Back in 2012, I remember seeing the achingly pretty LF-LC Concept. I thought, “Lexus will never build something that outrageous for the road.” I was dead wrong. Fast forward five years and I saw early models, re-monikered the LC 500, gliding along city streets. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a press loan. In October 2019, I got the opportunity to spend two full weeks with the gorgeous LC 500h.
Get ready for attention. While filling up somebody may saddle up to you and say, “Hey nice car, how long have you had it?” You may reply, “Not long, about a week.” He, a hard-working white-collared suburbanite, will look you up and down and silently wonder how an unshaven, rakish neerdowell can afford such a machine. He’ll wonder where his life went wrong as he climbs into is F-150 and stares longingly at the hard creased body and perfect proportions of the LC500.
It’s a stunning thing to behold, and really the first design by Lexus that’s swept me away. That’s why I assert that this is the most beautiful Lexus ever built. Now, you may be thinking, “What about the LFA, huh?” Well, perhaps you need a refresher. Go ahead and Google it, I’ll wait… See, I told you. While the LFA was certainly a departure in design terms, I don’t consider it beautiful.
The LC 500 looks like a low-production hyper-car. It’s classy too. It manages to be outstanding without being garish. There are no silly wings or splitters hanging off the front or rear to spoil the profile and you won’t find any day-glo accents. It’s simply a stunning shape.
The LC 500 has a long low hood, sweeping A-pillars, and a neat little trunk space. It’s a formula for a sexy silhouette. It’s low, slinky and pinched in the middle, resulting in a slightly arched look. Like a cat ready to pounce. There are no odd angles to the car. From the front corner, it has no rival. The wheel design makes the optional 21 inch rims look even larger. They tuck perfectly within the wheel wells. Lastly, this is the first car I’ve seen where Lexus’ spindle grille really works.
The interior is lovely too. The materials are excellent and the execution is about as nice as you’ll find in any car. This is no surprise though, Lexus brought in the same craftsmen they employed for the LSA to do the finer work on the LC 500. It sounds nice too, this press car was fitted with the optional 13 speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
The seats are firm and after about 350 miles you’ll feel it, but just look how pretty they are. The door panels feature a gorgeous sweeping design stitched into Alcantara, carbon fiber accents and bespoke Lexus branded fasteners.
The 2020 LC500h features a 10.3 inch display controlled by Lexus’ baffling touchpad interface to control everything from the A/C to the navigation. It’s bizarre and nearly impossible to use. I didn’t figure out how to activate the heated and cooled seats for a week. But who cares? Look how pretty the car is.
In the two weeks, I had the car I made the drive from Dallas to Austin and back. On-ramp acceleration is quick. Combined power from the dual electric motors and 3.5 liter V6 is 354 hp. That’s good for a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds. Faster than a 911 Carrera and only .2 slower than the 471 hp V8 LC 500.
Power is transmitted to the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic combined with a CVT setup that acts like a ten-speed auto. It’s efficient too, Lexus claims the LC 500h gets 35 mpg on the highway and 27 around town. I didn’t keep that close an eye on the mileage numbers, but I can vouch for a 500 mile range before the fuel light comes on.
Mash the gas pedal and the LC 500h V6 leaps into a sonorous departure. The back end gives a subtle slither before the traction control engages to keep the nose pointed in the right direction. It’d be a pity to bend one of these beautiful fenders. When you’re not hotdogging around, the drive is smooth and quiet. Different drive modes change the ride from firm to supple. It’s an excellent interstate hauler and predictable handling makes winding back roads fun.
On the hill country backroads outside Austin, there were ghostly quiet moments when EV mode would kick on at speed. Cruising over winding blacktop through pristine scenery when the engine cuts out and the electric motors silently waft the car along at 60 mph is my favorite memory driving the car.
I don’t really know who this car is for. There are more comfortable, more sporty and less expensive cars. However, you’d be hard-pressed to buy anything this lovely to look at. It’s not only the best-looking Lexus ever built, it’s in the running for one of the best-looking things on four wheels made in the last two decades.
It has supermodel skin over a distance runner’s guts. The LC 500h has a sticker price of $97,000. When it’s dolled up the way this one is you’ll be out nearly $104k. That’s a whole lot of dough and makes this car the third member of the Dirt on Cars $100k club.
Last year, a Rembrandt doodle of a guy with a mustache sold for $80,000. This car, to my eye anyway, is much better looking and I challenge anyone to drive a Rembrandt etching at 100 miles per hour. I admit to being more than a little smitten with the LC-500’s looks. In my head, there’s a flow chart, where each path leads from a fault to the ultimate answer “But just look how pretty it is.”
