Lexus has long struggled to produce sporty cars, but it has finally hit on that elusive combination of power, sound, ride, handling, and emotion with the all-new LC500.

The LC500 is a gorgeous coupe, but more important, it’s an entertaining, rewarding-to-drive Lexus that puts a smile on the driver’s face.

We borrowed both the LC500 (V8) and LC 500h (hybrid) versions from Lexus for a fee to get a taste. (Consumer Reports often borrows cars from manufacturers to get first impressions, and we always pay the automaker a fee.) The LC has just gone on sale, with prices starting at $92,000.

The rear-drive LC draws its styling and supercar aura from the 2011 limited-run high-tech coupe called the LF-A. But at $375,000 a pop, that carbon-fiber exotic was meant to be a declaration of intent rather than a real addition to the model line.

The LC is positioned as an alternative to coupes ranging from the track-honed Porsche 911 to the more comfort-oriented Mercedes-Benz SL.

2018 Lexus LC 500 rear

The base LC features the larger, more powerful engine: an all-aluminum, 5.0-liter V8. This is a rare find in a market turning to small-displacement, turbocharged engines. The 471-hp powerplant is a nonturbo unit that’s connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

This brawny engine delivers plenty of linear, effortless power and an appropriate bravado-filled soundtrack. The transmission shifts smoothly and decisively, and the exhaust is tuned to give a short, satisfying blat during upshifts with wide-open throttle. These sensations combine to stir an enthusiast’s soul and make for a highly enjoyable driving experience.

Starting at $96,510, the 500h hybrid balances performance and efficiency. This high-tech version is fitted with a 3.5-liter V6 and an electric drive. At first glance that sounds like the hybrid seen in some offerings from the Lexus parent company Toyota. But don’t expect the whiny character at high revs that sucks the joy out of other hybrids in the corporate portfolio due to the continuously variable transmission. Instead, this 354-hp powerplant uses what Toyota calls a “multistage” hybrid that essentially simulates a 10-speed automatic, giving the car a more conventional feel than typically associated with a hybrid. A small lithium-ion battery sits in the back.

The hybrid brings a significant improvement in fuel economy, with EPA-rated at 30 mpg overall, compared with 19 mpg overall for the V8. Ultimately, the hybrid version has an artificial feel, lacking the muscular purity of the eight-cylinder version.

Every sports car is judged by the way it behaves in corners, and this Lexus carves up curves willingly and remains flat even when pushed. The steering provides a clear sense of where the front end is, and it communicates feedback regarding the pavement texture and cornering load on the tires. These characteristics make it a treat to pilot the LC on a windy road or track.

Sport Plus mode enhances the soundtrack, alters shift points, firms up the suspension, and tightens the steering for a more lively experience. Even when upping the ante on our test track, the LC is a cooperative dance partner, allowing drivers to disable the stability control and explore the car’s approachable and controlled limits.

While ride comfort is relatively civilized in the realm of sports cars, it’s not Lexus plush. Some quick pitches and pronounced impact come through the suspension. That said, it doesn’t really beat you up with undue roughness, and the cabin isn’t overly loud.

2018 Lexus LC 500 interior

The interior is, of course, intimate. It takes some dexterity to slip in and out of the low-slung cabin. The driver’s seat is supportive, but having only a two-way lumbar adjustment is an insult at this price. The two rear seats are most appropriate for a poodle or a briefcase. The trunk will fit a golf bag even in the hybrid version, despite its space-robbing battery.

Fit and finish is top-notch with the requisite high-quality stitching, soft-touch materials, and suede surfaces. The cabin is particularly inviting in tan colors.

But the controls take the Lexus system into another level of frustration. The same touchpad interacts with the center screen for audio, navigation, and phone functions as in other Lexus models. Here, however, even the seat-heater controls are bundled into the screen. And good luck figuring out how to adjust the sound system’s bass or treble settings.

There is a very nicely finished chrome button for audio power and volume that would have been a natural controller for navigating the screen instead of the touchpad. We found ourselves frequently confusing the two. Plus the Prius-style gear selector is woefully unintuitive.

Advanced safety systems include blind-spot detection, and forward-collision and lane-departure warning—the latter we found a bit overly intrusive with a beep. We would prefer a more discreet steering-wheel vibration. Active cruise control and auto-emergency braking are also standard.

With the LC, Lexus finally has a seat at the table in the exclusive luxury coupe club. It may not deliver as visceral a driving experience as a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, but it’s a stylish, capable, and compelling luxury coupe. Given that many in this class also come as convertibles, our guess is that a drop-top version is in the offing. We hope it won’t dilute the driving experience or the artistic styling.

Given the price and limited sales, CR doesn’t plan to purchase an LC and formally test it.  

2018 Lexus LC500 V8