Lexus LC500

For some folks, a day in paradise means soaking up the Hawaiian sun. For us, it’s about climbing behind the wheel of the new Lexus LC500 and heading off to explore the hidden corners of the Big Island.

Since Toyota launched its luxury brand nearly three decades ago, Lexus has built a reputation for delivering quiet, lavishly equipped cars with bulletproof reliability. Where those products have fallen short is in the passion quotient. But if the LC500 is any indication, that’s about to change. “I never want to hear the words, ‘boring’ and ‘Lexus,’ in the same sentence ever again,” proclaimed Toyota Motor Co. CEO Akio Toyoda, as he pulled the wraps off the new sports coupe at the Detroit Auto Show. One glimpse suggests the grandson of Toyota’s founder will get his wish.

Originally introduced as the LF-LC concept, few observers expected Lexus would follow up with a production model—or, if it did, that it would retain the show car’s defining creases and curves. The LC takes the distinctive, if controversial, “spindle grille” that we’ve seen on other recent Lexus products to a new level of bold. But the aggressive face, with its slit headlights and impossibly long hood, fits this luxury coupe. The overall look is menacing yet sophisticated: a gangster in an evening jacket.

But what really matters is what we discover as we fire up the LC500’s 5.0-liter engine. It’s classic muscle, no slick turbos or superchargers, just a big V-8 making 471 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to snap your neck and let you sink deep into your seat as you launch down Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway—which the locals call “Crazy K.” All the more satisfying is that deep, resonant roar blasting out of the tailpipe. Other Lexus models may be tombstone quiet, but the LC500 warns you it’s coming and tells you to get out of the way.

Most of the roads on the Big Island are, to be honest, as boring as classic Lexus design. But we’ve spent enough time to learn where the twisty bits are found, like Hawaii 250, which winds through the volcanic hills from Waimea to the coast. And the LC500 doesn’t disappoint, connecting us to the road and urging us to take each new corner just a little bit faster.

After a long morning adventure, we return to our base and snag the keys to another coupe, this one adding the letter “h” to its nameplate. The hybrid brings together an intriguing powertrain package combining a 3.5-liter V-6 and an electric motor drawing power from a lithium-ion battery. It manages to deliver “only” 354 hp, yet it loses only about 0.2 seconds off the conventional gas model’s 0 to 60 times of 4.7 seconds. The only minor disappointment with the LC500h? It delivers more of a whine than a roar out of the tailpipe—though it does yield notably better mileage.

For those who think of Lexus as the boring car your accountant drives, the new LC500 (and hybrid 500h) will quickly change your perceptions, whether you’re off for a day’s drive in paradise or someplace closer to home. Pricing starts at around $95,000 for the Lexus LC500 and $100,000 for the LC500h.