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2021 Lexus LC500 Convertible First Test Drive

Meet the Lexus of grand touring convertibles.

Nelson IresonWriterDarren MartinPhotographer

I can't put my finger on the exact moment when it happened—where the exact inflection point was—but sometime in the last 10 years or so, carmakers figured out how to make a convertible that's not appreciably different from a coupe in any way that matters, aside from the roof opening up. The Lexus LC coupe is a stunningly good-looking, monstrously capable, and immaculately well-mannered car; so is the new 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible.

It used to be that lopping the roof off of a coupe would render it a floppy, cowl-shaking mess; it would be nearly devoid of the performance potential of the hardtop it was built from, a rolling monument to the phrase "all show, no go"—even before you took a June bug to the face at 70 mph. Even cars that weren't coupes in the first place seemed to suffer for their lack of a rigidity-inducing shell over the passenger compartment—and that includes the legendary Mazda Miata, right up through the third-gen NC model.

But then there are the modern convertibles, which don't quite defy the laws of physics but seem to have found a few beneficial loopholes.

2021 Lexus LC500 Convertible: It's All About the Air

The new 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible is based on the LC coupe, but it's not just a roofless version of the now three-year-old car. Lexus being Lexus, it wasn't enough to simply take an amazing car and add the fun of open-air driving to the mix. Instead, Lexus decided to add the fun of open-air driving while minimizing or eliminating almost all of the downsides of doing so. How? With a handful of finely tuned, smart applications of mostly familiar technology.

The heating and cooling system, for example, by itself managed to make this test drive of the 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible an intriguing proposition. It is not just aware of the cabin temperature, but also of the top's position, as well as the car's speed, allowing it to adjust more precisely to keep the cockpit as comfortable as possible even with it wide open to the elements. If, like me, your parents were always telling you to shut the damn front door because, and I quote, "We're not paying to air condition the whole neighborhood," you'll be glad to finally have a riposte in the form of the air management in the new Lexus LC convertible's cabin.

Additionally, there is a wind deflector in the back that helps reduce turbulence at low speeds, while a quick tug on the button that controls all four windows (alongside the convertible-top button, hidden under the palm rest in the center console) puts the driver and passenger in a very effective bubble even at low freeway speeds.

For those looking to do a lot of top-down cruising, especially if you'd like to do it in a wide range of temperatures and environs, for a $5,290 upgrade fee Lexus will equip the 2021 LC500 convertible with the Touring package, which includes not just deliciously soft semi-aniline perforated leather-trimmed sport seats, a Mark Levinson Reference surround sound system, and a heated steering wheel, but also Lexus' upgraded Climate Concierge system. The Climate Concierge system extends the heating and cooling directly to the front seats, combining the functions of the air conditioner, seat heaters, neck heaters, and steering wheel heater to work in tandem to maintain a comfortable cabin climate.

You can open or close the top at speeds up to 31 mph, with the whole process taking about 15 seconds to open, or 16 seconds to close. I noticed during this test drive a subtle but appreciable feature of the top's magnesium-and-aluminum mechanism: it's powered by hydraulic pressure rather than electric motors, meaning there's no annoying whine as you operate the top, just the near-silence of cloth-wrapped metal gliding into position.

2021 Lexus LC500 Convertible: Design and Styling

Lexus has long made some of the most dependable, comfortable, and value-packed luxury vehicles in the world, but, as our former resident design guru Robert Cumberford explained upon the debut of the LC500 coupe, those cars typically didn't move us much with their design. The LC changed that.

The 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible keeps the grace and flow of the coupe's design, for the most part, and does an admirable job of adding a folding soft top without adding a bulky, bulbous rear. The choice of the soft top over an articulated hard top contributes to the compact stowing (no trunk space is lost compared to the coupe) and helps preserve the styling. Even with the top up, the LC500 convertible's lines are respectable—though perhaps a bit less elegant than the fixed-roof alternative.

Inside, the LC500 convertible is every bit as luxurious and gorgeous as the LC500 coupe, which is to say a level of luxury and beauty typically reserved for cars with price tags double or triple that of the LC.

2021 Lexus LC500 Convertible: Driving and Performance

The long, taut hood of the 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible conceals one of the car's best pieces of hardware for a fun drive, the marque's 471-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine. It's a fabulously anachronistic assembly that, while not particularly fuel efficient (EPA rating for the 2021 LC500 'vert: 15/25 mpg city/highway), is fantastically effective at making the amazing V-8 sounds you want from something that looks this good. And with the top open during my test drive, those sounds are all the more readily enjoyable.

Lexus knows how good its V-8 sounds, and has taken steps to make sure it sounds even better. The engine has things like an Intake Sound Generator system similar to that found on the LFA supercar, and a computer-controlled valve in the exhaust balances exhaust back-pressure against exhaust tone and volume to deliver the ultimate Lexus-tuned sonic experience.

Of course, this is still a Lexus, and it'd be untoward to have all these rorty V-8 noises competing for attention with the Mark Levinson sound system—or worse, your passenger—in normal driving. So, in addition to all of the ways Lexus enhances the V-8's natural sounds, there's an enhanced active noise cancellation system to muffle them when you don't want them. It works remarkably well; the LC500 convertible's cabin, with the top closed, is nearly as serene as the coupe's.

But how does the 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible drive? Almost exactly like the LC500 coupe, which is high praise; the LC500 Coupe was, after all, a 2018 Automobile All-Star. While it's not a supercar, or trying to be, it is an excellent, fast grand tourer, capable of 0-60-mph runs in 4.6 seconds and electronically limited to a top speed of 168 mph. The convertible's good driving manners aren't magic; Lexus' engineers went to great lengths to preserve the coupe's sporty GT dynamics, devising an extensive underbody bracing system and changes to the suspension bracing, among other upgrades.

The suspension itself is the familiar Adaptive Variable Suspension from the coupe, but re-tuned and slightly redesigned for its application in the convertible. The continual adjustments of the dampers help control not just the car's body motion, but also the mass of the 20- or 21-inch forged-aluminum wheels the 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible rides on, and despite the car's relatively flat cornering dynamics and specification of run-flat tires (eliminating the need for a space-wasting spare), the ride quality is never harsh or rough.

In short, after spending an all-too-little time with the 2021 Lexus LC500 convertible, it appears to be everything an open-top grand-touring fan could hope for, even at the $111,920 price of the example Lexus provided for this test drive (which carried $9,895 in optional extras, including the $5,290 Touring Package, $2,650 21-inch forged wheels, a $900 head-up display, $460 limited-slip differential, and $595 for special Infrared paint). We look forward to getting more familiar with the style-forward drop-top in the months ahead.

2021 Lexus LC500 Convertible Quick Facts

  • Convertible top can raise or lower at up to 31 mph
  • Top takes 15 seconds to open, and 16 seconds to close
  • The top is hydraulically operated
  • Careful wind management makes the LC500's cabin more peaceful than a typical convertible's
  • The V-8's engine sound hits all the right notes
  • Just as good a Lexus as the coupe

2021 Lexus LC500 Convertible Specifications

ON SALE: Now
PRICE: $102,025 (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 convertible
EPA MILEAGE: 15/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 187.4 x 75.6 x 53.2 in
WHEELBASE: 113.0 in
WEIGHT: 4,540 lb
0-60 MPH: 4.6 sec
TOP SPEED 168 mph