FIRST DRIVE: Lexus LS limo boast business class on wheels
IN-YOUR-face luxury is the hallmark of the new Lexus LS. Every facet of the big Japanese limousine has been crafted to impress, epitomised by the 5000 surfaces on the trademark spindle grille and mirror-like finish on the 20-inch alloy wheels.
Lexus knows the LS has to do prestige with a bespoke flair: that's how it lures buyers from the rival flagships, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera and BMW 7 Series.
The LS doesn't disappoint, especially in Sports Luxury trim. For the exterior, the coupe-like tapering roof helps disguise the sedan's 5.23m length; the interior is a leather-wrapped indulgence.
In its more-of-everything cabin, the LS surpasses the comfort and convenience features of comparable European cars. Think 23-speaker audio, 28-way electrically adjustable seats and a class-topping 600mm head-up display.
Lexus knows its target audience, too - older folk who don't want to drop in and clamber out. In "access mode", the air suspension lifts the body by 30mm, the front seats rise and the thigh bolsters are lowered and, in the rear, the seat belt buckles drop down. No sprained hips or shoulders here, thank you sir.
Even the boot lip is 40mm lower to facilitate loading the Louis Vuitton luggage.
Prices start at $190,500 for the LS F Sport, with either a V6 twin-turbo engine or hybrid naturally aspirated V6/electric propulsion.
An active stabiliser controls body roll when cornering, supplemented by "vehicle dynamics integrated management" software to control yaw, roll and pitch.
Opt for the Sports Luxury and the price rises to $195,500 with the adoption of a pair of Ottoman-style rear seats that can recline up to 45 degrees while giving the occupants a massage.
There is still no smartphone mirroring and Lexus stubbornly persists with the haptic touchpad controller for the infotainment. It's tedious to operate on the move and the extensive menus just exacerbate the pad's shortcomings relative to the dial and buttons employed by the opposition.
The hybrid versions add mass and dull performance. When you're dealing with a car this size, you'd really want to be keen on saving the planet to buy one, which is why more than 90 per cent of buyers of the comparable LC coupe are opting for the petrol powerplant. The hybrid officially uses 6.6L/100km and the petrol twin-turbo 9.5L.
ON THE ROAD
The ride in the LS is as cosseting as air suspension and sophisticated software can make it. This limousine wafts over the road, no matter its condition. The steering is light but precise and straight-line performance is seriously quick for a luxury limousine, without challenging Mercedes-Benz's S63.
Drivers wanting some dynamic flair need to take the F Sport version - that's why it is in the line-up, complete with all-wheel steering and an active rear stabiliser to keep the back wheels from overtaking the fronts.
The stabiliser-omitting Sports Luxury doesn't do quick cornering - the stability control intervenes long before the back end starts to swing around. Then again, few buyers are going to ask the chauffeur to hustle through the twisties or even expect it in a 2.2-tonne car.
What it does, however, is deliver a supremely comfortable ride, isolating the occupants from road noise and poor road surfaces. On the rare occasions where there's a distant hum from really coarse chip tarmac, it only takes a click of the volume dial to drown it in a surround sound symphony of whatever music you choose.
The steering is too light in the default drive mode but weights up in Sport or Sport + settings, selected by using one of the "horns" mounted on the instrument binnacle ahead of the steering wheel. Changing modes also changes the display on the digital screen as a visual reminder you've picked up the pace.
Being a Lexus, the LS500 is loaded with all of the active safety gear luxury buyers can want, from autonomous emergency braking that swerves to avoid pedestrians, to adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive headlamps.
The overarching impression: sumptuous. If you want a stylish set of wheels, this Lexus fits the bill perfectly, while leaving you with a few extra bills in the pocket compared to the competition.
AT A GLANCE
From $195,500 (cheaper than rivals)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 4 years/100,000km, no capped servicing (not good)
SAFETY Not rated, 12 airbags, auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise, lane keep assist (comprehensive)
THIRST 6.6L-9.5L/100km (reasonable)
SPARE None (not ideal)
BOOT 480L (average)
PRICE A starting price of $190,500 for the
F Sport versions puts the LS500 in the middle ground between the previous model's standard wheelbase price of $186,000 and $214,000 for the long wheelbase variant. Stepping up to the Sports Luxury adds $5000.
TECH The self-parking software has been deleted after Lexus's surveys showed buyers didn't use it. F Sport versions use rear-wheel steering. There's still no Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity.
PERFORMANCE Twin-turbo V6 replaces the V8 used in the first four generations and claims the same levels of performance and improved fuel economy. It is paired with a 10-speed auto and hits 100km/h in 5.0 seconds. The hybrid is married to a four-step CVT and takes 0.4 seconds longer.
DRIVING Sports Luxury is a misnomer, given the car's stability control intervenes early and firmly to stop the rear end from stepping out if you come close to trying to accelerate out of a corner. Ride control is first rate at speeds more reflective of how this car will be driven.
DESIGN The LS is now exclusively a long-wheelbase car and has grown 35mm over the previous LWB version. Six windows extend the glasshouse to improve the view for those in the rear. Legroom is up by more than 80mm for those passengers too. The driver faces a swooping panorama of leather, alloy and wood, though the "horns" on top of the instrument binnacle look out of place.