Lexus’s limo nudges $200K but the hy­brid comes at no ex­tra cost

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Lexus limou­sine buy­ers have to face the $200,000 ques­tion: whether to take their new LS with twin-turbo V6 or the hy­brid ver­sion at no ex­tra charge. Petrol-elec­tric power gen­er­ally adds a pre­mium. To an­swer a mod­ern dilemma — do we try 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 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, 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 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 “pre-set” ra­tios.

The Lexus gen­er­ates its own elec­tric­ity when coast­ing or brak­ing to recharge a lithi­u­mion 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.

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.

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.


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