The new Lexus is discreetly luxurious, says Neil Lyndon
Here’s a dilemma many people would happily suffer. Not many of us are so privileged, so loaded that we can’t decide which luxury car to buy as our company’s taxi. That’s the position of two men who casually asked my opinion at a recent gathering. Partners in one of London’s leading property development companies, these two are exceptionally interesting, cultivated chaps. Though some of their developments are among the capital’s most controversial, they themselves are private, retiring, unshowy. They do retain blocks of debenture seats at Lord’s and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium but keep them for the benefit of friends and customers as much as to indulge their own enthusiasms for the sports. Their dilemma over cars reflects their general state of mind – and finances. They need a large car to drive customers to sites they are developing. They want it comfortable, quiet, discreet. What might I suggest? The new Mercedes S-class would be the obvious answer but they wrinkled their noses in disdain. Too obvious. Too much of a cliché. Too much like a hire car. They didn’t fancy a BMW 7-series, either: it reminded them of Roman Abramovich. A long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ struck them as too ministerial, too Downing Street. A Rolls-Royce? Out of the question. “Who do you think we are? Alan Sugar? Richard Desmond?” one of them demanded indignantly. This was going to be tricky. Who knew they’d be so sensitive about appearances? I thought of suggesting VW’s Phaeton, the four-door luxobarge that shares much of its componentry with Bentleys but is so smothered in anonymity that it declares nothing about its owner. “Isn’t that the one that looks like an overgrown Passat?” one of them asked, in a tone that made it clear that a vehicle purpose-made for salesmen slogging up and down the motorway did not convey the impression they wanted to give customers. Having recently borrowed Audi’s new shapely, fastback S7 – a work of sublime automotive glory – I thought I might drop that name into the discussion but bit my tongue. If these chaps had offices in Munich, the S7’s ability to cruise all day up to 150mph would be just the job. But Britain’s prissy, nannyish motorway speed limits make the 420bhp of the S7’s V8 TFSI engine ludicrously superfluous. Lexus leader: every imaginable luxury is standard on the GS450h At last, it came to me. The perfect car for these picky potentates is Lexus’s GS450h. No cars in mass production are made to higher standards than Lexus hybrids. Their build quality exudes meticulous care from the fit of the body panels to the flawlessness of the interior finish. A plausible case could be made that the flagship LS600h, is – pound-for-pound – the best saloon car in the world; but that gigantic carriage is for people who fancy themselves and also like to show how much they care about saving the planet. The GS450 is smaller but still more than big enough for four well-fed plutocrats. At £51,000 it is the cheapest of all the cars that went through my mind; yet the performance from its 3.5litre V6 petrol engine, linked to its 650v electric motor will BMW ActiveHybrid 5 M Sport Price: £50,435 For: maybe the best 5-series Against: looks more ordinary than it is Rating: match Audi’s S7 while emitting less C02. The GS450h is fitted with every imaginable luxury as standard, drives superbly, is automotive paradise for passengers and is backed by a five-year warranty on the hybrid components. What could be better? “Never heard of it,” said one of the partners, walking away to find a more profitable conversation.