Lexus LS 500h

First taste of a pre-pro­duc­tion pro­to­type sug­gests limo has plenty of promise

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - JIM HOLDER @jim_holder

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

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