche Carrera and other competitors, we've never seen anything that looks quite as radical as the LC500. It's a wonderful piece of design - simple yet complex; attacking yet restrained; attractive yet challenging - that's a rare sight to behold.
That said, the LC500's front has this huge, flowing metal grille (sadly not quite as massive as that on the LF-FC concept), while the rear has these pointy, stylised lights that wouldn't look out of place on the Batmobile. From the wrong angle, however, that front grille looks disproportioned; but catch a glimpse from the right angle and it looks superb.
Interior: Comfort and practicality
The LC500h's futuristic feel starts from the moment you hit the key's unlock button. The car's door handles, which are hidden flush into the body, pop out like an extended hand inviting you in. As a passenger, simply tapping the handle will assist it in popping out so you can get inside.
As a classic 2+2 setup, the LC500 could theoretically seat four people: two up front, two in the back. But the rear passengers will probably have to be contortionists. We wouldn't miss these seats if they vanished, especially having driven Toyota's GR Supra 2020 - which just has open space and true sports car appeal. Really, we just see the 500h's rear as a place to pop bags rather than other people.
The main ticket is up front, however, where the LC500h is a wonderfully comfortable place to sit. Having driven a three hour each-way journey to a late summer wedding, it was as if we hadn't done more than pop to the shops and back. The seats in this beast are really very good indeed, complete with all manner of electric adjustments (standard in the Sport+ model anyway). Even the steering wheel stays out of your way, electronically moving itself into driving position after you're sat down and switch the engine on.
Some classic buttons make it easy to adjust the in-cabin temperature using the air conditioning, which is separate for driver and passenger. However, in the hot UK summer weather we would have liked cooled seats in addition to the heated ones. But that's not really the biggest absence or tech woe of the LC500h...
Tech needs a rethink
We've been beating this drum for a long time: Lexus' in-car tech really isn't very good. Sure, it looks the part, it ticks the boxes in terms of having the kit you'd want, but the controls and systems are just tricky to use and it, quite simply, irks.
This is all the more painful when you consider that Lexus is part of Toyota, where there's obviously a lot of part sharing that could have been better addressed. And it's not as though Toyota is locked down to ideas: the aforementioned GR Supra comes with the BMW in-car tech setup (as lifted from the Z4 setup, which is what that car is built upon) that's easier to use than anything Toyota currently implements itself in our view.
So what's our issue with the LC500h's tech overall? There are a number of things, but the two top ones are: one, the little mouse-like controller is a right fuss to use and you'll spend ages getting used to it, always wondering why it's not simpler; and, two, the built-in sat nav is approaching unusable for locating addresses, to the point that we just reverted to Google Maps on our phone when a postcode wouldn't show up in the car (and there's no Android Auto/Apple CarPlay to compensate).
The LC500h has just a 10.25-inch main screen tucked away just out of main view, so it's got the right idea in terms of scale and position; plus we like the ability to split the view between two areas of the in-car system, such as navigation and playing media. The on-wheel controls make adjustments nice and simple, too, so not all is lost when you get used to it all. But it should just be better and needs a rethink.
That's perhaps shown no more then when you spot the DVD/CD player slot directly in the front. That seems so at odds and outdated in a vehicle that is so future-facing in terms of future hybrid technology. One wheel in the future, one in the past, eh?
That said, at least it sounds good. The Mark Levinson 13-speaker Reference Product audio system fitted in the Sport+ model (at a £1,000 extra, we should say), which sounds great and has ample bass/mid/treble adjustment to suit personal tastes. Crank up the volume and enjoy the drive and there's no doubt you'll have a broad grin on your face.
The V6: A hybrid masterstroke or misfire?
The headline feature of the LC500h is its revolutionary V6 hybrid option, combining electric motor with six cylinder petrol engine, which is a first of its kind. Not only is this a smidgen better for mileage and the environment compared to the V8 - although not by much, we must say - it should also aid your tax bill. But if you're going to spend £85-90K on a car then, well, the V8 is hard to ignore - and a rare thing in many UK cars these days.
However, when you fire up the V8 model and it roars; when you activate the hybrid V6 it's, well, totally silent (hence not saying "fire it up"). That is quite a strange thing in a car as head-turningly all-out sportscar as this and, at first, we felt like we were driving a body-kitted Prius that had taken a significant dose of steroids.
Some of the fun of having a high torque, high revs, high response sports car is how peppy things can be. A flick of the foot down onto the pedal and it'll click into knowing you're ready to give it some - at least it does in the V8 model, whereas the V6 hybrid is always a little held back and lacking in that same engagement.
As such, the hybrid factor of this engine acts as a bit of a barrier. Even when selecting out of Eco mode and into Sports or Sports+ model - done so with the twist of a toggle high up the dash - there's still always this unflinching hang-back style before the V6 and its turbo kicks in and takes things up a notch.
That results in a car that's a bit like the Incredible Hulk. At low speeds it's all Bruce Banner and going about its business. But when you engage it - and it takes a bit of coaxing - it'll get into all-out rage and release the beast that's inside. It's here, like when nipping down motorways at great pace, where everyting kicks in and you feel like you're behind the wheel of a true sportscar.
But as that's not always the case - we almost wish there was a mode to get the hybrid portion to go into reserve (something we thought that Sport+ would do, but doesn't) - the LC500h feels like a game of two halves. And when you're flitting between Prius and Hulk, it tarnishes the fun a little bit. There's fun potential here that'll still see you grinning, just not as much as compared to the V8.
Which is a bit of a shame, because we still think the potential of this V6 hybrid is a total masterstroke. Just in this context it sometimes gives way to misfire.
Unless, that is, you'd never drive in anything but an entirely sensible manner. In which case the LC500h is supremely comfortable, super smooth - gliding along at 70mph feels like 30mph - and it's got the guts to really kick in when you need it too.
And successful tech features like the Head-Up Display (£995) for line-of-sight info displayed right on the windscreen, or the digital drivers dials, all add an extra air of elegance to the drive.
The Lexus LC500h is a remarkable car in many ways. Its distinctive looks will turn heads aplenty. That V6 hybrid engine setup is a masterstroke that's not been achieved before. It's supremely comfortable inside, too.
So what's the issue? It's two-fold: the tech isn't up to scratch and that hybrid setup becomes a contradiction in terms for a car of this stature.
First, the tech. The integrated interface is hard to use, the sat nav is really problematic, there aren't enough easy-to-use features, and as a day-to-day car we'd feel sad to be missing out to the competitions' stronger solutions.
Second, that V6 hybrid. Although it's a genius idea that's not implemented anywhere else yet, it leaves the LC500h feeling like a Prius on steroids that, eventually, gets up to whack and goes all Porsche-like Incredible Hulk.
Sure, there's fun to be had, just not nearly as much as its V8 cousin offers, which is why this scores a half-star less overall.
Lexus LC500 (V8)
It has the same in-car tech woes, but the sheer amount of fun this engine setup provides makes it kind-of forgivable. It won't do your tax or emissions any favours, but to buy it's literally only a couple of grand extra.