Lexus’s stunning LC coupe, which starts at $92,995, is an impressive achievement in that it looks and feels as distinctive and special as you might hope for a car approaching $100K—or, with options, even creating that amount. Beyond its wild styling and gorgeously outfitted interior, the 471-hp LC500 we drove earlier this year derived a large amount of character from the free-revving, naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 mounted up front. That fact made us somewhat wary as we approached the subject of this test, the LC500h hybrid, which costs $4510 more but has 117 fewer horsepower from its gas-electric drivetrain using an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6 and two electric motors.
It’s not that we can’t appreciate the LC500h’s drivetrain, called a Multi-Stage Hybrid in Lexus-speak. It combines the V-6 with a pair of electric motors through a fascinating transmission that’s essentially two gearboxes in one. It incorporates both a two-motor hybrid continuously variable transmission (CVT) and an Aisin four-speed automatic to broaden the hybrid operating range; check out our full explanation of how it works here.
On the road, the Multi-Stage Hybrid system’s operation is distinct from other Lexus and Toyota hybrids that use the familiar Hybrid Synergy Drive setup. Because of the unique transmission, there’s a sensation of stepped gears shifting whenever the gas engine is running, which is preferable to the high-rpm droning we’re often forced to endure from hybrids equipped with CVTs. But the LC500h’s power delivery still isn’t quite suited for hard driving; even in Sport or Sport+ mode, the “shifts” are strangely slurred and artificial, keeping the powertrain from feeling truly responsive and making for an odd soundtrack. It certainly can’t hold a candle to the auditory thrills of the LC500’s V-8 and the crisp shifts of its conventional 10-speed automatic.