Car reviews - Lexus - LS
Supreme comfort, surprising agility, build quality, fresh design, high equipment levels, value against mainly German competitors
Room for improvement
Itsy-bitsy interior trim design, fuel consumption that does not live up to the hype, road-keeping technologies that need to be watched
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12 Apr 2018
THE first-generation Lexus LS is regarded as the first true luxury car from Japan, launched by Toyota in 1989 to take the fight up to the well-established premium brands of Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States.
With the arrival of the all-new fifth-generation LS, Lexus proves it has not given up on the dream of global pre-eminence in luxury motoring.
Like the first LS, this latest effort is a clean-sheet remake for the big limo, encompassing everything Toyota’s engineers and designers have learned along the way, and more.
But rival brands have not been standing still either. Does it have what it takes to be a credible alternative to the like of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series? Read on ...
For the amount of money and resources car-makers spend on their flagship luxury sedans, the market is surprising small. Out of an Australian new-vehicle market of almost 1.2 million units last year, just 561 were these big lounges on wheels.
Motor manufacturers argue with some validity that the technology and construction techniques developed for these vehicles filter down to lesser models, thus justifying the effort.
And so it is with the Lexus LS, the car that has flown the luxury flag for Japan more than any other.
This time, the LS is less of a European luxury clone, instead carving out more of its own character in design, technologies and features that even embrace the Japanese-ness of the car’s makers – once seen as a negative among prestige car buyers.
Little touches such as strands of chrome decorating the dashboard fascia mimic the strings of a Japanese musical instrument. One add-on pack even includes Kiriki cut-glass in the door trims along with leather folded in origami style pattern.
By contrast, the first-generation LS400 in 1989 was such a copy of the Mercedes S-Class that the designers even cloned the flat, hard, uncomfortable Germanic seats.
We are pleased to report that the seats of the latest LS are remarkably comfortable, even extending to a rear-seat massage function with heat treatment as you stretch out with your legs resting on an ottoman in the luxurious Sports Luxury variant.
But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Some basics: The new rear-wheel-drive LS is built on an all-new platform – called Toyota Global Architecture Luxury or TGA-L – that also underpins the closely related LC large sportscar launched by Lexus last year (and, we bet, a large luxury SUV sometime soon).
This was designed to be stronger, lighter and quieter than anything produced by Lexus before, which, all evidence suggests, was achieved.
But despite weight-savings at this level, the LS is still as porky as before – 2.2 tonnes – weighed down by all the accoutrements demanded by wealthy captains of industry in the 21st century.
Radar sensors, more than 20 audio speakers – including four in the roof headlining – and multitudes of seat motors are just some of the must-haves in luxury cars today. All add weight.
In an effort to save fuel consumption, Lexus took the big step of abandoning V8 power this time, settling for V6 powerplants in the launch range in two forms – twin-turbo petrol and petrol-electric hybrid.
We fully expect other powertrains to come on stream later – almost certainly a plug-in hybrid among them – but the LS500 and LS500h are it for now.
Both can be had in sporty-ish F Sport or luxurious Sports Luxury specifications, with pricing starting at $190,500 plus on-road costs and topping out at $195,500. That last figure is not some random number – it is exactly the price of Mercedes’ cheapest S-Class variant, meaning LS pricing tops out where S-Class starts.
Lexus argues its equipment levels are way above those of the competition, especially in the lower levels of the European ranks.
A 10-speed automatic transmission, seats with pneumatic adjustment in the padding and infra-red detection devices to check the temperature of passengers to see if they need a little more cool air are just some of long, long list of standard features that are either not available in rival cars or cost a poultice to include.
The LS F Sport – which can be had in both V6 petrol or hybrid varieties for the same price – is missing some of the comfort features of the Sports Luxury but gains items such as a sportier chassis, including active anti-roll bars and rear-axle steering.
It also has distinctive dark smoky chrome trim on the outside – including the 20-inch alloy wheels and grille – which, to our eye, looks better than the bright chrome of the Sports Luxury.
Certainly, the new LS is less of a barge that its predecessors, sitting lower, wider and longer on the road, with a stretched wheelbase (no short-wheelbase variant this time).
This lower centre of gravity – supposedly the best in the class – is reflected in the road-holding and cornering which is a healthy step up on previous generations.
The Sport mode setting selected by twist knob on the side of the instrument binnacle is not a lot stiffer than the Eco or Comfort settings, but adds just enough sharpness to provide a semblance of sportscar character.
In the winding roads of Tasmania, we were pleasantly surprised at the car’s agility, despite its size.
And this was achieved without bone-shaking ride settings. Only the Sports mode’s tendency to hold gears for extended periods, meaning an overdose of thrashy engine noise, convinced us to switch back to Comfort at quiet times.
Our first taste of the new LS was a petrol F Sport, meaning we got the try out the all-new blown 3.5-litre V6 that bangs out a handy 310kW of power, meaning it has more grunt and greater acceleration than the 4.6-litre V8 it replaces.
In overtaking, a kick in the guts brings an instant down-change from the new auto transmission and a sudden rush of revs from the V6, transforming the LS into an athlete.
The engine note at revs is stern rather than V8-plush, but not too bad.
We later transferred into an LS500h with its 285kW hybrid powertrain that this time uses a smaller, lighter lithium-ion battery and redesigned multi-function continuously variable transmission.
The first thing we noticed was the slight whine from the driveline, which is typical of Toyota-family hybrids. However, most people would not even notice it.
When the battery is charged (by regenerative braking, not a power socket), the LS500h not only starts off in electric mode but sometimes switches to electric motivation at highway speeds.
The hybrid is only slightly slower than its petrol counterpart, and is considerably quicker under acceleration than its predecessor, partly due to the better reaction of the new transmission.
Like most vehicles, the claimed fuel economy does not live up to reality, and so it was with the LS in both guises. A mix of urban and rural driving – some of it quite willing – brought a 15.8 litres per 100km result in the petrol L500 and 10.1L/100km in the hybrid. This compares with the official figures of 9.5L/100km and 6.6L/100km respectively.
Gentle cruising would have done better, but only a total feather-foot could have achieved the Lexus claim.
Inside, we thought some of the optional interior designs were a bit over the top, mostly because they have a mish-mash jumble of trim surfaces. Too much.
Despite a wheelbase stretch, the rear seats do not have the legroom we expected, and when the rear seat is reclined, the legs start to get jammed against the front seat.
Only when the front passenger seat is empty and thus can be folded and rolled fully forward can the back seat’s ottoman leg rest be extended and the seat reclined to its full extent. In other words, it is really a function for chauffeured cars.
As always with the LS, the cabin is super quiet, with virtually no wind noise and just a little rumble from the tyres on course-chip bitumen. The only complaint would be that Lexus might have skimped a bit on wheel-well sound deadening, as stones flicked up broke the silence with a pronounced ‘ding’.
The all-digital dash is simply excellent, with an expansive 12-inch infotainment screen, clear and concise instruments. Our only beef is the fiddly touch pad used to change settings on the screen – BMW’s knob controller is better.
A big head-up display not only provides speedo and sat-nav readings but notifications of driving aids such as lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
And while we are on that subject, while the adaptive cruise was locked on to the back of a slower vehicle and with the lane-keeping assist active, the LS first lost contact with the road’s white lines, driving straight ahead on bends and then naturally lost radar contact with the car ahead that was controlling the speed of both vehicles.
So, we were suddenly heading off the road in an accelerating vehicle, requiring quick driver intervention. This technology has a way to go.
One of the cars we drove also had a faulty sat-nav system with a mind of its own, three times losing track of the guidance route and heading off on a path of its own, even taking us down a dead-end road. This is most likely a one-off glitch, probably requiring a software re-boot, as none of the other vehicles on the press launch had a problem.
Despite these issues, the new LS is a supremely comfortable, quiet luxury car that, in spite of its bulk, delivers a satisfying driving experience, especially out on the open road. When you consider its equipment levels, price and jewel-like build quality, it is a worthy competitor for offerings from Germany and the United Kingdom.
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