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.