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Lexus LC 500h aims to change your notion of hybrids

Many Lexus cars come as both pure gasoline or gas-electric hybrid versions, so we shouldn't be too surprised to see a hybrid version of the Lexus LC 500 sport coupe already on the way. Unlike those other models, though, the hybrid Lexus LC 500h is being introduced before the LC 500 even goes into production.

Lexus debuted the LC 500, a sport coupe with a 5-liter V-8 engine and luscious styling, at the Detroit auto show last month. At a special press event in the Netherlands sponsored by Lexus, it unveiled the LC 500h, a twin brother to the earlier model that uses an economical and powerful newly developed hybrid drivetrain. Lexus will show the car off to the world at the upcoming Geneva auto show.

The LC 500h's chief engineer Kohi Sato said the drive system produces enough torque that you could spin the drive wheels on dry pavement with a fast start.

The car itself uses the same, sleek design as its predecessor, the only difference being blue-tinted Lexus badges and hybrid badges on the sides. It's an impressively designed car with bold styling, some of which reaches back into the Lexus toolbox and some cues newly rendered. A large "spindle" grille, in Lexus lexicology, adorns the front. Designer Tadao Mori said that newer elements, such as the taillights, could find their way onto future Lexus models.

One element the LC 500h shares with the Corvette and some historic Ferraris is the way the rear of the cabin tapers inwards, reducing cabin space but emphasizing the rear fenders.

The LC 500h is a front-engine rear-wheel-drive car, a classic sport configuration, with electric drive motors enhancing the output from its 3.5-liter V-6 engine, giving it 354 total horsepower. And like other Lexus hybrids, it stores braking energy as electricity, reusing it to help drive the car. That hybrid system is similar to that in the RX 450h, and although Lexus has not given fuel economy numbers for the LC 500h, the RX 450h SUV achieves 30 mpg for its combined city and highway rating. In other words, expect the LC 500h to do better.

Lexus added four fixed gears into its hybrid drive system for the LC 500h, with the aim of creating a more direct feel between power and throttle.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Hybrid systems aren't known for giving drivers direct control over power output, so Lexus added a wrinkle to make the LC 500h more of a sport performer. The company engineered a four-speed automatic transmission into the driveline, complementing the existing electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT). According to Sato, the fixed gears of the automatic let the driver feel the power delivery from the throttle more directly. The e-CVT remains in play, mixing power from the gasoline engine and electric drive motors, ensuring excellent fuel economy.

As one benefit of the fixed gear transmission, Sato noted the car can go 87 mph when cruising under electric power, where current Lexus hybrids can only manage 62 mph.

A driver-selectable sport mode in the car affects throttle, transmission, steering and suspension, at least hinting at the potential for impressive handling. Sato said that Lexus benchmarked the BMW 6 Series during the LC 500h's development.

Lexus has been trying to break free of its former, conservative reputation, and cars such as the IS F haven't quite done the trick. Other F Sport versions of its existing models, such as the RC F, are bringing it closer to the sport mantle, but the LC 500 and LC 500h look very promising indeed. Bold styling and a newly developed platform could crack the performance ceiling, and make it a true competitor to the likes of BMW and Audi.

However, it will be some time before you get to drive the LC 500h, as it won't hit showrooms until 2017. Pricing won't be announced until closer to the on-sale date.

2018 Lexus LC 500h

With a powerful hybrid drivetrain and promised performance dynamics, the LC 500h could be a very economical sport coupe.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

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