Priced from £72,595 Release date On sale now
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class can trace its illustrious lineage back to the 1950s, the BMW 7 Series to the 1970s. Over the decades, these two lauded luxury cars have battled for supremacy, joined latterly in the 1990s by the Audi A8, all trading blows at the top of the class.
The Lexus LS can hardly be described as a plucky newcomer, considering its own family tree runs back to 1989, but such is the reinvention of this fifth-generation model that it feels like a fresh competitor.
That’s good news, because previous iterations have been rather lacklustre, with high list prices not matched by a high-quality driving experience, so the LS has never troubled the class leaders. This new model could change that. It’s strikingly designed and gets a hybrid system made up of a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with a couple of electric motors powered by a battery pack in the rear.
We’re driving it in the UK to see how it stacks up against its luxury car rivals.
2018 Lexus LS 500h on the road
Start the car up and join slow-moving traffic and you quickly realise where buying a hybrid luxury car can make a lot of sense. Manufacturers of fuel-powered equivalents strive to make quiet interiors; the LS can waft along silently, powered by electricity only.
But an eager prod of the accelerator brings in the coarse-sounding V6 engine – and the transition isn’t particulalry smooth. The standard 10-speed transmission is keen to hold onto gears for too long, regardless of the driving mode you're in, making the car far less relaxing at speed and shattering that electric-powered tranquility.
Stick to town driving and the absence of engine noise makes the car very relaxing to drive and, at low speeds, it wafts along comfortably, with the light steering making it easy to manoeuvre around town. Even when cruising, the LS is still impressively quiet inside if the revs are kept to a minimum, with little roadm wind or engine noise, but it doesn’t take much of a burst of acceleration to bring the engine noise back.
Riding on adaptive suspension (an option on all but the entry-level model), the LS remains pretty composed at all speeds, but there’s still some subtle vertical movement as you waft along, so it never feels truly settled in the way that rivals such as the A8 do. Similarly, hit a big bump in the road and the LS doesn’t absorb it anywhere near as well as other luxury cars, with a noticeable jolt and shudder.
There’s not a great deal of interest for keen drivers at higher speeds; it takes a lot of effort to heave the LS's considerable bulk up to speed and the light steering doesn’t sufficiently weight up to instil confidence. There’s also quite a bit of body roll through corners. Overall, dynamically it isn’t anywhere near as polished as its Mercedes, BMW and Audi rivals, which all offer more powerful engines and more sophisticated, enjoyable driving experiences.
That said, our test car was fitted with all-wheel drive, which provides good traction; most buyers will be better off sticking with rear-wheel-drive versions, which benefit from lower CO2 emissions.
2018 Lexus LS 500h interior
Inside, there’s no question that Lexus's fit and finish is right up there with anything else in this price range. The panels, buttons, dials and switches are all screwed together brilliantly and there’s a general feeling of plush luxury.
It’s a shame, then, that this robust build quality is let down by an unfathomable infotainment system. While some systems rely on touchscreens, and others on dials and buttons, Lexus uses a touchpad system to control its 12.3in display. There’s nothing wrong with that concept, but the same cannot be said for the execution. The system is hugely frustrating and complicated to use, but thankfully some shortcut buttons simplify the process a little.
The screen’s graphics add further disappointment, though, especially the pixilated sat-nav display, which is nowhere near as crisp or clear as rival systems.
There are three additional trims to choose from above the entry-level 500h model: Luxury, F Sport and Premier. Luxury is the best bet; for not a lot of extra money, it adds four-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats and an upgraded stereo system to the standard kit, which includes a 12.3in infotainment system with DAB and sat-nav, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist.
F Sport costs the same as Luxury but gets sporty cosmetic tweaks, while Premier sends the price soaring and doesn't offer enough additions to make it worthwhile, in our view.
Space, meanwhile, isn’t quite so cavernous as its rivals, with rear head room particularly stingy. Tall adults will feel their heads brush against the roof in a way that would not happen in any of its rivals. That said, leg room is generous. The boot is also considerably smaller than that in an A8 or S-Class.
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