From £70,329
New Lexus LS looks to take the fight to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class; short drive provides early clues and provokes several questions

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
Jim Holder
26 October 2017

What is it?

The fifth-generation Lexus LS’s mission statement is “to reset the luxury benchmark”. Which is a bold statement that, in simple terms, means it must eclipse the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

That, in turn, raises the question of what defines luxury. After all, one man’s sprawling mansion is another’s minimalist, modernist flat. Again, Lexus believes it can provide the answers, and they are wide-ranging in their intent, taking in everything from exterior styling and interior materials through to the dynamic set-up, technical gadgetry galore and a veritable host of driver aids.

Underpinning all this is the new Lexus GA-L platform, which also sits beneath the well-received LC. It allows the LS to be lighter, lower yet larger than before, with the critical potential benefits of a lower centre of gravity and the positioning of most of the mass, including the engine and occupants, more centrally. The structure has also allowed Lexus’s engineers to develop a more rigid multi-link suspension system, with air suspension available as an option.

As is common in this class, the list of interior luxuries is long and varied. Too long and varied for them all to be listed here, but for a taster of the level of detail Lexus has gone to, consider a driver’s seat that is adjustable in 28 ways. The list of safety features is no shorter and includes for the first time a pedestrian detection system that can automatically brake the car and potentially steer around the obstacle while staying in the lane.

In the UK, the LS will be only be sold as a hybrid. That means a 295bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine that links to two electric motors to deliver a peak of 354bhp, driven through a clever four-speed CVT transmission that mimics ten cogs. It is, Lexus says, quicker to change than a dual-clutch gearbox, yet more compact and lighter. The LS can run in full electric mode at speeds of up to 87mph and the 0-62mph sprint covered in 5.4sec. No fuel economy or emissions figures have been released yet.

What's it like?

Full disclosure: our test route was scarcely 15 miles of town and motorway driving, limited to about 40mph, with barely a significant turn to negotiate. What's more, when confronted with some of the shortcomings outlined below, Lexus conceded that the cars were well-used engineering models, laid on more to demonstrate some of the safety technology than be fully evaluated. For these reasons, you won't see a star rating here. 

With those caveats in place, it's positive to report that there are areas where the LS clearly makes a case for itself. The cabin is smart, if something of a mishmash of styles, and some of the materials and finishes are up with the very best. It is also spacious in the front and rear, as you might expect for thsi kind of car.

However, the cabin is not always well isolated from engine or road noise. For a car in this class, that is a potentially significant flaw, although possibly one amplified by both the aforementioned age of the car and the fact that the model we were in was in F Sport trim, meaning it rode on 20in wheels and lower profile tyres than standard.

The Lexus is packed with driver and safety aids, many of which we couldn't test. Officials specifically focused our runs on trialling the car’s new systems to keep you a set distance from other cars on the motorway and steer the car automatically so that it stays in lane. These are not unique to Lexus, but they did work well.

However, the party piece of being able to automatically perform lane changes was a hassle to get working and prone to interruption. Once you've failed to get it working once, trust is hard to rebuild.

The powertrain is a mixed bag. In town, running in electric mode or at low revs, it delivers power smoothly and near silently. The gearchanges are almost imperceptible. At such times, it offers the perfect luxury experience. Furthermore, if you demand more power while cruising along – while joining a motorway or overtaking another car, for instance – it surges forward with quite some purpose. In Sport mode, the V6 makes a quite attractive noise. But in between those points, when you are looking to accelerate swiftly but not urgently, the CVT and hybrid system serve to deliver a lot of noise but not a lot of action. 

Generally, the ride is fine, but over breaks in the road surface it is noticeably unsettled, even in Comfort mode. The vertical movement after a large road imperfection was striking in comparison to pretty much every other car in the class. Whether there is a trade-off for enhanced handling was nigh-on impossible to tell but, even if there is, it is hard to imagine sizzling steering verve outweighing the downside of being bumped along. Again, though, this could be a result of the car's hard life and low-profile tyres.

