From £70,3296
New flagship saloon from Lexus provides a luxury interior to rival the best but comes up short due to its hybrid powertrain

Our Verdict

Lexus LS

The Lexus LS is a huge, high-quality limo. Great refinement, but high running costs and no Mercedes-Benz S-Class

  • First Drive

    Lexus LS500h 2018 review

    New flagship saloon from Lexus provides a luxury interior to rival the best but comes up short due to its hybrid powertrain
  • First Drive

    Lexus LS 500h F Sport 2018 review

    New Lexus LS looks to take the fight to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class; short drive provides early clues and provokes several questions
Andrew Frankel Autocar
14 December 2017

What is it?

Had you in 1989 asked the senior Lexus executive in the UK to predict annual sales of its flagship LS model five generations and 18 years later, he’d have come up with a number larger than 100.

But that’s how many of these new LS500h Ewan Shepherd, the man who does that job today, reckons he’ll shift in 2018. To be fair, sales only start on 2 January and there will be an inevitable ramp up, but he says no more than 150 units will be coming this way even in a full year. In the same time, Mercedes-Benz will shift 2500 S-Classes.

The LS has always struggled here, the best volumes hitting around 400 in 2007 just before the crash. The injuries have been self-inflicted in part – refusing to offer a diesel engine denied it the vast bulk of prospects – but it has also fallen victim to a nation of badge snobs that we are.

This all-new LS does not seek to change its tune because it’s far more successful in less traditionalist markets, but it has been re-recorded and mixed with a decidedly more upbeat groove. Lower, wider and longer, the styling is far more adventurous – borderline funky, in fact - and comes with uncommon presence and an almost fanatical devotion to detail. That ‘spindle’ front grille has 5000 surfaces and took one stylist 14 weeks of solid work to design, after which I’m guessing he or she had to go and lie in darkened room for almost as long again.

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What's it like?

I really like its appearance and most elements of its striking cabin design. It looks both luxurious and modern, which is both a difficult and neat trick to pull. Moreover, the top-of-the-range four-wheel-drive ‘Premier’ model I drove was full of quite exceptional materials, even in those areas only a journalist might choose to push and prod – the inside of the door bins, for instance. In design terms, this is a proper job.

In other areas, its abilities are more sketchy. Far more sketchy, in fact. I worried that in both the official blurb and presentations, the actually nuts and bolts of the car – the powertrain, chassis and construction materials – were pretty much the last things to be mentioned. Hierarchically, the fact you can order interior door facings covered in leather quilting folded according to ancient origami tradition appeared to be more important. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a great material and fabulously executed, but neither that nor that they’ve managed to present wood in a way wood cannot present naturally should really come before things like, er, the engine.

Which is a 3.5-litre V6 developing 295bhp without the aid of turbochargers, but boosted by a hybrid system to produce a ‘total system output’ of 354bhp. It powers either the rear or all four wheels suspended at each corner by multi-link suspension units.

And I’m afraid my fears were largely confirmed. There is a lot of theatre when you approach and board the LS: the door handles illuminate, puddles of light appear beneath the mirrors, the seat belt presents itself and even its holder extends by 50mm to receive the buckle. The seat can adjust itself in 28 ways and offer a range of massage functions from ‘stretch’ to Shiatsu and five levels of strength. The interior is not just attractive, it’s fascinating – layer after layer of full-width metal strips splitting the dash from door to door. If ever a car made a promise about the experience to come, this is it. But the car itself fails to deliver.

The most obvious problem is the engine, which has to work far too hard to cart the immense weight of the LS from place to place. In the specification I drove, it weighed 2420kg, almost half a tonne more than the new Audi A8 when fitted with a similarly powerful V6 motor.

If this were a sonorous V12 or even a thundering V8, you might not mind too much, but it’s a coarse V6 that develops maximum torque at a sky-high 5100rpm, and not even ten gear ratios (four real, six virtual) can disguise the fact. On a steady motorway incline, it would at times have to rev to over 4000rpm to maintain progress, and it’s not shy about voicing its displeasure. It’s a shame to say it but, when all the mainstream alternatives have quiet turbo engines offering massive thrust from barely more than idling speed whether they be powered by petrol or diesel, this normally aspirated V6 is nothing less than inadequate for a car whose prices only start at £72,595 and extend all the way up to £97,995.

In other ways, it feels more as you’d hope a flagship Lexus to be: the ride quality on air suspension (standard on all bar the entry-level model) meets the expectations of its class and, while it’s not remotely fun to hustle, nor is it in the least unpleasant, proving accurate and quite composed in long fast corners.

Even so, when you delve deeper into those areas in which such a car needs to excel, it comes up surprisingly short. Who’d have thought, for instance, that a car that must surely be hoping for chauffeur sales would actually offer barely adequate rear headroom? At 6ft 3in, I’m tall but no freak, but what little is left of my hair brushed up against the headlining. And I’d hoped Lexus would have taken the opportunity to ditch its mouse mat-based operating system: I’ve encountered it and its relatives in other Lexuses and after many hours further exposure came not one whit closer to being able to operate it fluently, let alone actually liking it.

