The Lexus LC500h is the first hybrid that can burn rubber – and why you should care

If you’ve driven a hybrid car then there’s a good chance you’ve used a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This type of gearbox effectively has infinite gears, but tends to dull the feeling of acceleration because the engine holds constant high revs when you put your foot down. As the driver, you’ll tend to feel like the car’s acceleration never catches up with the revving noise you get in the cabin.

That disconnection between the engine noise and your rate of acceleration is a common complaint from reviewers and owners of hybrid cars alike, and it’s an issue Lexus is tackling head-on with its latest hybrid, the LC500h.

We’ve covered the nitty gritty details of the LC500h elsewhere, but carwow flew to Amsterdam to dig deeper into its advanced hybrid system. What we found suggests you shouldn’t be afraid of putting future Lexus hybrid models on your shopping list – even if you’re a driving enthusiast.

A CVT gearbox that enthusiasts will like?

Previous Lexus hybrid models were criticised for their CVT gearboxes that caused all the common noise and ‘feeling of speed’ complaints. The new Lexus system – called multi-stage hybrid – will be used for the first time in the LC500h.

It still uses a CVT gearbox with six artificial ‘steps’ to help it feel like a real gearbox, but – and here’s the real improvement – the CVT feeds into a four-speed automatic gearbox which promises a more noticeable jump between gears. When the two combine, you end up with a 10-speed gearbox.

Here’s what it looks like – you can see the petrol engine on the left, the two electric motors and then the new automatic gearbox on the right.

The advantages of this system, Lexus says, include better fuel efficiency, the ability to handle more engine power and – crucially – a more natural connection between the car’s speed and the noise of the engine.

Lexus promises that this gearbox, combined with the LC’s focus on lightweight construction and low centre of gravity, will result in a car that feels sportier to drive than any of its current models.

A hybrid driver’s car

The way the hybrid system is engineered also means that the automatic gearbox effectively multiplies the engine’s torque meaning that, for the first time ever, a hybrid car will be able to spin its tyres on dry tarmac according to Lexus’ claims.

The multi-stage hybrid system can also create more ‘shift shock’ – the thump in the back you get when a fast car with an automatic gearbox changes up a gear when you’re accelerating hard. The ability to give more shift shock means Lexus can tune a hybrid’s gearbox to feel far more sporty than before – making it more likely that enthusiastic drivers will like the LC500h.

Whether this means the LC500h will be able to hold a powerslide remains to be seen, but the first indications are that Lexus’ engineering geniuses are being given the freedom to create cars that are fun to drive – not just comfortable and efficient.

What other cars will use this multi-stage hybrid system?

The LC’s underpinnings will likely be used on future luxury saloon models – including a future replacement for the LS – and it’s likely that this clever dual-gearbox hybrid technology will be introduced in the majority of its new models.

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