Now in its fifth generation, the luxury car adds some sleek styling
2018 Lexus LS 500h Premier
Engine: 3.5-litre, six-cylinder, petrol, hybrid
Power: 354bhp (combined)
Torque: 258 lb ft (engine only)
Gearbox: 10-spd automatic
Top speed: 155mph
CO2, tax band: 161g/km, 31
Large luxury saloons are looking good at the moment, with the only older model amid the choices being the Lexus LS. Lexus is doing something about that with the release of the fifth-generation petrol hybrid. Gone are the conservative looks and in are some fairly frisky lines, but what is beneath them?
One of those things is a notable lack of engine choice. There’s an engine, we checked, and it’s a 3.5-litre petrol V6, but that’s the only option. Otherwise it’s a pair of pedals and a chain to the front axle. Perhaps that’s taking one’s green credentials too far.
Even though that sounds a pleasing engine, what’s less pleasing is the ten-speed automatic transmission. Yes, ten speeds. Faced with that many choices, we’d probably dither a bit while we tried to work out which one we needed right this second. The software acts exactly the same. Go to pull away from a junction or do a nifty overtake and there may well be a moment’s delay while the gearbox tries to decide which one it wants.
Once it has made its mind up, there’s a total system output of 354bhp, which sounds more than enough, but actually it doesn’t feel that amazing. Compared to a big diesel it doesn’t feel as effortless as a car at this point really should. The same goes for the handling.
There’s a niggling jostle to the ride quality which is mildly tiresome, and that’s with air suspension. The surprise was that, with the system in a sportier mode, you could still feel quite a bit of body lean in the corners. Still, it grips well and the steering is accurate.
We tried out the latest Level 2 autonomous tech, which includes radar cruise control and lane assist. Generally it worked well on the clean, well-maintained roads of Oman, but even there it struggled a bit with white lines that had faded. Which should make it interesting on a patched and repaired stretch of English road covered in winter grime.
But that fades a bit when you sit in the sumptuous cabin. Look around and you’ll know you’re in a Lexus, not a German competitor. Lexus does it differently and that’s welcome. All levels get lashings of fine leather but go up to Premier and you’re going to be stroking hand-pleated fabric on the doors and cut-glass trim.
There’s ample room for people to sprawl languidly too. Everyone gets plenty of personal space and the massaging seats in the rear are hugely comfortable. The infotainment system, while looking suitably dramatic, wasn’t quite as brilliant but the general level of material, fit and finish is exemplary.
The new LS moves the design forward, more towards a luxurious coupé than before, with a confidence to the design language that was previously missing. That styling is mirrored by a cabin of wonderful opulence, and a refreshing change from the more staid German counterparts.
But this Lexus trails them in several important areas, including handling, ride and refinement. Yes, it’s a hybrid and that counts for some, but emissions are still 161g/km, and even claimed economy is only 39.8mpg. For us it doesn’t all quite add up.