Lexus LS500 Hybrid vs twin-turbo V6: the $200,000 question
LEXUS limousine buyers face a $200,000 question: whether to take their new LS with twin-turbo V6 power, or the hybrid version at no extra charge.
Petrol-electric power generally adds a premium. To answer a modern dilemma - a new take on conventional power or step into the future - we tested both examples back-to-back.
First up, the LS500 powered by a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 matched to a 10-speed automatic.
It's rare for a new engine and transmission combination to arrive at the same time as a completely new car but that's the case this time around.
Lexus has kept the LS500 badge - which once signified a 5.0-litre V8 - because it promises V8 performance to go with the fuel economy of a V6.
In fact, the twin turbo V6 has more power and significantly more torque (310kW/600Nm) than the previous model's 4.6-litre V8 (285kW/493Nm).
It's a sweet combination, with the hushed refinement on which Lexus has built its reputation. Possibly too refined - because V6s don't sound as throaty as V8s, and Lexus engineers have done their best to suppress engine noise.
Luxury buyers won't mind but those wanting to savour the performance may wish for more.
The overall balance of the car is sporty despite its proportions, due to excellent steering geometry and a near ideal weight balance of 52/48 front-to-rear.
This might not seem a big deal but it's a fair achievement in such a huge car given an even balance is a target normally reserved for sports cars.
Inside, the LS is plush with high quality materials and rich suede in the door pockets.
A criticism that can be levelled at both variants - and other Lexus models - is the centre console touchpad for the infotainment.
You use your fingertips to navigate the menu but it's difficult to land on the icon you're after.
It's frustrating enough when parked and borderline dangerous to operate on the move.
Next up: the hybrid version of the same car. The example tested was equipped with an optional business-class style reclining rear seat with several massage functions.
Our focus, though, was on the experience from the driver's seat. It took just one decent push on the accelerator to realise this model is also worthy of the LS500 badge, even with a "hybrid" tag.
Its naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 (220kW/ 350Nm) is paired with a powerful electric motor (132kW/300Nm). The continuously variable transmission has 10 "preset" ratios.
The Lexus generates its own electricity when coasting or braking to recharge a lithium-ion battery pack that gives the electric motor enough oomph to move from rest to about 40km/h before the petrol engine takes over.
When required, the electric motor also provides a decent performance boost to the V6. Push the pedal to the carpet and all available power is unleashed.
Lexus makes ambitious performance claims for this pair, reckoning the twin-turbo can do the 0-100km/h dash in 5.0 seconds and the hybrid 5.4.
According to our timing equipment both were just shy of the 6-second mark, with the twin-turbo about 0.1 second quicker (5.7 and 5.8 seconds respectively).
The LS hybrid excels in another surprising way: it sounds awesome. There is a distinct hi-tech V6 growl when you floor the throttle, louder even than the twin-turbo.
It's puzzling at first: how could this possibly be so? The answer: it's completely artificial and can only be heard inside the car.
If this is the future of synthesised sound - as cars increasingly become equipped with near-silent technology - sign me up. If only the twin-turbo V6 sounded this good.
Furthermore, there's not much of a weight penalty for the hybrid, just 55kg, so the driving experience is essentially the same.
Another bonus: the boot is the same size in either version. Hybrids typically lose luggage space to the batteries but there's no such compromise here.
Lexus says about two-thirds of LS sales so far are twin-turbo V6s - buyers in this price range possibly aren't fussed about cutting their fuel bills by a third. But I'd buy the hybrid for the engine note alone, even if it is sythensised.
FAST FACTS: LEXUS LS500
PRICE $190,500 plus on-road costs
WARRANTY/SERVICE 4 years/100,000km (good), no capped servicing (not ideal)
ENGINE 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo, 310kW/600Nm; 3.5-litre V6, 220kW/350Nm, electric motor 132kW/300Nm (plenty)
SAFETY 5 stars, 10 airbags, AEB, 360-degree camera, auto high-beam, rear cross traffic alert, blind zone warning, lane keep assist (comprehensive)
THIRST 6.6L to 9.5L/100km (excellent to thirsty)
SPARE Run-flat tyres (not ideal)
BOOT 480L (good)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling