2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible First Drive | Is less roof better?

Same V8 magic. More sun, sound and breeze. Less refinement.

2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible roof down front three quarter high
2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible roof down front three quarter high / Image Credit: James Riswick
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The azure waters of the French Riviera are set ablaze by the setting sun as a cool breeze wafts in from the Mediterranean. The warm breath from the neck-level heaters commendably compensate. The 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible turns inland, the road winding through the rocky terrain like an ebony ribbon. A stunning blonde in a vintage Ferrari waves as she passes by; a man resembling Pierce Brosnan, but richer, gives a thumbs up.

I'm sure someone is having this experience during their first drive of the new LC Convertible, but it sure isn't me. I'm in Scappoose, Oregon, which is as picturesque as it sounds. It's raining. Hard. An old woman in a Subaru pulls out of the Dutch Bros. So yeah, this won't exactly be a romantic tale of car and locale meeting on equal terms of grandeur. Resplendent in Flare Yellow paint, the LC Convertible couldn't be more conspicuous here if there were literal yellow flares bursting from its tailpipes.

Yet, even on the Cote d'Azure, the LC would assuredly stand out. Being the color of an electric banana helps, but it’s a stunning car in any shade. From the A pillar forward, it's identical to the LC Coupe, but as expected, things change rearward. Currently available in two colors — black and "sand" — the four-layer soft top fits snugly over the cabin and creates a much different silhouette than the coupe.

Although the LC's shoulder line rises to roughly the same point in both body styles, it meets a black trim piece on the coupe that creates the impression of a "floating" roof that extends deep onto the tail, resulting in a tiny trunk lid. By contrast, that shoulder line meets the convertible's roof directly, which pinches the rear quarter window, abruptly ends the roofline and creates a comparatively vast plain of a trunk lid. From the rear and with the roof up, the coupe is the more elegant car. Roof down, it's debatable. To these eyes, that rising shoulder line creates a bit of the hunchback look you get with the 911 Cabriolet.

There are other design changes. The trunk lid kicks up further and extends wider, creating a more pronounced integrated spoiler. Within it is the relocated brake light. Covering the lowered roof is a rigid tonneau cover with humps that neatly align with the back seat's headrests. Between them is a small wind deflector that manages to be enough when the windows are raised to create an impressively serene cabin in the brief moments when the drizzle clears to motor al fresco. In every other moment, the roof and active noise cancellation are equally impressive in their ability to quell noise — it's easy to forget you're in a convertible at all, even with sheets of rain falling.

Roof up, roof down, coupe or convertible, the LC 500's crowning achievement continues to be the 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 that pumps out 471 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque. It's silky smooth, effortless in its thrust and sounds heavenly, its deep warble funneled into the cabin by a resonance tube connecting the intake to the fire wall. Nothing's piped through speakers. Between that and the lack of a turbocharger, the LC's engine is refreshingly au naturel. With the roof gone, however, it's much easier to hear the rich, guttural and very cool sounds coming from the dual-pipe exhaust that strike just the right balance between exuberance and taste. There are no popping and barking histrionics.

Sending power to the rear wheels only (another refreshing turn for a modern performance car) is a 10-speed automatic that does a commendable job of downshifting when needed and knowing what gear to be in. It's a compelling effort for a traditional automatic rather than a DCT, especially in its Sport+ mode.

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Now, should you be wondering about an LC 500h hybrid convertible, you can stop. There won't be one. Basically, the space where the folded roof resides is where the hybrid batteries would go. There would also be a weight problem, which engineers were already battling to suppress in the Convertible. To counteract the chassis rigidity lost by sawing off the roof, engineers added, reshaped and relocated structural braces. This added weight, though to counteract that, they reduced unsprung mass at the front suspension and used a lighter, die-cast aluminum rear suspension brace. In total, weight only went up by 217 pounds.

From the driver's seat, the LC Convertible feels like a sufficiently stiff thing and it's clear that engineers did their damndest to make sure the car feels like a proper performance car rather than some mushy boulevard cruiser. You can imagine engineers hanging a picture of the old SC 430 on the wall with a big red X through it. To that end, the suspension was tuned and re-engineered to best approximate the driving feel and capability of the Coupe. The coils, bushings and adaptive dampers were tweaked (the latter flipped upside down for greater strength), while a new Yamaha Performance damper placed transversely at the rear was added to the options list. Our test car was so-equipped.

And indeed, the Convertible has the same sharp turn-in as the Coupe, the nose feels just as eager to tuck into a corner, and the friction-free steering transmits a commendable amount of information to your hands. It's definitely not a boulevard cruiser, yet it still suffers dynamically. You just don't have the same confidence to go fast as you do in the Coupe and it does feel compromised. There’s no cowl shake, but vibrations consistently filter through the steering wheel over imperfect pavement, muddying that steering information and making the LC feel a bit jittery. It's almost akin to a modern truck-based SUV, which is awfully stiff, yet can't quite filter out vibrations or impacts as well as a crossover does. Basically, by making sure the LC Convertible didn't drive like a flaccid couch, Lexus has made it less comfortable and refined than the Coupe. This isn't so much a failure as it is the seemingly inherent downside of removing the roof of a car that should have one.

And therein lies the conclusion: the LC 500 Coupe is the better car. Indeed, it's one of the best cars, period. Besides its dynamic advantages that were actually enhanced for 2021 thanks to some of the advancements concocted for the Convertible, it even has a larger trunk and a considerably more useful back seat — which is saying something since its own back seat is really only suitable for light baggage and that stunning French blonde's toy poodle. You also get the same impeccably made, richly finished and classically handsome cabin. The seats are snug, the leather's soft and there are subtle, interesting details everywhere you look.

Of course, any LC is still besmirched by the Lexus Remote Touch interface that unlike the 2020 RX does not benefit from touchscreen operation (and if it did, the screen would still be awfully far away). However, its "Climate Concierge" function is highlighted, or rather exacerbated, in the Convertible. Basically, the car not only sets the HVAC system based on your selected temperature, but also automatically turns on the heated and ventilated seats as well as the optional heated steering wheel and neck-level heaters. Lexus says this is an example of omotenashi, or the Japanese idea of anticipating a guest's needs. Unfortunately, it just didn't do a particularly good job of it. For no obvious climatic reason and without warning during my drive, the cooled seat came on. At least that was easy to detect. Later, the heated seats came on, but like a frog in a pot, I didn't notice it until my butt was boiling. At the very least, the Concierge should alert you in some way to this auto activation. Now, you can turn it off, but that just highlights another issue: there are no physical buttons for the seats, wheel or neck heaters. To activate them, you have to weed through screen menus, which means using the infernal touchpad. Perhaps the LC's cabin doesn't have to be quite so clean and button-free.

But really, if that's the most serious of complaints, the 2021 Lexus LC 500 is in good shape. Though ultimately inferior to the Coupe, the Convertible nevertheless delivers the sun and breeze so many desire from a high-priced weekend getaway car. It's not as comfortable, nor as good to drive as its hardtop sibling, but it's also not punishing or a dynamic soggy noodle. It suffers more for its convertible transformation than the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, for instance, but then the most basic one of those starts at the same price as our well-optioned $111,920 test car (base price is $101,000). The LC also has 92 more horses and, quite importantly, is basked in a more exotic aura everywhere it goes. It's a special car — be it as a convertible, a coupe, in Monte Carlo or Scappoose.

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