Form fouls function: 2018 Lexus LC 500h

Form fouls function: 2018 Lexus LC 500h

Proof that something can be a lovely work of art but with practicality that falls far short of its appearance

From what I’ve been able to discern, it wasn’t until late in the 19th Century that American architect Louis Sullivan — the father of skyscrapers, the father of modernism, and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright — suggested that form follows function, though Sullivan reportedly said the concept traces to Vitruvius, a Roman engineer and architect of the first century B.C.

If Vitruvius’ name rings a bell, perhaps because of Vitruvian Man (aka Proportions of Man), the famous drawing by Da Vinci that shows a man, arms and legs outstretched, within both a circle and a square.

I bring up Sullivan and Vitruvius and the Vitruvian Man because I’ve spent a week driving the 2018 Lexus LC 500h coupe, a car with beautiful form but that I found almost totally lacking in function, at least any sort of practical function.

Design is a delight to the eyes

I’ll get to my litany of complaints in a few sentences. For now, and throughout my drive, I kept wondering just who might be the target customer for a gorgeous but impractical — and very expensive — vehicle. My answer: A wealthy man’s mistress. Except that in such a case, she’d probably want a convertible, and this car comes only with a fixed roof; apparently, you can’t even get a sunroof.

So back to my question: Who pays $96,510 (base) for a car just because of the way it looks? Perhaps someone who buys a vehicle the same way he or she buys a new suit or a new purse and shoes, for image rather than substance.

Lexus says its new “flagship” model is part of an “elite class of international grand touring coupes.” Further, it “delivers unfettered driving pleasure,” Lexus proclaims. How does it do all that? By combining “stunning design, scintillating performance, long-distance comfort and premium craftsmanship.”

Materials are marvelous, but function doesn’t live up to their quality

The press-fleet example I’ve been driving was equipped with a $5,950 Performance Package that includes Alcantara sport seats with 8-way power adjustment (as well as a carbon-fiber roof with Alcantara headliner, active rear steering, VGRS, active rear spoiler, and carbon-fiber door sills). While the seat is comfortable (and heated and cooled as well), I felt as if I were sitting in a hole, barely able to see over the steering wheel and unable to know for sure where the front edge of the grille might be located.

Driver’s seat is set for someone 5-foot-8. Would you want to try to sit behind him?

On the other hand, the driver’s and front passenger’s seat are comfortable. But with those seats occupied, I doubt that any typically sized adult or, for that matter, most children would fit in the back “seats.”

But even those awkward-to-egress locations offer more space than the car’s “trunk.” I’d hoped to put my golf clubs in the trunk, but they wouldn’t fit; the hybrid version of the LC 500 provides only 4.7 cubic feet of trunk space, compared with an already piddling 5.4 for the non-hybrid version (I presume the difference involves the hybrid batteries).

Nor could I wrestle my clubs into the car’s back seat, so my only option was to lower the front passenger seat to its lowest and most laid-back position and put my clubs there.

Speaking of those hybrid batteries, the entire time I was driving there was the sound of a fan blowing from beneath the back seats; again, I presume that the fan is there to cool the batteries.

V6 supplemented by hybrid motors and batteries

If you don’t want to listen to that fan drone, you can turn on the car’s audio system. In the car I tested, it was a $1,220 optional Mark Levinson Premium setup with 13 speakers and 915 watts of power.

Wait, you wonder: if the nice seats and audio are options, what do you get for your $96,510 base price?

Standard equipment includes that gorgeous bodywork, a V6-based hybrid powertrain, 15.7-inch front and 14.-1 rear brakes, 20-inch wheels, the Lexus Safety System (with all of those annoying nanny-style driver “aides”), heated and ventilated leather seats with 10-way power, dual-zone climate controls, Lexus premium audio, backup monitor, power tilt/telescoping steering column, etc.

In addition to the Performance and Levinson options, the car I tested had a $1,000 Convenience Package with park assist and blind-spot monitor, 21-inch forged wheels ($1,440), head-up display ($900), limited-slip differential ($190), cargo net ($65), key glove ($20) and carpet trunk mat ($105), bringing the as-tested price to a whopping $108,605.

