LEXUS LS 500H
Granted it is hard when the Lexus LS 500h is in your face. Just look at it will you
We can’t stop staring at the most astonishingly designed Lexus!
IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO STARE, isn’t it? Say hello to the newest, greatest and most astonishingly designed Lexus of them all, the fifth generation of the car that kicked off Toyota’s experiment with luxury 28 years ago, the LS500h. What was once a thoroughly conservative, happily rectangular and more reliable alternative to the S-Class has morphed into… a diamond merchant’s wet dream. The kind of car that Nirav Modi would hustle a banker in. A car that puts the bling in bling-bling. A car that, shoot, I can’t decide whether to love or hate.
And so instead of heading to the hills to talk about everything we at evo India hold so dearly, let’s take another minute to just look at the car; more than a minute actually because the details are incredible in both the intricacy and in their numerousness.
The grille, spindle grille as Lexus calls it, apparently took 14 weeks to design and has 5032 individual surfaces. Then there’s the chrome. It’s a shame this car is brown; were it black, all the chrome would have sparkled like all of NiMo’s diamonds. Chrome slabs line the (chromed) grille and border the air dam. The wheels are massive 20-inchers, and fully chromed! Not only is there a chrome strip on the side skirts, there is a slab of chrome weeping out of the wing mirrors. The rear bumper has strips of chrome and the taillamps too have a chrome bar in it that flows away like another tear, probably reflecting the
designer's state of mind after 14 weeks of designing that grille. This is a car unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s loud, it’s flashy and it’s most un-Japanese-like. Every time I parked the Lexus I couldn’t resist a look back, and every time I looked back I found a new detail to linger over. Towards the end of our test I actually began to not-hate it.
Then there are the interiors. Good lord, the interiors!
The door pads have this elaborately intricate piece of bling that, turns out, is Kiriko cut glass, an ancient Japanese glassware technique of cutting delicate patterns and colours into glass. And charging the moon for it! Right across the dash and over the air-con vents are multiple slivers of metal that feel cold to touch, like proper metal. Just like the new Rolls-Royce Phantom there’s what looks like a piece of art inserted in the dash on the passenger’s side. And the door pads are lined with this quilted material that uses an origami folding technique to turn out an exquisite piece that you just know has been stitched together by hand, not a machine. Lexus even claim the pleat design 'changes its expression depending when lit by day time sunlight or the vehicles interior lighting'. Umm...
The artistry and craftsmanship in the cabin is on another level, a total contrast to the overwhelming German-ness of its German rivals. But while the S-Class, and to an even larger extent the new A8 that
is coming soon, are tech-laden with large high-resolution screens and minimal knobs and buttons, the LS 500h has old fashioned analogue dials for the temperature and fuel that flank a digital speedo and on the top of the instrument cowl, like two horns, sprout knobs for controlling the different driving models and switching off ESP. The speedo cannot be swapped for a widescreen map and the graphics on the centre console are shocking in just how dated it looks. Plus there’s this infuriating track pad to navigate through the menus and infotainment, something that is nigh on impossible to scroll through smoothly or accurately – and this is while stationary, while on the move forget about getting to any menu you want. Plug your phone and there’s no Apple CarPlay, instead you press a teeny little button to get to the media menu, scroll through using the trackpad and then use your phone as an iPod. But just when you’re getting ready to write off the LS’s cabin, the music starts piping through the 23 speakers of the Mark Levinson QLI Reference stereo and your ears begin to weep in joy. Twirl the volume knob and the delicious tactility puts to mind super-highend amps. And the sound quality is utterly incredible, transporting you into another world.
Next to the track pad you find a button with the graphic of a seat on it so you jab
that and a menu pops up for ‘Driver’s Seat Refresh’. Turns out Shiatsu massage experts were involved in the development and I can say with full confidence that these are the best massage seats I’ve experienced in my life, the only one that is a viable substitute to human hands. The front seats adjust in 28 different ways, the seat belt holder rises 50mm presenting itself to you, and you can even direct heat to the particular part of your body you want to relax.
And just as you were getting sold on the Lexus you find the bonnet release that’s exactly like the one found in the Innova. Err.
The other issue with the LS 500h is that despite the rear seats being incredibly comfortable and with the best massage setup on any car in its segment, the hard truth is that there isn’t as much space as in an S-Class or 7 Series. Sure you can slide and fold the front passenger seat out of the way, bring forth an ottoman and recline the rear seat back by 48 degrees to give you proper business class seating but with a passenger up front there isn’t as much space as you’d expect at the back.
