When the SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am Series announced its return to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca after a 15-year hiatus, I had to go. The Trans Am Series last visited the West Coast in 2009 with a stop at Portland International Raceway, and its most recent visit to California was in 2005 when the series raced on the streets of Long Beach and San Jose. In 2004, racing great Tommy Kendall scored the last Trans Am win at Laguna Seca, so I wanted to be there in person to see whose name would be next on that illustrious list.
Nestled in the picturesque hills of Monterey, Laguna Seca is a treasure to the racing world, and the list of prestigious events and racing heroes who have graced the track is exceedingly long. The track has proven popular with professional and amateur racers alike, and when it hosted the 2014 SCCA National Championship Runoffs, it became part of something truly special to all members of the Sports Car Club of America.
While it would have been easy enough to hop on a jet and fly to Monterey, half the fun is the beautiful drive. As such, I took the opportunity to test the 2019 Lexus LC 500, a car that most certainly lives up to the Grand Touring moniker.
Somehow, I was blissfully unaware that Lexus was the official Luxury Vehicle of Laguna Seca, so upon arrival I quickly spotted another LC 500, an LC 500h, and even an LC 500 equipped for pace car duties. Awkward. I thought this car would be the only one.
On the outside, the LC 500 is perhaps one of best examples of concept-to-production model on the road today. Its aggressive styling stayed true to what was shopped around the auto show circuit as the LF-LC in 2012. With sharp bodylines and the signature Lexus grill seemingly turned up to 11, the LC 500 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is no disputing that it stands out in a crowd. The Smoky Granite Mica paint of this test model almost seemed to detune the edgy bodylines and give the car a mature look, and it tied very nicely with the carbon roof panel.
The interior of the LC 500 is second to none. Outfitted with top-notch materials, everything is comfortable and well thought out, allowing a driver to easily spend hours behind the wheel while cruising up the coast. However, I would encourage you to get acquainted with Lexus’ Remote Touchpad system before your journey begins, as it can easily distract you if you’re not fluent with its operation; this is, after all, the access point for much of the cars electronic accessories, making it rather important.
I do have one gripe with the LC 500, which is that the team that engineered this elegant machine phoned it in when they installed a very Prius-like gear selector. There’s little use for the joystick shifter when there are gear-selecting paddles at the driver’s fingertips. Indeed, that protruding stick should be jettisoned in favor of push button selectors.
For 2019, the LC 500 received a revised shift program for the 10-speed Direct-Shift automatic transmission, which offers smoother shifts at part throttle while providing more forceful gear changes at wider throttle openings. Under the car updates to the Adaptive Variable Suspension include new bushings on the damper rods and a switch to independent rebound and compression orifices. Both changes allow for an expanded range of damping force for enhanced overall comfort. To improve steering feel, the assist levels have been altered along with stiffer steering box bushings, a more robust aluminum steering support mounting at the instrument panel, and revised Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) tuning.
Even with a curb weight of 4,280lbs, the LC 500 can post a 0-60mph time of 4.4sec, thanks in part to its 5-liter V8, which boasts 471hp and 398lb-ft of torque; the 10-speed transmission aids the naturally aspirated V8 in getting up to speed quickly, while also helping the LC 500’s fuel consumption on the highway. We recorded a round-trip average of 26mpg highway on our journey, besting the EPA rating for the car.
On the open road, the LC 500 is a joy to drive, providing a firm but comfortable ride with negligible road noise. In fact, the miles flew by. The Active Exhaust system provides a drone-free ride at cruising speeds, but quickly issues a full-throated, aggressive tone when prompted. Select the Sport or Sport + mode along with manual shifting, and you really get a chance to enjoy the sounds emanating from the exhaust.
While I didn’t take our LC 500 tester for any laps around a racetrack, a RACER staffer did with the 2018 LC 500 and discovered it could hold its own, even with its heavy curb weight. The 21-inch forged wheels wrapped in sticky Michelin rubber provide surefooted cornering and acceleration, and the massive brakes, 15.7-inch up front with 6-piston calipers and 14.1-inch in the rear with 4-piston units, bring the LC 500 to a stop in short order.
If you find yourself shopping for a weekend getaway ride in the $100,000 range, one that might be able to pull double duty with an SCCA Track Night in America or Time Trials event is certainly the Lexus LC 500.