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Driven: 2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series Satisfies Us, and Then Some

Lexus’ stunning coupe is like a greatest-hits album on wheels.

Aaron GoldWriterManufacturerPhotographer

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Back in the 1980s and even into the '90s, it was often written that Japanese automakers were great imitators rather than innovators. With the aid of hindsight, I don't think that's entirely true nor fair; few countries have done more to shape the American car industry than Japan, maybe even more so than Detroit. Heading into my week-long sting with the 2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series,

I was in a good mood; I consider the LC500 to be one of Lexus' most innovative cars, and it's always nice to spend time with one. But I can still see the point about imitation: In a way, the LC500 is like the Greatest Hits of the sport-luxury coupe class.

Forget the Looks, How Does the Lexus LC500 Drive?

I could talk for hours about the LC500's styling, which I think is drop-dead gorgeous, but I fear you'd drop dead of boredom—and besides, we talked about that when the LC500 won a spot on our 2018 Automobile All-Stars list. So, let's jump right into the drive.

The 2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series thrills from the very first moment: Step on the brake, push the power switch, and the 5.0-liter V-8 fires with an exhaust bark that would do a modern Detroit muscle car proud. (I say this with authority, since my LC500 loan overlapped with a Ford Mustang GT. I couldn't decide which car sounded better on light-off.)

Slip the transmission into gear (it's the Prius shifter, same as found in our Four Seasons LS500, and I still don't like it very much) and away we go. Speeding off in the LC500, all I could think of was a past Four Seasons denizen, our 2018 BMW M550i xDrive. The LC500 has a fantastic soundtrack that features good old-fashioned rumbly V-8 noises. The car makes it abundantly clear that all the power you could ever ask for is waiting patiently just below the ball of your right foot, and it comes instantly when you call for it.

With Great Power Comes Great Civility

And yet the 2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series doesn't have to constantly smack you on the back of the head to remind you it's supposed to be a sports car. Its ride is quiet, comfortable, and confident. It has that same self-assurance you find in big-power German cars. Cruising around Los Angeles, I felt like I was driving a Mercedes-AMG that would never break.

While I've driven the LC on a racetrack, I've never had the chance to push it out on roads I know; I was eager to see if the Germanic demeanor would hold up when running hard. The answer: Mostly. The LC500 I drove was one of 100 Inspiration Series cars built for the 2020 model year, and as such it lacked the $9,570 Dynamic Handling package (thanks to its glass roof, as Lexus won't let you order both on the same car), which bestows the LC with variable-ratio steering, rear-wheel steering, a limited-slip differential, and upgraded brake pads, among other goodies. Even so, it has 98-percent of the moves down, braking quickly, turning-in sharply, and howling down straights into the next turn.

Several corners were accompanied by a flash from the traction-control light, an indicator, I suppose, of the lack of a limited-slip diff—and of my own reluctance to turn stability control off on these curvy mountain roads, though Lexus never completely allows you to disable the system. These flashes gave me flashbacks of my own to past iterations of parent-company Toyota's Dynamic Stability Control system, which used to cut the power and pull a blanket over its head until the bad scary corner was gone. Here and now, DSC complains but takes no action, which is something I too do often. I decided I could deal, because I was having as good of a time in this LC as I've had in any of the German sportsters I've hustled down these same roads.

Lexus LC500 Drives German-ish, Feels British-ish

If the 2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series' drive manners are nearly German, I'd say its design sensibility is nearly British. Now that the LC has been around for a few years, the visual impact is a bit blunted (and my car's Nori Green paint scheme did it no favors, if you ask me), but I'll remind you what a breathtakingly attractive car this is, both inside and out. More than that, I'll remind you what a unique car it is, inside and out. The LC500 has always reminded me of what a mass-produced Aston-Martin would feel like, ignoring the fact that mass production is pretty much anathema to everything Aston-Martin stands for. (Well, except the Cygnet.)

If there's one issue with this car, it's the price. All of my car-loving friends who stopped by to check out the Lexus (and there were several) agreed that the design is stunning and the soundtrack is aces. And after admiring the car, every single one of them said something to the effect of, "But wait, doesn't this thing cost $100,000?"

Pretty much, yes—base price for the 2021 LC500 is exactly $95,000 including destination fee, and this 2020 Inspiration Series car, with its unique interior, upgraded leather, and head-up display, listed for $104,105. For the record, the 2021 LC500 as I'd spec it, with the Dynamic Handling Package, awesome-sounding Mark Levinson stereo, and HUD, would run $106,690.

Is the Lexus LC500 Worth the Money?

Apparently, the idea of a six-figure base price doesn't jibe with these people's perception of Lexus' market position. As someone who evaluates cars for a living, I disagree. I think the LC500 earns its six-figure price tag in the way it looks, sounds, and drives, though I have to wonder why someone who pays this much for a car has to deal with Lexus' overly-complex touch-pad-driven infotainment system. And why no wireless charging pad?

The stereo/nav interface is the one area where the 2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series—and LCs in general—falls down, but in all other respects I think the LC500 is brilliant. It's beautiful to behold, comfortable to cruise in, and good fun to drive fast. Whether the Japanese automotive industry is an innovator or an imitator is an ongoing debate, but the Lexus LC500 is one of the finest sport coupes on today's market.

2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series Hits:

  • Jaw-droppingly beautiful
  • Wonderful to drive aggressively
  • Wonderful to drive gently

2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series Misses:

  • Touch-pad infotainment is a pain to use
  • Can't get handling package on cars with a glass roof
  • Are you ready to pay more than $100,000 for a Lexus?
2020 Lexus LC500 Inspiration Series Specifications
ON SALE: Now
PRICE: $104,105 (base)
ENGINE: 5.0L DOHC 32-valve V-8/471 hp @ 7,100 rpm, 398 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE: 16/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 187.4 x 75.6 x 53.0 in
WHEELBASE: 113.0 in
WEIGHT: 4,280 lb
0-60 MPH: 4.7 sec
TOP SPEED 168 mph