What Car? says...
Let’s paint a picture. You’re a successful businessperson who wants a big luxury car but you still have a social conscience. Not only do you want to look after the environment, you also want to stand out a little. After all, a big German barge is rather common.
If that sounds like an impossible task, you might not have considered the Lexus LS 500h. While the LS has historically been a cautiously styled shrinking violet of a luxury car, this one is something quite different to look at.
It’s much lower than before and the roofline is a nod to the popularity of cars such as the coupé-like Tesla Model S. It’s certainly more exciting to look at than the Mercedes S-Class, the BMW 7 Series or the Audi A8.
In the UK, there’s a choice of just one engine – a 3.5-litre V6 that’s augmented by a couple of electric motors fed by a battery pack in the rear. That means low emissions for a squeaky clean conscience and low(er) company car tax bills.
Over the next few pages, we’ll let you know what it’s like to drive and be driven in, plus which trim makes the most sense. And, as always, you can find out if there are some tempting discounts available by searching our New Car Deals pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
One of the major criticisms of Lexus hybrid cars has always been the elastic nature of the gearbox. Put your foot down and you’d find engine revs soaring, even if the car wasn’t gaining speed particularly quickly. To help combat this, the LS has an additional four-speed gearbox to help provide noticeable steps in acceleration like a regular 'box.
To an extent, it works, with engine speed dropping during bouts of intense acceleration as it changes gear. There is, however, still an initial spike of revs that reveals a surprisingly coarse engine note, given that it’s a six-cylinder petrol motor. We also found a noticeable delay between pressing the accelerator and the LS actually picking a gear to start gaining speed. All this means it can be tricky to pull away briskly yet smoothly.
Once it has stopped dithering, the LS certainly isn’t slow, even if it doesn't feel quite so effortless as high-powered diesel versions of the Audi A8, the BMW 7 Series and especially the Porsche Panamera – all of which are significantly lighter than the LS.
The LS can’t match those rivals for ride and handling, either. On smooth roads, you can always feel the car fidgeting just slightly, with a noticeable amount of vertical movement as you waft along, while rougher surfaces jostle you around even more, whether you’re in the front or the back of the car. That might be acceptable if the LS cornered really well, but we found our test car’s air suspension allowed plenty of body lean even in the sportier suspension modes. At least the steering is pleasingly precise and grip levels are high, especially if you pick an all-wheel-drive variant.
If you are looking for a racier drive, Lexus does offer an F Sport version that has rear-wheel steering, a few chassis tweaks and bigger brakes. We’ll have to slip behind the wheel first before we can pass judgment, though.
Lexus also boasts Level 2 autonomy technology on Premier versions of the LS. Radar cruise control and active steering do a good job of keeping the car in lane with little to no intervention. Our only complaint is that it has difficulty registering some faded white lines.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Like the rest of the Lexus range, the LS’s interior is refreshingly different. Rather than copy the Germans, there is a distinctive style that you’ll either love or hate. What’s indisputable is that everything is beautifully constructed from fine materials that both look and feel great.
All models contain leather seats that get progressively posher as you go up the range and there’s the predictable choice of wood or metal inlays depending on model. Should you want to really stand out, top-spec Premier cars have the option of cut-glass trim pieces and hand-pleated fabric on the doors. If that sounds tempting, be aware that the option itself will cost more than a basic Dacia Sandero.
You get a clear head-up display as standard on all models and configurable dials. The 12.3in infotainment system is less impressive. The display is huge, but the touchpad control between the front seats is incredibly fiddly to operate while driving, even with haptic feedback.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s only one length of the Lexus LS, but that’s no issue because leg room is generous in the rear. Should you opt for Premier trim, you can electrically move the front passenger seat forward, recline the back seat and extend a footrest. Do this and you have more than a meter of rear leg room. With particularly thorough massaging seats and a thumping stereo, it’s an inviting and luxurious place to be. What you can’t do is fold the rear seats down to increase the size of the relatively small boot.
The big disappointment, though, is rear head room. Tall adults will find their heads brushing against the roof – something that they wouldn’t find sitting in the back of the LS’s main rivals.
That said, those up front should be pretty chuffed. There’s enough adjustment for everyone to get comfortable and there’s loads of head and elbow space. There’s also a clever feature in air-sprung cars that raises the ride height to allow you to slide onto your seat more easily.
The boot, meanwhile, is not anything to shout about in this class, because its capacity is around 100 litres less (equating to a couple of suitcases) than its Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Shock horror, the Lexus LS isn’t cheap. Even the entry-level version has a price that starts with a seven, while a top-spec Premier model with the luxurious cut-glass and pleated trim will cost six figures.
Still, all models get fancy 20in wheels, leather seats that are electrically adjustable up front, an around-view monitor, automatic emergency braking and a big 12.3in infotainment system. Luxury trim is our favourite, though, because you get a Mark Levinson stereo, four-zone climate control and heating, cooling and electrical adjustment for the rear seats for not a lot of extra cash. F Sport is the same price, but you miss out on a few luxuries to get sporty stuff that we’d forego on a car like this. As for Premier, it does have all the toys but it is pricey.
In terms of running costs, we’d advise going for rear-wheel-drive versions if you can. Not only are they a bit more economical, they emit only 147g/km of CO2 rather than the 161g/km of four-wheel-drive models. Even so, it’s worth remembering that a BMW 7 Series 740e in the right spec emits just 49g/km of CO2.
Although Euro NCAP hasn’t crash tested the LS, all versions should help you avoid a crash because they get adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-keep assist. Premier models add front cross-traffic alert and active steering assist for semi-autonomous driving.
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|RRP price range||£101,720 - £128,175|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||29.7 - 34.8|
|Available doors options||4|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£7,447 / £9,366|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£14,894 / £18,732|