For years, hybrids have sacrificed engaging dynamics in favor of improved efficiency. A few high-end models bucked that trend, but nothing truly mainstream felt quite right. Lexus’ Multi-Stage Hybrid System is different, marrying an e-CVT that has six virtual gears to a conventional four-speed automatic, resulting in 10 effective ratios. It’s as complicated as it sounds, though in practice the difference between it and a standard automatic is nigh imperceptible. You get the benefits of a hybrid — fuel efficiency, part-time all-electric driving — without sacrificing driver enjoyment, all packaged inside a stunning, fun-to-drive grand tourer.
We feel the new hybrid system really gives the LC 500h a leg up on the competition, particularly because it pairs long-distance comfort, high performance, and efficiency in a way we feel will really resonate with consumers (and competing automakers, too). Our editors were impressed by just how well the LC 500h passed off duties between the internal-combustion engine and the electric motors, the only real tell that it was in EV mode being the tachometer needle resting at zero. And the regular Lexus LC 500 is also a wonderful car.
It’s also a step forward for Lexus as a whole. For years, the Japanese automaker was known for solid luxury vehicles that were sedate to a fault. The LFA was a worthy halo car, but it was also basically unattainable to an average well-off buyer. The F performance vehicles (IS F, GS F, and RC F) gave a much-needed kick to the brand but were a bit rowdy and rough around the edges. The LC 500h strikes a more perfect balance that feels truer to Lexus’ brand values: It’s quiet without being boring, and exciting without offending. It’s also green without punishing the driver for it.
Lexus paid great care to get the balance of this car right. While it’s not entirely flawless — we’d appreciate the same attention to brake feel that the company paid to shifting — it’s only an iteration or two away from being sublime. It points the direction that sport luxury hybrids will surely follow, and shows that clever solutions by engineers who truly care about what a driver experiences can make a contrivance this complicated work seamlessly. That’s why it’s Autoblog‘s 2018 Technology of the Year Award winner.