New Lexus LS offers incredible luxury and refinement as it takes on German elite

Japanese firm’s saloon is a work of art but it will struggle to lure Mercedes owners

Smooth ride: the Lexus LS doesn’t drive so much as waft along on gilded wings

Make: Lexus

Model: LS

Year: 2018

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: January 29, 2018

Wed, Jan 31, 2018, 06:42

   

If diesel really is dead then premium brands have more to worry about than most. The Lexus advertising tagline is a smart marketing ploy, casting a niche player into the role of industry pioneer. It has also caused apoplexy amongst rivals. And the more its opponents attack the message, the more they cast themselves as defenders of the status-quo, luddites in the face of forward-thinking Lexus.

On the back of the Volkswagen scandal and the public’s questioning of the benefits of diesel, Lexus spotted an opportunity and stuck the boot in. End result: a win-win for the Japanese brand.

In the overall market there diesel’s share has fallen from 70 per cent in 2016 to 65 per cent last year and 57 per cent so far this year. The issue is particularly serious for the premium players in the market, where to date over 85 per cent of sales have been diesel. Buyers of big cars have long seen the cost benefits of opting for diesel power.

So if the luxury car buyer is looking for alternatives, what do they get with the latest Lexus LS? Well, first and foremost, pure, unadulterated luxury. This car doesn’t drive so much as waft along on gilded wings.

Inside and the levels of luxury and comfort set new standards in opulence. Hand-stitched leather abounds
Inside and the levels of luxury and comfort set new standards in opulence. Hand-stitched leather abounds

For several years we have criticised Lexus for being too fundamentalist in its devotion to hybrid, while the styling of its cars were either too similar to rivals or too bizarre. What we were in fact witnessing was the caterpillar in its chrysalis. Suddenly the butterfly has appeared. Not only does Lexus now boast the best looking sports coupé on the market with its LC, but this LS is the best looking luxury saloon on the market, and certainly the most striking on the road. It’s helped by the lacklustre changes made to the styling of its German rivals.

Inside and the levels of luxury and comfort set new standards in opulence. Hand-stitched leather abounds. On the new Lexus LS, when fitted with air suspension, the car rises by 40mm when it is unlocked, to make entry easier. God forfend you’d have to bend. Even the slot for the seatbelt rises up to meet you when you sit in.

The seats themselves come with in-built climate control that monitors your body temperature. It means one passenger can be snuggled up at 24 degrees while an elbow away, the other passenger can enjoy life at a cool 16 degrees. And that’s before we get into the seats’ massage functions, developed by Lexus in conjunction with experts in Shiatsu Japanese massage.

The ride quality is really impressive and a star feature of the car, as you’d expect on a €110,000-plus luxury liner

Needless to say the LS is loaded with tech. The problem is that it’s controlled by the firm’s silly touchpad system that continues to trail rivals when in ease of use. It’s fiddly, annoying and a feature that Lexus needs to urgently address.

Behind the wheel, things are also less impressive than we had hoped. A 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is matched with two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. The power is fed through the firm’s new 10-speed automatic transmission. The end result is a combined output of 354bhp, delivering a 0-100km/h time of 5.4 seconds for the front-wheel drive versions. For a car of this size that’s very impressive. And acoustically, move to sport mode and the engine sounds loud and lairy.

The problem is that it never feels that fast. The LS is best driven with a gentle touch on the throttle. Put your foot to the floor and the same issues that arise with all hybrid systems start to show. There’s a momentary lag in response and then a noticeable whine.

According to Lexus engineers, the issue is largely down to the way we Europeans drive. It’s something that doesn’t arise in Japan, as motorists are more gradual on the accelerator pedal. In the West, however, we are more inclined to stomp on the throttle. It’s something Lexus – and others – are continuing to address.

Lexus claims a fuel economy as low as 6.2l/100km (45.6mpg) for the rear-wheel drive version and 7 l/100km (40.3mpg) for the all-wheel drive. However, during our earlier testing over two days with the car we did see our average climb as high as 12.1 l/100km (23.3mpg), which is hardly a clarion call for hybrid technology.

The ride quality is really impressive and a star feature of the car, as you’d expect on a €110,000-plus luxury liner. Its steering is also pretty sharp, though when pushed on tighter, twisting roads German rivals still retain a lead in this regard.

Along with the well-established German brands, the LS also has to see off the challenge of the high-profile Tesla Model S, though it has little to fear from it in terms of refinement or driving ability. In fact the detailing on the LS merely serves to highlight the Model S’s low-grade cabin quality.

The ultimate goal of any car in this luxury class is to lure buyers away from the S-Class. Yet it’s hard to see long-time Mercedes-Benz drivers abandoning the three-pointed star for this. And while Lexus claim its audience is early adopters, the reality is that many of these will be lured by the publicity of Tesla or the new Audi A8, which boasts cutting-edge autonomous driving technology.

Certainly for those who are driven, the level of refinement is on a par with anything offered elsewhere. It’s the ideal corporate chauffeur car. For those who drive, however, it’s still not a match with the Mercedes, which remains the Kaiser of the luxury class.

Lowdown: Lexus LS

Engine: 3.5-litre V6 with two-electric motors and lithium-ion battery pack putting out 354bhp and 350Nm or torque

0-100km/h: 5.4 seconds

L/100km (mpg): 6.2 (45.6) for rear-wheel drive version on 19-inch alloys

Emissions (motor tax): 147 g/km (€390)

Prices: From €112,750 (after €1,500 hybrid rebate)

Our rating: 3/5

Verdict: Luxury Lexus boasts incredible refinement and detailing and the best alternative to the German set