The result is a car whose designers appear to have been given near carte blanche to express themselves even if it means, as it often does, such freedoms come only at the cost of compromised engineering. In this case, function has followed form at an inadvisable distance.

Its bigger problem is that it enters the marketplace ranged against a thoroughly refreshed Mercedes-Benz S-Class, by far the best Seven Series BMW has ever produced and a brand-new, very effective Audi A8. And I can only conclude that by far its greatest appeal will be to the minority who rail against the predictability of these German saloons. It is an iconoclast’s car, an exception to a long and thoroughly tested rule.

Should I buy one?

For myself, I liked the fact that Lexus has tried to do something genuinely different here and create a thoroughly modern, distinctive and attractive luxury saloon. And it has succeeded.

But when it comes to cars that must transport a number of people over long distances, style is almost always a poor substitute for substance, and this is where the likeable but far too flawed LS500h comes substantially unstuck. The packaging is not good enough for such an enormous car, it is too heavy and too difficult to operate. But it is the engine that is its undoing: bluntly, it has no place in a car like this. Over a genial chat with its deputy chief engineer Shinji Kishida, I asked him why the hybrid system was not available with the twin-turbo V6 fitted to cars sold outside the UK. And he replied that the engine was new and there’d not been time to integrate the hybrid. When I asked him if that was work in progress, he grinned from ear to ear and simply said: "That’s a secret."

Such an engine, far more refined in character and flooded with low-down torque as it would undoubtedly be, could genuinely transform this car. But I can report only as I find and, as it stands, the LS500h promises more than it delivers. Five generations on, I’d hoped for more.

Lexus LS500h Premier AWD​

Where Oman Price £97,995 Engine 3456cc, V6, petrol plus electric motor Power 354bhp at 6600rpm Torque 231lb ft at 5100rpm Gearbox CVT and auto Kerb weight 2420kg Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 5.5sec Fuel economy 39.8mpg CO2/tax band 161g/km, 31% Rivals Audi A8 55TFSI, BMW 740Li

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Comments
17

14 December 2017

Looks like Darth Vader’s new Wheels.....which I kinda like actually!!!

Peter Cavellini.

14 December 2017

The front spoils an otherwise great looking car, the Hybrid engine, reads like a bag of nails and makes the car next to unsellable.  

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

14 December 2017

I like Toyota's (sorry, Lexus's) tautness of the headlight & rear light design, stretching this way and that. But this tautness is not replicated in the rest of the body as it does in the more coherent looking IS

14 December 2017
abkq wrote:

I like Toyota's (sorry, Lexus's) tautness of the headlight & rear light design, stretching this way and that. But this tautness is not replicated in the rest of the body as it does in the more coherent looking IS

I like audi's sorry volkswagen's.....what was the author saying about a nation full of badge snobs? In light of such mentality, I wonder why lexus and infiniti even bother coming to these shores.

14 December 2017

With the anti diesel bandwagon in full flight, I thought Lexus - who traditionally didn't offer many diesel options - would've been able to capitalise with their range of petrol and hybrid luxury cars.

14 December 2017

The Tesla Model S has taken so many sales off the other luxo-barges that it is surprising the traditional manufacturers persist with their old-school formats.

This trend seems only likely to continue as younger people become customers for this kind of lardy limo.

14 December 2017

...just 3 stars for such an accomplished high-tech AND well designed car?!

A similar JLR (just in their dreams, mind) would have been praised to Heaven.

-- Old fart with petrol in veins, so off the e-cars grid literally --

14 December 2017

I would plump for this Lexus over the S Class, 7 Series or A8 without thinking twice. Like a Jaguar XJ, Quattoporte, Rolls Royce Ghost and Bentley Flying Spur the Lexus LS exudes appeal and just looks so much more sophisticated, expensive and desirable inside and out compared to those cars which are terminally dull looking and in no way impart a sense of luxury, being premium, appeal or expensiveness which should be a given in this type of car. And that the Mercedes, BMW and Audi all look like the rest of the saloons in their range detracts from their appeal further and cheapens them. While the LS has styling cues from the IS and GS, it still looks different enough. And another reason to choose the Lexus is over the Mercedes, BMW and Audi is that you know everything will work properly and the way the thing is put together is probably unrivalled.

14 December 2017

This is a great looking car. So why cant we have the 3.5V6 turbo the rest of the world gets? Surely someone spending £70 to £100k isnt going to mind a little extra at the pumps? Particualrly if it improves it so much. 

14 December 2017

It looks as though a Tesla glasshouse has been plonked on top of a more pedestrian (yet wildly overstyled) shape - with disastrous results. As for that grille. And the beyond kitsch interior. Bring back elegant restraint NOW...

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