Gliding can be seen as a more elegant way of flying. No noise, no disturbance: just floating in the wind, ever so gently. If you experienced a hang glider in a flight through the mountains is something truly exciting: the sound of the air flowing past you and the sensation to be lighter than the air itself is just unique.
Might seem as a bit of an exaggeration, but if you look closely, in history cars have always tried to achieve more with less, while emitting no noise whatsoever. The meaning of Gran Turismo is that of a greater form of touring: getting from A to B in a superior vehicle, with no stress and in the shortest time possible. The idea of gliding through the corners is something that not every petrolhead contemplates: if you love (and I mean, love) classic Rolls Royces you might be already acquainted with that beautiful feeling of being in a road-floater rather than in a normal car. Wafting away can be exciting as much as hearing the sound of silence.
Japan has a long tradition of making excellent cars but it is still not recognized as a producer of fine GT’s. Still fact has always prove otherwise: from the Mazda Cosmo and the Toyota 2000 GT of the 60ies to the present day Lexus LFA and Nissan GTR, the Rising Sun has always shed more than one of its rays in the petrolhead-world.
And now, there’s a new one around, the Lexus LC500h, perhaps the first hybrid front-engined GT. Not a supercar by any means, it is more of a concept car on wheels. Styled after the highly praised LC LF concept in 2012, the LC500h is indeed a very welcome (and rare) sight on the road. Introduced at the 2016 Geneva Auto show, it went in production the following year and produced in the same plant where the venerable LFA was assembled.
As a replacement for the successful SC, the new LC500 is conceived to be a more direct descendant of the LFA by enthusiasts, even if its more gentle behaviour suggest otherwise.
Think of it this way: it’s the perfect gentleman commuter. A powerful and graceful glider that can be used to waft away from villa to villa in some fancy locations and enjoy every moment. Available in both hybrid and V8 form, it is a fine Japanese GT that will take the game to the ever-present 911.
The hybrid version, which is the one we escaped, is powered by a 3.5 liter V6 and mated to an electric, multi stage hybrid transmission. Such trickery is a clever way of Lexus to amplify the power of the car, by using 4 additional electric gear ratios other than the classic 6 speed torque converter transmission. In total, you have 10 gears that always keep you in the power band: needless to say that it doesn’t encourage you to flamboyant late-braking-into-corner technique as it reduces the need to change gears manually, focusing more on changing direction. Think of the transmission as a constant source of thermal columns that will keep you floating in the air, always in the powerband, with smooth shifts and seemingly endless surge of energy. It’s not the kind of car that will make you want to be in afterburner mode all the time: just glide from A to B and enjoy the ride.
It sure doesn’t encourage you to drive aggressively but its character will make you hunt for long and sweeping streaks of road, just for the sake of enjoying where you are and forget about the rest.
This escape is a celebration of pure modern motoring enjoyement. Before anything, let’s clarify something: this is not “our kind” of car, meaning it is not a canyon carver. The driving experience is the kind of love or hate it. Needless to say that the multi-stage hybrid system is ingenious and Lexus should receive more credit for this high-level technology: should this system have an European badge, it is likely to believe that the starting price, before options, would be over 150.000€. Shockingly, such a beautiful and interesting motorcar (or should we say…electricar?) is a little over 100k, including all options.
The driving experience is majestic, with the car responding well to the inputs and with a very balanced and neutral behaviour: the four-wheel steering does wonders for nearly 2 tons and there’s virtually no understeer or oversteer when driven correctly.
It does, however do one thing: powerslides. Yes, the same group that gave us the hated Prius, made a car that when provoked car slide its bottom very nicely. Who would have thought of that?
Pin-point accuracy is possible, but dashing lane changes and tarmac-ripping acceleration is not the LC500h forte. What this car really is, is a piece of organic architecture in motion. Just like the house Fallingwater of James Lloyd Wright it blends into the surroundings, becoming a perfect complement to a great scenery. The design is stunning and the interior quality is breathtaking. Nowadays, such levels of build-quality are seldom seen: from the paint to the choice of materials and the choice of the interior layout it feels like a piece of the most exquisite modern architecture rather than a car by itself.
Like the BMW i8, it is one of those key road-legal prototypes that you can buy and enjoy and a possible future classic. It might not be thrilling to drive as its V8 counterpart or anything performance-oriented in that price range, but gliding through the villas of Lake Garda is quite of a remarkable experience.
Just like classical architecture vs modern organic examples, it may lack the conservativism and the presence of a traditional Italian berlinetta but it sure is captivating in a way that only fine Japanese culture can be.
The LC500h leaves enthusiasts wondering whether we’ll see an exciting hybrid in the future as it is not what everyone expects from such a great looking motorcar but it will sure fulfill the expectation of a certain, well-educated clientele. The driving experience is similar to a glider: it lacks the exhilaration of the afterburner kick of a fighter-jet but it will reward you with unprecedented smoothness and refinement.
Gliding is a wonderful alternative to the emotional highs of high-speed flying: sometimes, the sound of silence can be more thrilling than music itself.
Many Thanks to Bonera Group
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