For 2019, Toyota unveiled the latest generation of their largest sedan. This fifth generation Avalon has grown both in proportion and refinement. This is the second ’19 Avalon I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. I was smitten with previous car’s excellent 301 horsepower V6. Read that review here. But how does the hybrid version measure up?
Inside, the 14-speaker JBL stereo, infotainment and navigation are all controlled with the nine inch touch screen set in a waterfall console that cascades from the dash down to fill the space between the seats. Apple Carplay makes connecting your phone seamless. In a hidden cubby forward of the gear shift is a Qi wireless charging pad. There are up-market touches in the door panels, seats and console.
I’m a sucker for a peanut butter colored interior. So, of course, I felt immediately attracted to the color of this car’s upholstery. Upon looking closer, it’s evident that Toyota is taking their fit and finish seriously. There are exactly zero squeaks or rattles. Gaps are consistent and the materials used have a quality feel. The beautiful arced pleats in the door panels are sewn with two different colors threads. This means someone made a decision to deliberately complicate the manufacturing process. Why? ‘Cause it looks cool.
The front ventilated and heated seats offer eight-way power adjustment and customizable lumbar support for both driver and passenger. There’s plenty of room for heads and legs up front. The seat inserts are perforated in a dashing starfield pattern.
The rear seats have ample leg and headroom. There’s even plenty of room to forget your camera bag in the passenger footwell as you photograph the car for your website, you know, like a professional.
The new Avalon grew in nearly every direction. It’s longer, wider and heavier. It’s also slightly more aerodynamic than the last generation. The low hood and high trunk give a slightly sporty look to the car’s profile. Spindly A and C pillars give the roofline a delicate appearance and make for good driver visibility. The grille design and the chiseled body lines on the car’s flanks are in step with current automotive design trends. Time will tell if they hold up or date the car. This car is fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels which look pretty sharp.
The hybrid’s single exhaust outlet is tucked up out of sight behind the rear bumper cover.
Rather than 301 hp V6, this hybrid version has 2.5 liter gas-burner that works with an electric motor. The power makes its way to the wheels through an electronic continuously variable transmission. The steering feel is light. Click it into sport mode and the car tightens up. Throw it into a curve with gusto and the tires may protest but the car holds a line with no drama.
Off-the-line acceleration is adequate, hauling the car from 0 to 60 in 7.8. seconds. Where this car shines though is the pull from 60 mph. Put the pedal down and you’ve got passing power on tap. This car came outfitted with the optional$1,150 advanced safety package that includes features like bird’s eye view and cross traffic alert. The hybrid system lets this big sedan get 43 mpg around town and on the highway.
There are those who would argue new cars suffer from a lack of character. “It’s just an appliance,” they say. Well, I drive both sides of that coin. My ’49 Ford is silly with character. Because of this wealth of character, I don’t drive it too far outside the radius of free towing that my insurance company offers. And it’s in its character to occasionally respond to the application of pressure to the brake pedal with indifference. It has no air conditioning, no airbags, and seatbelts that I had to bolt in myself. There’s a cute nickname for the non-collapsible steering column like the one in my Ford. They’re referred to as a spear of death. The transmission is only three forward speeds and I dare not push the ancient flathead V8 above about 60 mph because I know deep down that the bottom end is just waiting for an excuse to grenade, and blast FOMOCO labeled shrapnel through the oil pan.
On the other end of the bell curve is the Avalon. It’s slick to operate, gets 400 miles to a tank, and the fit and finish on the inside make you wonder why anyone would spend more for the Lexus equivalent. Jump in, push the button and the car wakes up ready to go. On the road, it treats occupants to an almost absurdly quiet ride. There’s so much to like about the interior, it makes your commute a pleasure rather than something to be endured. As tested this Avalon will set you back $44,870. I tend to think everything is too expensive no matter the price, but after spending the week in this ride, I think it’s worth the money.
If it really is just conveyance appliance, then it’s a damn nice one. And if I had to pick just one car. I’d take the comfort, convenience and reliablity of this appliance over my character car without hesitation. Thankfully I don’t have to choose.
The Toyota Highlander represents an SUV for those of us who don’t necessarily want to drive a serious off-roader everyday. Normal folks who don’t need 4×4 capability for the commute to their nine-to-five, and don’t have to drive down fire roads out of the hills to fetch groceries from town. This isn’t a knock against those who do, but I see a whole lot of 4-runners and jacked-up Jeeps that are more likely to crawl the Starbucks drive-thru on the weekend than to crawl boulders.
