I've spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a Lexus LC 500, though two specific instances stand out. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to be at the official vehicle launch event in Hawaii, where the coupe's otherworldly shape seemed at home among fields of black volcanic stone and sweeping, ocean-side roads. Not long after, I brought the Lexus and a couple of other grand tourers on a 1,000-mile road trip through Michigan for Gear Patrol Magazine, providing a lengthy opportunity to compare the $100K cruiser with exotics at twice the price. It's only a coincidence that the Hawaiian trip coincided with Valentine's Day that year; I would have fallen in love regardless of Cupid's intervention.
Late in 2021, I revisited my beloved LC 500, this time in a daring colorway and with decidedly less of that wild bodywork. For a week in and around Montecito and Santa Barbara, California, the LC 500 Convertible served as both my chariot and as a rolling ego boost: there are few better places for a lavish drop top than "The American Riviera," and few cars as eye-catching and distinctive as the LC 500. But how would my first experience with the drop-top compare with those drives in the coupe?
As noted, the car stood out around town, cruising the coast, and bombing up and down the 101. Even in a place rife–nay, lousy–with new Ferraris, Aston Martins and all manner of other high-end metal, my LC 500 convertible, finished in a shockingly bright red metallic paint (called, appropriately, Infrared) turned heads and piqued interest.
That makes a lot of sense: despite its relatively bonkers affordability, the LC 500 is still a rare sight on the road. In the handful of years since it's been available, Lexus has only sold a rough average of 2,000 LC 500s per annum. Now, with the 2021 convertible in the mix to attract more buyers, those numbers could rise. But, they're still pretty depressing figures, despite working to my advantage vis a vis the many impromptu Prettiest Car Popularity Contests I found myself winning.
All those craning necks were rewarded with a smug grin from yours truly — not only because I was back in the saddle of this fantastic beast, but also because I knew most onlookers had no clue what I was driving. It's not just a pretty face; under the LC 500's hood is the same buttery smooth, terrifying 5.0-liter, 471-horsepower, naturally aspirated V8 available in the coupe. It makes an incredible sound, gulping gallons of air through that controversially huge "spindle" grille and blowing them out the twin tailpipes like a coke-addled baritone from hell.
The engine redlines above 7,000 rpm, after all — and with the drive mode selector in Sport+, cracking off violent up- and down-shifts with the katana-sized paddle shifters is an exercise in unbridled, exhilarating mania. It's not necessarily easier to hear the engine with the top dropped, thanks to physics, but it doesn't change the experience for the worse. When I left the top up and opened the throttle, only my delighted cackles could compete with the exhaust barks.
And yet, the LC 500 is a cruiser, not a track car. That's not to say it doesn't hold its own on dry, kinky mountaintop roads. I love the steering in this car; it's mostly heavy and incredibly direct, but still light enough to evoke the feeling of plush luxury. The chassis and suspension (and, yes, electronics) do well to keep the car's butt from wiggling too much while existing a dusty hairpin, and the thick steering wheel is a pleasure to saw away on. Still, though I applaud the LC 500's refinement and class, and would gladly do another (or several) 1,000-mile road trip in one, I'd opt for the coupe every time.
The appeal of a convertible top is unmistakable, particularly in a place like Southern California, and particularly with such a sonorous exhaust note to take in. And losing its top was clearly no skin off the car's back, so to speak — it gets a lot of looks. Even so, lopping the roof off a car that's famous for its wild, swoopy roofline is a risk, at least from this enthusiast's perspective. For drivers who want a more approachable luxury-sports car but may have been put off by the coupe's edginess, however, it may do the trick. Performance numbers are very similar between coupe and convertible, so losing the roof is almost a purely aesthetic choice.
One quibble is the Ferris wheel-sized rims on this model. They're "only" 21 inches, but the combination of wheel size and tiny tire tread made for a ride that flirted too heavily with the buckboard end of the spectrum. Even on the highway in the very docile "Comfort" and "Eco" modes, the car just felt too stiff. I don't expect Bentley smoothness at $100K, but this is a Lexus–you expect it to float a little. There are no suspension changes in this car compared to those I've driven previously; for whatever reasons, I seemed to notice the harshness more in the convertible. That said, cruising at speed with the top down is otherwise extremely comfortable. I don't have any hair to blow around, but there's nary a whisper of wind or wind noise in the cabin at 80 mph.
Aside from that, there's very little to pick at. The Lexus infotainment system needs an overhaul (the touchpad cursor really is a pain in the ass), but what's new? And the magnetic strap that keeps seat belt shoulder straps in place on the driver's seat comes unlatched if it's so much as looked at. There is, of course, not a humongous amount of trunk space and, truly, forget about putting any humanoid beings in the back "seats," as they are sized only for show.
So does the LC 500 Convertible live up to my own "Coupe" hype? Not really, but few cars could. Does it feel like a convertible version of one of my favorite cars to ever exist? Yes, very much so. And does it still drive like mad and put a smile on my face? Uhh… yeah. I'm hoping that losing the roof will gain Lexus some customers, because top or not, any LC 500 with a V8 is a stunner and a thrilling ride to boot.