Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 1, 2020
To an enthusiast or track nut, convertibles are overrated. Why would you want to cut off such a structurally imperative piece of a vehicle just for extra sunshine? Would you knock down the roof of your attic to turn it into a solarium? Not only do you compromise rigidity but you lose cabin insulation with a fabric roof, the added mechanisms and parts to operate and stow the roof add more weight and steal precious trunk space, it always costs more than the coupe, and the styling takes a hit without a fastback silhouette to balance out the rear overhang. So why in the heavens would you want a topless six-figure sports car?
Because it’s not always about the numbers. People who buy convertibles don’t prioritize lap times, power-to-weight ratios, or value. They cherish the driving experience and the sensory overload that turns a daily commute into a daily escape. The smell of gasoline, the sound of a V8 war drum, the ability to look upwards without metal and leather hindering the city skyline - it all makes sense once you take the new Lexus LC 500 Convertible for a sunny weekend drive.
The Lexus LC 500 that we tested two years ago in coupe form, was one of the most beautiful, seductive, and futuristically-shaped sports cars on the current market. There’s elegance to the way the elongated front hood and Predator-style grill match up with the Nike-checkmark headlights, and the perched up rear with mesmerizing taillights.
Convertibles tend to ruin that shape but in the LC, it only serves to amplify its visual appeal. Without a roof, the LC appears somewhat more cohesive. The high shoulder lines are more pronounced, and the silhouette is elegant and increasingly masculine. Notice how Lexus doesn’t bother with intrusive quad exhaust tips, but rather blended in the openings with the rear bodywork. Clean. Furthermore, the brake lights have moved over to the trunk lid, with black and beige being the only two roof colours available. The Infrared paint is also a bit too bright and shouty for my taste - I much prefer the darker shades of the palette, like the available Smoky Granite Mica or Caviar.
The interior remains unchanged over the coupe save for neck heaters embedded into both front seats. The rest remains a seductive and lusciously designed cabin that demonstrates the epitome of Japanese minimalism, for better or worse. The infotainment unit and its head-scratching trackpad remain a mess and while the Mark Levinson audio system is a serious piece of kit, when was the last time you’ve seen a brand new 2020 or 2021 vehicle accept CD discs? Maybe Lexus knows their audience better than we do.
For the sake of cleanliness, there are only a minimal number of buttons scattered about, most of them allocated to the HVAC. But if you want to turn on the heated seats, neck heaters, and heated steering wheel, you have to use the trackpad to navigate to the climate menu to reach them. Depending on your proficiency, that will take at least ten clicks. Luckily, Lexus offers an Auto function that will turn everything on automatically should it detect a sub-optimal cabin temperature. Even the roof operation controls have been relegated to a small hidden panel underneath the trackpad wrist rest, an almost James Bond-like nod to gadgetry.
We think the only way to spec your LC 500 is with this Toasted Caramel colour scheme. The colour and material uniformity is an artistic achievement, compared to the relatively bland Porsche 992, and cramped Mercedes AMG GT. This is how you do proper cabin design: add lavish materials and soft surfaces, don’t go stingy on the colour, and add some Frankenstein bolts protruding out of the instrument cluster to control the driving modes. Just take a look at how much surface area is covered in that caramel brown. Hint: every surface, not just the seats and dashboard like how other automakers do it. That includes the seat frame, sun visor, seat belts, and even the door pockets.
But underneath the skin is where the alterations have been made. Morphing into a convertible added weight, 90 kg to be specific. That’s like having a 200 pound human stuffed under the trunk lid. Structural braces were added to improve rigidity, unsprung weight was reduced in the front suspension, an aluminum suspension brace was added to the rear, and a performance dampener was added to improve ride comfort.
The four-layer fabric roof takes 15 seconds to fold down and 16 to pitch back up, and can be operated on the move up to 50 km/h (same as the F-Type) in case dark clouds linger on the horizon. Wind turbulence is surprisingly kept to a minimum. You still want to roll your windows up on the highway but the mountable windscreen over the rear seats makes it very manageable. The LC 500 is not as good as the BMW M850i Convertible at managing that dirty air, but the limited wind buffeting makes it impressive nonetheless.
The powertrain remains the same as the coupe, a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 gem that dishes out 471 hp and 398 lb-ft. Don’t expect the hybrid LC 500h variant to come roofless - Lexus says the folding roof takes up most of the available space for the battery. Without turbochargers or superchargers, this unit is living in rarified air, no pun intended of course. It means you drive the LC a little bit differently, requiring build up of RPMs before the horses really charge out of the stable. But they gallop linearly, pleasantly, and not all at once so you’re not kicked back into your seat fighting the wheels for traction.
