On The Road

High performance comes at high cost

courtesy of Lexus
The new Lexus LC500 Coupe comes with a V-8 engine featuring 471 horsepower.

For fun, let’s assume you have $100,000 to buy a car that you’d occasionally like to drive fast around a racetrack in Monterey or Sonoma with your gearhead friends. We recently drove two cars suited for just that: the exotic-looking 2018 Lexus LC500 Coupe and the muscle-car 2018 Mercedes-Benz C63 S sedan.

For the driver who loves owning a vehicle for driving satisfaction rather than ordinary transportation, both are easy-to-drive, high-performance cars perfect for the occasional track day or drives on exciting roads. Aside from that, there are differences.

On Valentine’s Day, when we parked the sleek, two-door Lexus sports car – in eye-popping red – in front of Morsey’s Farmhouse Kitchen, it drew appreciative, or at least curious, glances from everyone who passed. The following week, parked in the same place, no one bothered to look at the white four-door Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, despite its AMG C63 S badges, 19-inch wheels, enormous tailpipes and huge carbon-ceramic competition brakes.

But at the track, the inconspicuous Mercedes-Benz sedan – with its hand-built AMG 4-liter biturbo V-8 engine tucked in where a normal C-Class would have a four-cylinder or V-6 engine – can clean the clock of the screaming-for-attention 5-liter V-8-powered Lexus coupe. The C63 S can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, leaving the LC500 behind it by more than half a second.

The difference? Mostly power. The C63 S uses twin turbochargers to push 503 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque out of its 3,999 cc engine through a 7-speed paddle-shifted multi-clutch automatic transmission to its torque-managed all-wheel drive. By contrast, the LC500 has a 4,969 cc naturally aspirated V-8 that pushes 471 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque through a 10-speed automatic with manual-shifting mode.

While not inconsequential by normal standards, the Lexus is simply outclassed by the advanced AMG technology. However, the C63’s smaller engine, enhanced by turbine boost, provides better gas mileage, though neither is going to make you popular at the local green coalition meeting. The LC500 is rated at 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 19 combined; the C63 S is almost the same at 18 city, 24 highway and 20 combined.

The Lexus is not helped by its weight of 4,378 pounds, which is a lot for a two-door car that holds just two adults (the rear seat is only suited for kids) and has a trunk that barely holds three grocery bags. The four-door C63 S, by contrast, weighs only 3,856 pounds, easily holds four adults and has a trunk that can swallow weekend luggage.

Road performance

We drove the C63 S on the track and were impressed by its handling in the corners and acceleration on the straights – a good measure of responsiveness in traffic. We didn’t drive the LC500 on a track, but our preliminary testing on some favorite on- and off-ramps along Interstate 280 indicates that it’s capable – even without the optional rear-wheel steering that replaces the need for a limited-slip differential.

Built by their respective high-performance manufacturing teams, both vehicles offer a knob on the console to select throttle, steering, braking, suspension and exhaust settings – ranging from economy or comfort for city driving to sport, sport-plus and custom settings for track days.

In comparing the cars for normal use around town and on the freeways, we found the Lexus marginally more comfortable, absorbing both bumps and road noise. Perhaps the engineers who design the luxury Lexus sedans worked some of their magic on the suspension components of the LC500. On the other hand, the C63 S rides more like the race car it can be than the everyday sedan it appears to be.

Of course, appearance is part of the experience of owning a car that can cost six figures. We favor the Lexus, preferring its lower stance and understated use of smooth speed lines that stretch from the menacing headlights back into the taillights and then wrap around to the rear. But we’re not keen on the trademark Lexus grille, which one commentator remarked gives the vehicle the look of an electric razor. The Mercedes-Benz, by contrast, doesn’t even pretend to look as fast as it is. It looks like any other slightly bulbous mid-priced compact.

While both of these vehicles were stickered at approximately $100,000, there are some pricing nuances. If you didn’t want the ultimate Speed Racer options on the Mercedes-Benz, including the S performance package, track-ready carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes or AMG racing seats by Recaro, you would still have a C63 AMG sports sedan to enjoy driving for approximately $81,000. The only sacrifice would be some track capability and, frankly, most drivers would need at least a week of track driving instruction to use the C63 S safely and with confidence.

The LC500 pricing offers little leeway – to put the base car in your driveway is at least $93,000, and the standard options on our review car took it to nearly $103,000. However, choosing 20-inch wheels over the 21-inch wheels would keep the price under $100,000. And, to mitigate the carbon impact, paying an additional $4,510 gives the owner the right to say that it is a hybrid sports car.

So if you like the appearance of performance more than actual performance, go for the Lexus LC500. Either way, few cars will get you around the track, or up the on-ramp, faster than these two vehicles.

Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson co-own Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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