JUST THE BUSINESS
Exuding prestige and luxury, the Lexus LS500H seals the deal.
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
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