Granted it is hard when the Lexus LS 500h is in your face. Just look at it will you

Evo India - - CONTENTS -

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








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

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