We never thought the LC 500 Coupe was quick, but the convertible is even slower. Once you get the ball rolling though, power comes on right up to its 7,300 rpm redline, just like the RC F. You do feel the weight anchor the LC 500 down on the straights, and it’s not enough to make most drivers swoon at the G’s pulled at wide open throttle. Traction becomes a bit of an issue as well, even in first gear as you roll out lightly on the throttle. We can blame our cold Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires for the majority of those instances in this odd 0-degree October weekend, but it really has trouble planting the rear tires down and hooking them up. It’s sure-footed one moment, and squirrely in the next. The LC 500 is certainly not a sure fire pull like the AWD F-Type or the 992. The brakes could also use more bite.
The 10-speed is a welcome companion, reacting quickly and tuned with decently stacked ratios for road use. Usually when you have a gearbox with that many gears, you want short-spaced ratios so that the engine can hit its peak power (again, at 7,100 rpm) more often. However, Lexus has gone out of their way to make the gears incredibly tall, meaning it takes forever to get to the redline, and by the time you’re there and peak power comes on, you’re at cop-bait speeds. It’s frustrating and we had the same problem with the Corvette C7 Z06’s gearing, because these naturally aspirated V8s are just begging to be revved up faster. Upshifts can lag, meaning you have to hit the paddles a split second before you actually want the car to shift. Downshifts on the other hand are lightning quick, even up to DCT standards.
Is the convertible any different to drive? Fundamentally, no. There is slightly more scuttle shake and chassis flex when you hit pockmarked roads but it’s not enough to warrant a complaint. The LC 500 Convertible just doesn’t neutralize small suspension movements as ably or as rigidly as the fixed roof coupe, and inherently fails to be as taut or as tightly strung. The cabin lets in more wind and tire noise as well, especially when going triple digit speeds. The convertible’s fuel consumption is also significantly higher than the coupe, with a rated 16.0 L/100km in the city and 9.5 L/100km on the highway, higher than the 14.7 and 9.2 rating from the 2018 coupe we drove. Our average drive took us to the 15.4 L/100km ballpark.
But when driving at five-tenths of the car’s limit, which is frankly where most buyers will end up, there are absolutely no perceivable penalties to its roofless endeavour, only positives. The smell of the orange leaves rushing through into olfactory lobes, the crisp October air brushing past your skin, and the brisk acceleration of a free-breathing V8 spinning your cochlear fluids will make any coupe die-hard think twice about their next purchase.
And the noise. With the roof down, you have front row seats to one of the satisfying aural symphonies in the automotive kingdom. The LC 500 sings a V8 anthem that fires with a rich, deep-timbred tonality. There’s just such a stark difference with an engine breathing atmospheric pressure unencumbered by forced plumbing, bringing breadth to a car’s voice. Upshifts are met with a raspy snarl while downshifts are followed by an authoritative bark. The real highlight is when you put the LC 500 into Sport+ mode and hold the revs at the redline for half a second - it will ping and bounce off the limiter with a gnarly V10-like noise, reminding me of the LFA. It’s also refreshing not to hear any synthetic burbles on overrun that automakers love to program into their exhausts these days.
Lexus says that all of the exhaust noise you’re hearing in the cabin is authentic, but they have found a way to pipe in more natural sound by carrying the engine’s noises (not the air itself) through a diaphragm into a sound pipe and pushing them into the cabin. They used this system before in the Lexus LFA, and admit that there is absolutely zero electronic sound generation in the LC 500 either. We believe it. After hooking up our microphone outside right next to the exhaust, the V8 rumble sounds almost the same as from the driver’s seat, minus some engine intake noise. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above.
The LC 500 Convertible starts at $122,500 and commands a $18,950 premium over the coupe. Compared to its rivals, that’s quite a deal. The Porsche 911 Carrera Convertible starts at $127,600, and that’s just the base model without options, not even the S, 4S, or Turbo variant. The BMW M850i xDrive Convertible hits the road at $131,500, with the V8-powered Jaguar F-Type R slotting a tick below at $121,500. But the sad reality is that convertibles like this LC 500 aren’t going to last very much longer. Rumour has it Lexus has already cancelled a high-performance LC F. BMW has already axed their M8 Cabriolets for next year, and Mercedes has done the same with their S-Class drop top. Natural aspiration is on borrowed time, and the market demand for six-figure convertibles always has been diminutive.
But the fact of the matter is, the LC 500 Convertible deserves to be celebrated, and it deserves to be on the road. Every time a friend thinks about purchasing a new Porsche 911, I ask if they’ve taken a serious look at the Lexus LC. It’s coming from left-field and while some may be worried about depreciation or prestige, they’re also buying their way into a brand known for reliability and regal customer support. The unique V8 and its breathtaking exhaust are a win, as are the attractive price tag and drop dead gorgeous interior. The LC 500 is seriously underrated, and we should savour it while it’s here.
Model: 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible
Paint Type: Infrared
Base Price: $122,500
Price as Tested: $123,150
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,760 / 1,920 / 1,350
Curb weight (kg): 2,025
Engine: 5.0-litre V8
Horsepower: 471 hp @ 7,100 rpm
Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 16.0 / 9.5 / 13.0
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.4
Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport; P245/40RF21 front; P275/35RF21 rear