Lexus LS review
The Lexus LS is a hi-tech and luxurious rival to the popular Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series
The luxuriously refined Lexus LS is available in two wheelbases and two engine options – the 4.6-litre V8 LS 460, or the LS 600h, a 5.0-litre V8 mated to an electric motor and batteries. The hybrid can run on electric power alone, although more often than not the electric motor assists the engine, and power goes to all four wheels via a CVT automatic gearbox. The LS 460 is rear-wheel drive and uses a conventional eight-speed automatic gearbox. Motorway cruising is excellent, as the interior is whisper quiet, and the air-suspension absorbs every bump in the road. In town, again the Lexus is extremely quiet, although more bumps can be felt in the cabin. The interior is hugely comfortable, though, with lots of room for two in the back in the electric massage seats, plus a rear entertainment system to keep passengers occupied. But diesel-powered rivals offer better economy, and the interior lacks the effortless class of its peers from Mercedes, Jaguar and Audi.
Our choice: LS 460L
The Lexus LS is enormous, but it's not the most distinctive luxury saloon. The standard three-box shape is helped by an imposing grille with massive 'L' badge and the rakish rear windscreen, but the LS isn't going to turn many heads. A facelift towards the end of 2012 brought a sleeker, classier look, as well as a more aggressive F Sport model, with a bold front bumper and a lower ride height. All versions are equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, a 19-speaker stereo, four-zone climate control, and air conditioned electrically adjustable front seats. On the inside, there's plenty of leather and wood veneers, but some of it can look rather plasticky. However, there's no doubting the top notch fit and finish, which is easily a match for Audi and BMW. The Lexus is packed with technology, too, including a ‘Climate Concierge’ that monitors the temperature of each occupant and adjusts the climate control accordingly and dynamic instrument panel lighting that moves and changes in intensity when you start or stop the LS’s engine. A new 12.3-inch central display helps modernise the cabin, although the mouse-style controller can be fiddly to use.
The Lexus LS is in its element when at motorway speeds, soaking up any bumps with complete isolation. It's a wonderfully smooth machine. However, it's less accomplished in town, struggling to cope with smaller potholes and imperfections. This has been improved somewhat by the updated Adaptive Variable Suspension system, though. Further negatives include the grabby brakes and lifeless steering. The entry-level LS 460 model - expected to make up 80 per cent of all UK sales - is powered by a 382bhp 4.6-litre V8 petrol engine, while the flagship LS 600h is powered by a 439bhp 5.0-litre V8 petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. Acceleration is impressively rapid in both models, with 0-62mph taking 6.1 seconds in the hybrid and 5.7 seconds in the 460, yet the LS is very quiet even when you're using all of its power. However the suspension rolls and pitches heavily under loads which can feel quite unpleasant. The eight-speed automatic in the LS 460 is very impressive, but the CVT transmission in the hybrid model gives the driver little control over engine speed and quickly becomes flustered when rushed.
The Lexus LS sells in too low numbers to be tested by Euro NCAP, but it's loaded with the latest hi-tech safety kit. As well as driver and passenger airbags, there are knee and pelvis airbags for front occupants, and curtain airbags all round. Electronics include Brembo brakes with brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control, plus adaptive steering. And mounted behind the steering wheel is an infra red camera that monitors the driver's face for signs of drowsiness and sound an alarm if you begin to nod off. Lexus dealers have a strong reputation for customer service, and while service costs are likely to be high, you can be sure that not much will go wrong between regular intervals. Lexus finished second overall as a brand in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, having been panalised on running costs and practicalty but scoring well above average in every other category.
The Lexus LS has a very roomy cabin, and the long-wheelbase model has vast amounts of legroom. There's only room for two in the back, though, as the middle seat is replaced by a large console with drinks holders and the rear entertainment pack, which includes a nine-inch screen and DVD player. The long wheebase LS600h is even more luxurious and boasts a reclining rear seat that features a massage function and an integrated Ottoman style footrest. Unfortunately, the hybrid model's motor and batteries eat into boot space. There's 330 litres on offer, which is 230 litres less than the Mercedes S-Class, and the rear seats don't fold to make any more room.
A list price of £70,000 to £100,000 shows where the Lexus LS is aimed. It rivals the Mercedes S-Class and Jaguar XJ, but it comes with tons of kit as standard - in fact, there are no options to choose from except a special night vision camera. But where the Lexus falls down is in its fuel economy. The LS 460L has a claimed fuel consumption figure of just 26.4mpg and emits a hefty 249g/km of CO2. Despite being a hybrid, the LS 600h's fuel economy isn't great and it's no longer the only petrol-electric car in this class, either. BMW now offers its ActiveHybrid 7, which is about £30,000 cheaper in long-wheelbase form, half a second faster to 60mph and more efficient, too. The Lexus returns 32.8mpg and emitting 199g/km to the ActiveHybrid 7’s 41.5mpg and 158g/km. There's unlikely ever to be a diesel version of the LS, despite strong demand for this type of engine in the UK and Europe.