Lexus LS 500h
First taste of a pre-production prototype suggests limo has plenty of promise
Pre-production prototype driven
The fifth-generation Lexus LS’S mission statement is “to reset the luxury benchmark” – a bold statement that, in simple terms, means it must eclipse the Mercedesbenz S-class.
Now that might sound absurd, Lexus beating Mercedes at its own game, but we arrive at this point hot on the heels of the excellent LC coupé. The LS just happens to sit on the same all-new platform as the LC and thereby – in theory – shares many of its qualities.
As is the norm in this class, Lexus claims to have something for everyone: space, comfort, dynamic ability, unrivalled tech, safety aids you’ve never seen before, luxurious top-end materials and more. That’s on top of the standard Lexus standouts, such as dealer service and remarkable reliability ratings, which are too often overlooked.
To the list you can add tax appeal and, potentially (depending on how you drive it), fuel efficiency. In the UK, the LS will be sold only as a hybrid. That means a 295bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine that links to two electric motors to deliver a peak of 354bhp, driven through a clever four-speed CVT transmission that mimics ten cogs.
But before we get going, here’s the full disclosure: our test route is scarcely 15 miles of town and motorway driving, limited to about 40mph, with barely a significant turn to negotiate. What’s more, the cars are well-used engineering models. With those caveats in place, it’s positive to report that there are areas where the LS excels. The cabin is smart, if something of a mishmash of styles, and some of the materials and finishes are up with the very best. It is also spacious in the front and rear.
However, the cabin is not always well isolated from engine or road noise. For a car in this class, that is a potentially significant flaw, although possibly one amplified by both the aforementioned age of the car and the fact that the model we are in is an F Sport, riding on 20in wheels and lower profile tyres.
Of the driver aids tested, the ones that draw Lexus in line with rivals, such as lane keeping assistance, work fine. However, the unique party piece that makes the car change lane at the touch of a button proved complicated to engage and so trust.
The powertrain is a mixed bag. Running in electric mode or at low revs, it delivers power smoothly and near silently. The gearchanges are almost imperceptible. If you demand more power while cruising along, it surges forward with purpose.
In Sport mode, the V6 also makes a quite attractive noise. However, in between those points, when you are looking to accelerate swiftly but not urgently, the CVT and hybrid system deliver a lot of noise but not a commensurate amount of action.
Generally, the ride is fine, but over breaks in the road surface it is noticeably unsettled, even in Comfort mode. Whether there is a trade-off for enhanced handling was nigh-on impossible to tell. Again, we must hope this is a result of the car’s hard life and low-profile tyres.
For now, then, it’s impossible to draw a conclusion. There are many emotional and rational reasons you might consider the LS, but they all remain in limbo until we can test a production-fit car, ideally on standard wheels and tyres, more extensively.
Our F Sport had the looks you’d expect in a Lexus but perhaps not the sounds