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The 2018 Lexus LC500h is the alpha coupe in the carmaker fleet.
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The interior of the Lexus LC500h has deeply bolstered seats upholstered in Rioja Red leather.

You know you are driving a special car when other drivers camp out in your blind-spot as if it's an observation deck.

That happened to us a lot as we drove the Lexus LC500h, the hybrid version of the Japanese luxury brand's new-for-2018 sports coupe.

Before we parked the LC500h due to inclement weather earlier this week, it had proved to be a magnet for gawkers. With its sexy lines and outrageously flared rear wheel-wells, our jet black LC500h felt like the Batmobile. (But it differs in an important way. Batman's ride, a modified Lincoln Futura concept car with a Cold War-era V-8, didn't get 35 mpg highway.)

If your idea of hybrid design begins and ends with the Pinewood Derby-like lines of Toyota Prius, then you are about 20 years behind the times. The LC500h has more curves than the W Road.

And underneath that gorgeous sheet metal, there's a 4,521-pound grand touring sports car that weighs as much as some mid-size SUVs. Driving all that mass is a 3.5-liter V-6, gas-powered engine augmented by an electric motor that draws energy from a 44.6 kilowatt battery. Together, the two power sources make 354 horses.

The LC500h has a conventional twin called simply the Toyota LC500, which has a gas-powered V-8 engine and makes about 117 more horsepower. Which version you choose may depend on your wallet and your affinity for fuel economy. The hybrid stickers for $4,510 more.


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And speaking of your wallet, our tester rings up at $101,195, a six-figure sum that puts it in the rarefied company of such heavy hitters at the Jaguar F-Type and the Mercedes-Benz SL-class. Lexus of Chattanooga on Lee Highway had four LC500s in its digital inventory this week, all with MSRPs of more than $100,000.

FAST FACTS

-Model: 2018 Lexus LC500h Touring

-Exterior color: Caviar (black)

-Interior color: Rioja Red

-Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, plus electric motor

-Horsepower: 354

-Transmission: Multi-stage

-Fuel economy: 35 mpg highway, 26 mpg city

-Local Dealer: Lexus of Chattanooga, Lee Highway

-Price (as tested): $101,195

STYLING AND FEATURES

The first time you see an LC500 or LC500h, you'll immediately be captivated by its stance and presence. The only other mass-market car, in our opinion, that causes such a visual stir is the F-Type coupe, which has been judged one of the most beautiful cars in the world.

When most people think Lexus, they probably see an RX350 SUV, the brand's best selling vehicle. But if you'll take time to actually walk around a Lexus store you may notice the carmaker's growing stable of sporty sedans and coupes with their yawning Spindle Grilles and liquid lines.

The LC500 is the alpha car in that group. And it may be destined to be the face of the company. If younger drivers begin to see the LC500 and LC500h twins as the company's halo vehicles, they may be more likely to gravitate to a Lexus later in life.

The nose of the LC500h may be the best application of the Spindle Grille concept, which sometimes looks overdone on more staid models. The grille announces a long hood that seems to stretch forever. The rear third of the LC500h blossoms into a riot of flared wheel-wells, air intakes and a raised trunk-lid that hides a tiny cargo area. Twenty-inch forged-aluminum wheels feature a 10-spoke design.

Our tester's wheels are chrome, which strikes us as the right choice for this classy automobile. You may see some LC500s with black wheels, but our view is that those rims will quickly become dated. Otherwise, the LC500h is likely to age gracefully.

Inside, the LC500h wraps you in opulence. Our tester features a mix of black and Rioja Red surfaces, which creates a sporty contrast with the exterior's black (Caviar) paint.

A "touring and convenience" group on our tester ($2,790) packages a glass roof, the special wheels, a blind-spot monitor, a Mark Levinson audio system with 13 speakers and a navigation system piped through a 10.3-inch screen.

There are technically back seats in the LC500h, but few humans will fit there. It's really more of a leather-upholstered grocery shelf.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

From the looks of it, you'd think the LC500h is a race car. In reality its performance is spirited but not scorching. The LC500h is a half-tick slower in the 0-60 mph dash than its conventional twin the LC500. The hybrid accelerates from a dead stop to 60 mph in just under five seconds.

Handling is well balanced, as you'd expect in a rear-wheel-drive sports coupe. The sheer weight of the car makes it feel solid. It handles curves well, and there are six driving modes to choose from, ranging from Eco to Sport-plus. Lexus-level interior isolation is evident and outward visibility is excellent for the segment.

The transmission is a marvel. Lexus calls it a multi-stage unit, and it contains components of the CVT and a conventional four-speed automatic transmission. At times it feels like a seamless CVT and at other times you can feel the shift points; an experience we frankly found a bit disconcerting.

BOTTOM LINE

Customers looking for luxury sports coupes may also look at the BMW i8 and the Acura NSX. Those looking for Lexus refinement and a hybrid powertrain can skip the competition and head directly to a Lexus store.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/ mkennedycolumnist.

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