Lexus LS Review
Hybrid power makes the Lexus LS luxury saloon frugal and opulent
Strengths & weaknesses
- Sleek and sporty design
- Hybrid power is an efficient diesel alternative
- Lavish interior
- Curved design restricts rear headroom
- Hesitant gearbox
- Batteries restrict room in the boot
In the luxury car market, there are some long-established big beasts, in the shape of the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class. Factor in the Jaguar XJ as well and you have a strong line-up of sophisticated limos. Any manufacturers looking to break into this market are going to need to build a special car.
The Lexus LS is not that car – and, to the Japanese brand’s credit, it’s not even trying to beat the Europeans at their own game. Instead, since the first LS was launched in 1989, it has tried to do something different either in terms of design or, more recently, how it’s powered.
This latest LS is no exception. Design-wise, it’s gone down the route of adopting the current trend of executive saloons becoming sportier, with coupé-like styling in the roofline swooping down towards the back of the car. The LS is certainly a striking car to look at with its large, love-it-or-hate-it grille along with bold air scoops, LED headlights and 20-inch wheels. The actual bodywork is clean and slick though, so it does exude an air of sporty luxury.
Inside, the LS also exudes stye, with leather strewn across the majority of the surfaces, combining with wood (and, if you want to spend an extra £7,600, artisan glass and origami-pleated door panels) to create a comfortable interior with build quality up there with the best in class.
There’s also plenty of space in the LS, but taller passengers might find the swooping roofline limits headroom in the back. This can be offset (in the range-topping Premier version) by a rear ‘executive’ seat that reclines and has a fold-out ottoman to support the legs. There is also the option of Shiatsu massage seats in the front and rear, along with a Climate Concierge that can detect the body temperature of each of the occupants and adjust the heating and cooling accordingly.
An imposing 12.3-inch display takes up a large portion of the dashboard, but the Lexus touchpad controller is clunky and slow, which makes trying to navigate the convoluted menu system a frustating experience. It isn’t as easy to use as the systems you'll find in alternatives like the Audi A8 or BMW 7-Series, which are controlled by rotary dials.
The boot in the LS is also relatively small, with the 430 litres on offer some way short of its rivals thanks to the positioning of the batteries for the electric motor.
The automatic gearbox is also a little disappointing. The gear change is hesitant and not always consistent which can add a tinge of frustration to the overall experience of driving it. It's still smooth and quiet when the electric motor takes over at low speeds, while it will also cause minimal fuss other than some minor wind noise during motorway driving, although the LS’s handling failings are further highlighted when attempting to tackle any particularly twisty roads.
The steering is consistent and direct but the weight of the car (thanks in part to the batteries) along with the hesitancy of the gearbox means that it doesn’t have the nimbleness or agility of something like the BMW 7 Series. That said, this is a large executive car, so the urban and highway situations are likely to be where it will spend most of its time, meaning its deficiencies are likely to remain hidden from most owners.
The ride quality is helped by the inclusion of an air suspension (for all but the entry level trim), which does help provide a floatiness at high speed. Our test drive was conducted on smooth roads, which didn’t stretch the capabilities of the suspension in the way that British surfaces will. We’ll be interested to see if the LS stays composed in the face of speed bumps and potholes.
The Lexus LS is different to its European rivals, which is a good thing in a car market that is often far too homogeneous. However, with the introduction of the BMW 740e, and Mercedes-Benz S500e and S300h, there are now competitors with hybrid systems breaching the LS 500h’s main USP. Diesel variants of most of its rivals also undermine the LS’s case for economy.
Lexus isn’t aiming to sell a fraction of the volume of established competitors liek the Mercedes S-Class, which is just as well. While it can’t match its rivals in many departments, it's style and interior quality may well catch the eye of buyers looking for something different. The LS certainly offers a genuine alternative.
|Warranty||3 years / 60,000 miles|
|Boot size||430 litres|
|Tax||£200 to £500 in first year, £140 thereafter|