PULL THE STUBBY GEAR LEVER back and, nothing happens. For a while you think the electric motors have engaged and you will motor along silently, and yes it does roll off silently on electric power if there’s juice in the batteries, but first you have to tap the gear lever right towards the driver and then pull back to engage drive – there’s some weird Toyota-ness to the operation. Lexus has made a big deal of their entire range in India, with the exception of the LX SUV, being hybrid and the LS sticks with the plan despite the government being singularly incapable of making up its mind on whether it wants only EVs or hybrids or whatever tech becomes cool next Monday. In fact this powertrain already complies with BS VI emission regulations and it's weird that Lexus isn't making a big deal out of what is a big deal.
Pulling away silently is still a very cool thing to do and, as you’d expect of a Lexus, you rarely notice when the petrol engine kicks in (or switches off) – such is the refinement. In fact the entire demeanour of the car is calm and relaxed, hushed and soothing. The steering is light, though surprisingly not lacking in feel. The seats, as mentioned, are incredibly comfortable. The suspension is supple and superabsorbent. You can raise the air suspension to clear speedbreakers or even just to make ingress/egress easier. And thanks to the double-glazed glass you really are isolated from the world outside.
That’s Jekyll. But there’s also Hyde. Turn the left knob on the top of the instrument cowl to Sport+ and the electric motors work in tandem with the 295bhp 3.5-litre V6 to channel 354bhp to the rear wheels and hit 100kmph in just 5.4 seconds. This is properly quick and the engine too rips out a surprisingly fierce sound track, though I suspect a lot of it are sounds piped into the cabin. Nevertheless it is an enjoyable soundtrack that prompts you to use the paddles to keep the engine on the boil, which brings me to the 10-speed automatic. Yes 10 speeds! It’s a very clever
THE ARTISTRY AND
IS ON ANOTHER
LEVEL, A TOTAL
CONTRAST TO THE OVERWHELMING
GERMAN-NESS OF ITS
gearbox combining 4 fixed speeds with a CVT that Lexus claims shifts quicker than a DSG. Happily it also shifts smoother than a twin-clutch while not having any of that annoying rubber-band effect of traditional CVTs. Plus it’s surprisingly efficient, delivering a claimed 15.83kmpl. Threading through peak rush-hour Mumbai city traffic and then blasting it down the expressway to Pune saw the on board computer display 9.2kmpl, which is excellent for a big petrol-engined luxury car. That said the LS500h could do with the low-down grunt and effortlessness of a turbo-petrol, especially around town and especially since peak torque of 350Nm comes at a very high 5100rpm.
Chuck it into the first corner and despite all the sporty noises and even the traction control that you thought you’d switched off, the front tyres start to squeal in understeer and the rear refuses to oversteer. Turns out you can’t switch off ESP completely. Also turns out that despite the lower centre of gravity, weight positioned centrally, and extensive use of aluminium in the suspension of the new GA-L platform, with the LS, there’s no rewriting the laws of physics when it comes to a 2.4-tonne 5.2-metre long luxury car. Oh, and I must tell you that at eight-tenths the LS is perfectly composed with stable handling and not too much body roll. Even at nine-tenths it is accurate and composed in long corners and you can get a squiggle from the back end when you boot it. It’s just when pushed really hard it doesn’t have the same composure or grip as German luxobarges. Neither does it have the outright ride quality of the S-Class. All of which makes the premium Lexus is charging for the LS 500h over the Mercedes S-Class seem wildly optimistic. I hope you're sitting down because the `1.97 crore price tag of our test car, ex-showroom, will make you weak in the knees.
Then again, Lexus isn’t worried about volumes in India. The vice president at Lexus India told me that he is the only person in the car industry who has no sales targets. Instead, Lexus is building up a service network that is unparalleled in its quality and experience. Their dealerships are exquisite. Lexus has guests, not customers. Everything is personalised down to one guy, just one guy dealing with you, from selling you the car, to booking service appointments and everything else in between. Lexus also claim their running costs are much lower than rivals though I don’t know if that matters so much for a customer shelling out two crore rupees. What they can be assured of is that people will stare, neighbours will talk and there ain’t anything on our roads like the LS 500h. ⌧
Top: Kiriko-cut glass flanks quilted door pads folded in an ancient origami method. Above: Hybrid powertrain is a Lexus India calling card