Should I buy one?

The caveats are stated above and bear reiterating: we have a lot more to learn about the LS before we can deliver a verdict.

For now, it's possible to conclude that there are many reasons why you might buy an LS: its looks, the anticpated tax and fuel economy benefits of the hybrid powertrain, likely kit and tech-laden trims (yet to be announced) and consequent value for money, plus the driver assistance systems on the car, some of which aren’t available elsewhere. Then there's Lexus’ remarkable dealership quality and superb reliability record in its favour.

However, although in isolation the LS is not a bad car - far from it - as tested it is flawed in the key areas of ride quality and noise isolation. If it is to have any chance of challenging the class best, those traits must prove exclusive to this hard-working test car.

As such, perhaps the best conclusion is to urge you to return and read our opinion again after we have had a chance to deliver a more thorough evaluation of the LS – and ideally one prepped for sale, and on standard wheels and tyres at that.

Lexus LS 500h F Sport

Where Yokohama, Japan; On sale January 2018; Price from £75,000 (est); Engine V6, 3456cc, petrol, plus electric motor; Power 354bhp at 6600rpm; Torque 263lb ft at 5100rpm; Gearbox CVT; Kerbweight 2390kg; 0-62mph 5.4sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy tbc; CO2 rating tbc; Rivals Audi A8, Mercedes S-Class

***Note some of the pictures above show the Lexus LS 500. This test was of the hybrid Lexus LS 500h***

Join the debate

Comments
6

26 October 2017

The wheels don't sit well in the wheel-arches.

The back is completely wrong for a limo, it shouldn't taper to a point, especially on the light cluster.

The interior does look smart.

Why is there a signature input box?

26 October 2017

Sorry but this Lexus design trait for the front grill has to stop.  This looks hideous.  Overall this does not come close to the S Class and even the 9 year old XJ looks fresh in comparison.   There is the 'marmite' approach and then there's this. 

 

Smackie65

The Law of Mechanical Repair - as soon as your hands become covered in grease, your nose will itch and you'll need a pee.

 

26 October 2017

I love the lexus though, it looks great and I want it. specs and performance is cool enough for me.

26 October 2017

I think it looks stunning, both inside, and out, but it does need to ride properly. Quite why you buy a limo, and then choose a sporty suspension set up is beyond me. I do wonder if it is a mistake to leave the twin tubo model out of the UK line up, which at least has a proper gearbox. I hope the production car fairs better when tested.

16 November 2017

This is a tough act to follow when you have the recently refreshed S Class and new A8. The original LS 400 broke new ground but every iteration since has failed to do so. I feel sad for Lexus as I feel they never got the credit they deserved at the time. Step on board a 1990 LS 400 and you will still be impressed today. I think Lexus is compensating for the lack of soul and with that, styling is totally over the top. Elegance isn't a word you should associate with a big Lexus yet that is exactly the recipe it needs for success. Ideal on an LC, not on an LS. Those hideous rear tail lamps are far too Toyota esque for most. Over the years the flagship models have not been bad cars, just not good enough to become the class leaders, and the latest styling and dynamics could put an end to that judging by this review. I hope that is not the case I really admire the whole ethos of the company. They can build a great supercar but perhaps not a great luxury car.

16 November 2017

This is a tough act to follow when you have the recently refreshed S Class and new A8. The original LS 400 broke new ground but every iteration since has failed to do so. I feel sad for Lexus as I feel they never got the credit they deserved at the time. Step on board a 1990 LS 400 and you will still be impressed today. I think Lexus is compensating for the lack of soul and with that, styling is totally over the top. Elegance isn't a word you should associate with a big Lexus yet that is exactly the recipe it needs for success. Ideal on an LC, not on an LS. Those hideous rear tail lamps are far too Toyota esque for most. Over the years the flagship models have not been bad cars, just not good enough to become the class leaders, and the latest styling and dynamics could put an end to that judging by this review. I hope that is not the case I really admire the whole ethos of the company. They can build a great supercar but perhaps not a great luxury car.

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