I never did get the car’s audio system to recognize my iPhone for hands-free use, and the computer-style controls located on the center console to control the nav and audio systems are so complicated and sensitive that simply reaching for a beverage often resulted in changed stations or rescale of the map display.

Grille detail

Oh, and be careful where you park, because the coupe’s doors are long and you’ll need plenty of room for them to open wide so you can get in or out of the car.

If you suspect that I didn’t like much about this car, you are correct. I found it to be form without practical function. In fact, I’d say it was the worst/least enjoyable six-figure vehicle I’ve ever driven. (After writing that sentence, I remembered that I’d driven an early-’90s Hummer H1, but its MSRP was less than six figures, and it did have a very practical function, though perhaps not in civilian hands.)

2018 Lexus LC 500h
Vehicle type: 4-passenger coupe, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $96,510 Price as tested: $108,605
Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 295 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm, 256.7 pound-feet of torque @ 4,900 rpm, plus 2 electric motors and Lithium-ion battery pack for total hybrid powertrain output of 354 horsepower. Transmission: multi-stage 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 113.0 inches Overall length/width: 187.4 inches / 75.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,435 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 26 city / 35 highway / 30 combined
Assembled in: Aichi, Japan

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5 Comments

  • Tim
    November 1, 2017, 3:15 PM

    Unfortunately your editorial falls foul of the same problem, function overcome by form. Where are the words about the fuel consumption, the ride, the dynamics, the engine and performance, the long distance comfort, the short distance drivability? Sure, we know you don’t like it’s lack of space, but you could have said that in less than one sentence. It’s not a balanced review of the whole car, just your assertion that it suffers for it’s art. Hardly a compelling story, and one that feels as though it’s just built around a headline.

    REPLY
    • Nate@Tim
      November 8, 2017, 12:45 PM

      I was thinking the same thing, you couldn’t have put it any better. In no way does that review even indicate that the car was driven. Maybe he did like little kids do and made sounds with his mouth while he turned the steering wheel left and right??? 🙂

      REPLY
  • Matt Cuddy
    November 1, 2017, 4:24 PM

    That car is hideous. The rear end looks like a Godzilla nightmare, and the front looks like an inverted cheese-grater. Jeeeheezus suffering Christmas. Give me a ’68 GTO any day.

    REPLY
  • Rich S
    November 1, 2017, 4:59 PM

    Although obviously not a glowing review, there could have been a little more substantive driving impression remarks. It sounds as if the writer would not like most Coupe vehicles? Of course, at less than an inch less than, say, a first generation Acura Legend Coupe, the space has not been utilized efficiently–whereas the original Legend Coupes held four adults comfortably, with a decent trunk. But this is a "sports car," or maybe a contemporary "personal luxury sports coupe." For what it does, (i.e. transport two adults in ultimate style and luxury with a reasonable degree of performance,) it appears to be very nicely styled and luxurious, and probably does all it may be called upon to do quite well. A more practical competitor would be a Mercedes S-Class Coupe (or Convertible). For most of us, it is just a nice "dream machine."

    REPLY
  • William J Granger
    November 1, 2017, 5:15 PM

    An interesting review but then I thought of 2 of my coupes, a 2003 Jaguar XK8 and a 1990 Corvette convertible. Both of those cars had many of the same problems mentioned for the Lexus – no rear seating to speak of and limited luggage capacity. I eventually got rid of the Corvette for the latter reason. I could not even pick up someone from the airport because the passenger seat was either for a person or luggage, but I still have the XK8. I still like it although it doesn’t get driven much. It has a decent trunk but a useless rear seat for people but more space for luggage. Still haven’t taken it to the airport though to pick someone up. I guess the upshot of all of this is that cars like the Lexus coupe or Jaguar XK8 are bought for looks and the ability to drive around town. They are not meant to be utility vehicles or people would buy one instead and plenty of high end manufacturers are making their own version of an SUV. Your call.

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