I’m driving the new 2018 Lexus LC 500 coupe on what many consider the most dangerous road in New York State. The Taconic is the longest parkway in the state, stretching for 104 miles through beautiful scenery in a north-south direction. The Taconic, built for a slower era in 1925, also is notorious for its number of crashes.
I’m on the section that passes through Putnam County, arguably the most challenging portion of the route. It’s narrow with two lanes in each direction separated by a guard rail so skinny and close I can see the whites of the eyes of oncoming drivers. Long sweeping curves go up and down steep ridges and these are connected by shorter tight curves. And at the Pudding Street crossing, traffic traverses the parkway without benefit of an overpass or signal lights. Maybe Pudding Street got its name because it’s a spot where you can lose your nerve.
Japanese cars often get rapped by auto enthusiasts for being “soft” when compared to European cars in particular, trading handling for a smoother ride. There is no such compromise in the Lexus LC 500. It is the most European-feeling Japanese car I’ve ever driven. The car handles the curvy Taconic like it was specced for it and the ride is comfortably smooth even though I haven’t seen a straight line in over an hour.
With a 471 horsepower engine under the hood that propels the LC 500 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, the car is built for speed and dexterous driving. The engine is managed by a quick-shifting 10-speed transmission which Lexus says is a first for a luxury car. The serious hand grips for the front passenger and the driver’s side race-inspired aluminum foot pedals should remove any doubts as to its intentions.
The LC 500 likes to show off its capability, growling at low speeds through my neighborhood streets before quieting down at higher highway speeds as it gets down to business. An active exhaust system likes to rumble and roar and this soundtrack is amplified by a special resonance tube connecting the intake to the firewall, but I can adjust these sounds if I want a more subdued profile.
That may be a pointless exercise because the exterior design of the LC 500 is provocative. The goal was to lower the vehicle’s center of gravity for better handling, increase aerodynamics, and improved high-speed stability. Somehow, all those engineering considerations turned into a car that looks distinctively hot with lines that flow inward toward the doors and then flare at the rear.
The same is true of the interior, and I quickly become enamored of little things like the pair of easy-to-reach knobs on each side of the instrument display so I don’t have to look away from the road when selecting driving modes. I admire the novelty of the upward-firing air vents on the passenger side. I like the texture of the lever that adjusts my comfortable seat and I like the look of the bezel-free door handle. And I’m thrilled to have a slightly retro CD player as a musical option in the dash—bit-deprived streaming audio for headphones is acceptable for its convenience but a 13-speaker Mark Levinson system like the one in this LC 500 demands quality source material. In fact, I find the entire entertainment/navigation system very easy to use and I’m grateful for that as I’m turning around to head back the way I came. The capricious Taconic demands my full attention.
$100,989 as driven; lexus.com.