2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible first drive review - Top down, allure up

It's been a painfully long wait for the 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible. I'm a big fan of the LC 500 coupe, and like many was made that way the first time I laid eyes on its concept-stylings back in 2016. It's a luxurious grand tourer that, even after several years on sale, still turns heads with its elegant design, futuristic trim, and of course the benefit of Lexus' flagship LF-A supercar's aura. Then there's the naturally-aspirated V8 engine, giving it the raw power of a true muscle car. There's no replacement for displacement, after all.

Back in 2016 it could've easily passed for a concept car; that is, until you get behind the wheel and experience the driving dynamics for yourself. Those who have know that there's more to the LC 500 than just a pretty face. The lingering question I had was how Lexus' hardtop styling would – or even could – translate to a drop-top, and what might get lost along the way.

The gorgeous interior is more than just a veneer, and the first thing you notice the moment you step inside the LC 500 Convertible is how comfortable the seats. All the right support in all the right places, just as a Grand Tourer requires. The steering wheel and pedals are properly positioned for long drives and, while the convertible might not see as much spirited driving compared to the coupe, it's there should the urge overcome you.

"Driving comfort and just overall command and control is what the Lexus driving signature is all about for us in terms of the LC convertible buyer," Jessamine Merrill, General Manager for Lexus Product and Consumer Marketing, explained in a media conference call. I couldn't agree with Merrill more, even if my two and a half days with the car wasn't enough to put it through its true paces on a real road-trip.

"We expect there will be some overlap with the coupe," Merrill admits, "but we truly see the Convertible to carve its own niche in the marketplace." After all, not all executives want to be chauffeured in a luxury car. Some prefer to get behind the wheel and look good while doing it, and while that's undoubtedly true for LC 500 coupe, the drop-top makes it even more special.

With a convertible, the transition between inside and outside gets blurred in a way a coupe doesn't need to deal with. "One of my favorite aspects of the vehicle is the sense of continuity from the interior to the exterior," Merrill mentioned, and sure enough that's one of the reasons this roofless LC works so cleanly. After all, you can't just hack off the roof.

The transition from coupe to convertible is as seamless and elegant as possible. Apart from the four-layer power-folding soft top – which opens in about 15 seconds, once you've found the control under a panel in the center console – the LC 500 Convertible has a higher trunk courtesy of a broader rear wing. At the front, the Lexus spindle grille is right at home in the LC convertible. And while cargo space is impacted – down from 5.4 to 3.4 cubic-feet – you don't have to worry about the folded roof crushing what's in there, as it's kept separate from the trunk. As with the coupe, it's better to think of the tiny rear seats as just more room for storage.

Turns out, even as it demurred over the possibility of a soft top over the years, Lexus had designed for it from the outset. The LC's architecture was engineered to support both body styles, both aesthetically and – just as important – how things like the overall chassis rigidity needed to be up to the particular demands of a convertible. Having had the opportunity to drive both the coupe and the convertible as speed, I can attest that there are minimal differences in how they feel on the road.

Omitting the roof does, of course, mean some changes were required in order to maintain the same level of structural rigidity as the hardtop model. With that in mind, Lexus gave the LC 500 Convertible an all-new torsion box at the rear, along with a new V-brace and suspension tower brace. The chassis' structural braces were relocated, too, and then the engineers reinforced the gusset near the bottom of the A and B pillars to improve handling stability and rigidity.

There's a new set of dampers, coil springs, and a recalibrated variable suspension system; the latter offers up to 650 different levels of damping force. While that may sound like overkill, it's not.

For a start, adding a power-folding soft top means some weight reduction elsewhere is in order. That's why the convertible model gets aluminum suspension components, helping to reduce unsprung weight. Remember, we're talking about a grand tourer and not a track-focused sports car, but the weight reduction measures are definitely welcome considering the LC 500 coupe tips the scales at roughly 4,300 pounds.

The convertible also receives a lighter set of 20-inch cast-alloy wheels, but the 20- and 21-inch forged rollers remain optional. You don't get a spare tire in the LC Convertible, with run-flat tires standard instead. It allows the engineers to shorten the rear overhang while further reducing weight. Additionally, the soft top is composed of lightweight aluminum and magnesium components.

Even with all that engineering you're still looking at around 200 pounds more than the coupe, and you probably shouldn't expect the LC 500 Convertible to be a Porsche 911 or BMW M8 beater. In Lexus' defense, it was never meant to be. "Honestly speaking, we don't necessarily benchmark competitors per se, as if we want to copy them or be like them," Joel Fukumoto, Consultant Product Manager at Lexus Product Planning, explained. "There are cars that we try to learn from the things that we think we like about them and the things that we think we don't like."

At a time when it feels like there are more GT options than ever, I can't help but respect that willingness to intentionally stand apart. What I like even more is the naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 engine. Dumping out 471 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels via a slick 10-speed automatic, the LC 500 feels a little like a sleeper muscle car.

Top down, it only takes a few moments to realize how this combination of V8 and open-air driving works so beautifully. The engine bellows out an addictive, wailing howl as the needle climbs the rev ladder. It's not as blatant or as symphonic as the LF-A's Yamaha V10 motor, if you've ever been lucky enough to be within earshot of that, but it's close. Everything you hear is unadulterated and authentically channeled into the cabin for your listening pleasure.

As a reminder, the LC 500 is not a pure-bred sports car, but the precise and elegant handling might lead you to suspect otherwise. On a longer commute, however, the steering is also tuned more for comfort, balancing effort with the precision demanded for point-to-point driving. As a grand tourer combining V8 power with genuine pleasure and luxury – and the styling to match – the LC 500 Convertible actually has a distinct advantage over the Porsche 911, BMW 8 Series, and yes, perhaps the new Corvette C8 too.

Sitting in the driver's seat, it won't take long for the luxury and performance-oriented features to sink in. The LC 500 is no slouch, despite weighing more than a midsize crossover. The coupe has little trouble breaching 60 mph from a standstill in 4.7 second; the chop top performs the deed in under five seconds. It goes without saying that the LC 500's cabin is one of the best places to spend time in, barring a Rolls Royce or Bentley.

Figure on unflappable craftsmanship and high-end materials. Granted, I'm not a fan of the touchpad – and yes, it's still there, controlling Lexus' awkward and little-loved infotainment system – but everything else is what you'd expect, or more, from a $101,000 car.

Premium features abound, including the Lexus Climate Concierge system that automatically manages the A/C along with seat, neck, and steering wheel heaters, whether the top is up or down. There's active noise control to prevent unwanted wind noise and road harshness from entering the cabin, while a high-resolution 10.3-inch split-screen infotainment display includes a voice-activated navigation system.

Advanced safety is also part of a long list of standard features. Every 2021 Lexus LC Convertible comes with the Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+), which includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, lane-keeping assist, dynamic radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and intelligent high beams. Also standard are Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa integration, along with LED headlights and 4G LTE connectivity.

The 2021 Lexus LC 500, whether it's in the form of a coupe or convertible, traverses the fine line between a proper sports car and a grand touring machine. That's a balance which can be struck in many ways, by many different automakers, but you can't help but be swayed by how this droptop LC pleases the senses. Little in the way of sacrifice over the coupe, but with even more head-turning potential, it may have involved a wait but the LC 500 Convertible proved to be worth it.