JUST THE BUSI­NESS

Ex­ud­ing pres­tige and lux­ury, the Lexus LS500H seals the deal.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - MA­CHIN­ERY - WORDS BY WILL HERSEY

If the two most ter­ri­fy­ing words in the Eng­lish lan­guage are “rail re­place­ment”, closely fol­lowed by “ITV drama”, then “busi­ness class” must be two of the sweet­est. When you’re pinned into an econ­omy class seat try­ing to spread a mini bread roll with one el­bow and jock­ey­ing for seatrest supremacy with your other, it’s hard not to con­sider your own ca­reer mis­takes up to now while imag­in­ing what’s hap­pen­ing up front.

The clink of cock­tail glasses, the guf­faw­ing of cabin staff, a pi­anist play­ing light jazz. Imag­ine you—the you that once hid in a train toi­let out­side East Croy­don to evade a ticket in­spec­tor—up there now, de­cid­ing on the pinot or the caber­net franc, throw­ing out the full length of your

blan­ket, pre­tend­ing not to look too pleased with your minia­ture salt and pep­per pots.

How­ever, on a re­cent trip to Oman, once the stew­ardess’s wel­come smile dis­ap­peared and the nov­elty of be­ing trusted with full-size cut­lery be­gan to fade, I saw that bad things hap­pen in busi­ness class, too. First, the con­trols of my seat broke, so I was ush­ered back to a spare that was so close to the toi­let I won­dered if my headrest might dou­ble as the hand-dryer. This seemed to be the fam­ily sec­tion, too, with two ba­bies be­hind me, and what seemed to be a boozy school re­u­nion well un­der­way to my left. It was the busi­ness class equiv­a­lent of doss­ing down on the sofa.

The cabin crew were now ig­nor­ing me but I soon got their at­ten­tion by in­ad­ver­tently knock­ing over a glass of red wine, pro­vok­ing loud gasps from nearby pas­sen­gers, and a hand-on­mouth re­ac­tion from one stew­ardess, as if she was the first to ar­rive at a

mur­der-sui­cide.

While I was hid­ing in the air­craft’s toi­let dur­ing the ex­ten­sive clean-up op­er­a­tion, a se­ries of texts be­gan no­ti­fy­ing me I’d been roam­ing the net­works of Eastern Europe, ac­cru­ing a £250 data bill in the process. I thought that I’d been tak­ing ad­van­tage of my free busi­ness-class Wi-fi. (In the in­ter­ests of fair­ness, I should say the herbed chicken was ex­cel­lent.)

In some ways, it was an ap­pro­pri­ate way to ar­rive for the trip’s ul­ti­mate pur­pose, driv­ing the new LS, the fifth gen­er­a­tion of Lexus’s flag­ship limo. The very first one launched the idea of the Lexus brand back in 1989 as a new wave lux­ury sa­loon, ooz­ing Ja­panese tech­i­ness and re­fine­ment. And 30 years on, this fifth gen­er­a­tion is try­ing to make the same kind of state­ment.

First up on the gadget list—which on the top-spec “Pre­mier” trim reads like the Yel­low Pages—the door han­dles and seat belts elec­tron­i­cally move to meet your hand as if to greet you, ap­par­ently in the tra­di­tion of Omen­tashi hos­pi­tal­ity. Door­frame 1; cabin staff 0.

The 28-way ad­justable seat has five mas­sage set­tings, front and back, which proved par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive in shi­atsu mode. Hand-pleated door lin­ings and Shi­mamoko wood pan­els look more like an art in­stal­la­tion than a place to rest your el­bow. Even the in­side of the door pan­els sparkled like the win­dow of a jew­ellery shop. The kind that has door­bells.

Some­thing called “Cli­mate Concierge” uses in­fra-red tech­nol­ogy to ac­tu­ally mon­i­tor the body tem­per­a­ture of ev­ery­one in­side and ad­justs ac­cord­ingly. There’s also a neat “ot­toman” func­tion which adds an ex­tra me­tre of legroom to one of the rear seats. The cabin is of­fi­cially de­scribed as “whisper quiet” to a stan­dard that ba­bies in busi­ness class just wouldn’t un­der­stand. It might just be the clos­est a car in­te­rior has ever got to a spa break.

Oman has an eerie, empty qual­ity, like a shop­ping mall af­ter a bomb scare, or North Wales. The first leg was all rocks and roads and big skies, where the empti­ness was only bro­ken by a hard­ware shop-cum-take­away, and later by huge, or­nate and iden­tikit man­sions which Lib­er­ace might have passed up for be­ing too showy. Ev­ery build­ing seemed just frac­tion­ally un­fin­ished, which at least helped ex­plain the pop­u­lar­ity of the hard­ware store.

The LS’S petrol-elec­tric hy­brid 3.5-litre V6 con­tin­ued to glide through the scenery, without any backchat. On the road, its stealthy sil­hou­ette and eye-melt­ing spin­dle grille (which ap­par­ently takes one per­son 14 days to make) gives it pres­ence without shout­ing too loud.

We stopped off at a cas­tle for cof­fee and a Be­douin tent for lunch without out­rage or in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dent. The 23-speaker Mark Levin­son au­dio sys­tem kicked in as the moun­tains be­came more dra­matic. The air sus­pen­sion coasted us a full 460km through a long day. There’s no deny­ing that Ger­man com­pe­ti­tion in this class is fairly sav­age, but Lexus will be hop­ing its all-round nov­elty fac­tor—only 100 have been ear­marked for the UK— will work in its favour.

Nor­mal ser­vice re­sumed the fol­low­ing day on the flight home. The en­tire air­line com­puter sys­tem went down as I was check­ing-in. I was also stopped and searched by two se­cu­rity men who would have been deemed too sin­is­ter for Banged up Abroad. The cabin crew eyed me in a way that they sensed trou­ble ahead. But at least I’d had my true busi­ness class mo­ment. lexus.co.uk

It could be the clos­est a car in­te­rior has ever got to a spa break

Limo scene: its stealthy sil­hou­ette and tech-packed cabin give the LS500H pres­ence and panache

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