Living with the noise of mud tires on asphalt, and climbing into an off-road rig every morning while trying not to spill your coffee is not a life everyone wants to live. For those who want the space of an SUV, the reliability and resale of a Toyota, and some capability in case things get slick, thankfully there’s the Highlander.
From the outside this SUV looks reasonably tame. It’s the best example of something for either spouse in its class. It doesn’t look so much like a mom-mobile that dad won’t drive it, and it doesn’t have the angular, hyper masculine styling of the 4-runner or Tacoma.
The press car was painted in Toyota’s Predawn Gray and fitted with handsome 19 inch wheels. The LED headlights lend a determined look to the front of the vehicle without making look like it’s scowling at oncoming traffic. Aesthetically, the design is not cluttered with fake vents in the fenders or chintzy detail. It doesn’t look like it’s chasing the latest trend. Which means this SUV won’t look dated after a couple years.
Inside, the Highlander features seating for seven people. An eight inch touch screen serves as the interface for the infotainment system as well as displaying the backup camera and bird’s eye view. The press car had black leather upholstery covering the front and rear seats. The driver’s and passenger seats have power adjustment and the second row occupants are treated to captain’s chairs. For third row seating there’s a 60/40 split bench seat which has plenty of space behind it for groceries. For hauling larger things, the third and second rows will fold flat.
Toyota tucked airbags in every corner of the cabin. They also equipped the Highlander with their pre-collision system that can apply the brakes for drivers to avoid smashing into other cars or ruin a pedestrian’s day.
It’s hard to say what each Highlander will be used for, but it’s a safe bet that most of them will be put into service as the family hauler. The ride is quiet even if the kiddos are not. Five USB ports to keep everyone’s device charged. The Radar cruise makes driving on the interstate comfortable. For a large vehicle it feels reasonably nimble.
This top spec Highlander is priced two grand shy of $50k. That’s a lot of money, but with Toyota’s absurdly good resale and reputation for reliability, it feels like a decent value. If the sticker price bums you out, these SUVs start at a much more palatable $31,230 for the LE version. It’s not a Hybrid, and it won’t have all-wheel-drive, but it’s nice to know you can have one of these splendid family haulers without trading in your first born.
Lexus calls the color on this press car Autumn Shimmer. It sounds a lot like a shade of lipstick to me, and stands out as one of the most absurd color names in a category of intentionally absurd names created by marketing folk. (i.e. Cadillac’s Amberlite Firemist).
The exterior looks deliberately inoffensive and stays true to the current Lexus trend of hard geometric design. I think the horizontal bars in the spindle grill are easier on the eyes than the “honeycomb” grill featured on the car’s big sister, the RX. Lexus must have agreed, because the 2018 version of the RX features a similar grill insert.
Thanks to an unnecessarily wide console, the front seats offer limited lateral leg room. The outside of my knees constantly rubbed the door panel and console. However, fancy ladies sit with their ankles crossed and knees together, so I guess it won’t be an issue. There’s lots of room in the console for loads of Avon samples. In a shamelessly sexist marketing ploy, Lexus included a compact mirror in the console. Just in case the rearview mirror, your cellphone, and the vanity mirrors built into the sun-visors just don’t represent enough shiny surfaces in which to fix your face.
The infotainment features smartphone connectivity so you can easily call the cops on those smart aleck tweens for riding their wheelie boards on the sidewalk again. Unfortunately, Lexus didn’t spare owners of their smallest SUV from their trademark onerous stereo/navigation interface. Rather than a silly joystick however, the NX is fitted with a silly mousepad device. The window sill is too high to comfortably rest one’s elbow while driving, but that doesn’t matter because it will only be lowered at Starbucks and Chick-fil-A drive-thrus.
I wish I could say this car’s blatant, gender-specific marketing is redeemed by a saucy driving experience, but that’s not the case. In fact, it feels like an extension of the plan to appeal to 50-plus retirees. The steering has just enough resistance to reassure drivers, but not tucker them out and the ride is about as remarkable as a bowl of cold oatmeal. Put your foot in it and the area forward of the dash emits a buzzy, monotonous groan like a preteen asked to take out the trash. The revs go up and hold at a given mark while electric motors provide the rest of the passing power. The experience is underwhelming.
It might not be a Mary Kay Cadillac, but it certainly won’t embarrass you in front of the gals. Because it shares blood with a Toyota it’s likely to be long-lived (but why would you ever do that to yourself?), and thanks to the italicized L on the grill the resale should be pretty good. But who wants the least fancy Lexus SUV? Even if all the options are ticked off it’s still not an RX. Why not get the top spec Toyota RAV-4, which offers more interior space and a less absurd infotainment interface? It just happens to be the same price as a base model NX.