By Jay Khan, July 15, 2014
Model spec: Lexus LS 600H-L Premier Price: £100,000.00 Engine: 99495
BHP / Torque: 439 / 521 Max Speed: 155 CO2: 199g/km 0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Economy/Range: 40mpg combined Tax: £/year
“Many think but would never say that the European indifference towards the LS stems largely from the fact that Lexus is a Japanese brand which instantly disqualifies it from attaining a luxury status within the well heeled capitals of Europe. Perhaps this slow burning indifference simmers under a cloud of suspicion because Lexus have shown that automotive superiority is not the exclusive domain of Europe, nor has it ever been”.The facts read like this, the best selling luxury car in Europe is the Mercedes S Class. When the Lexus LS brand was launched in 1984 its sole aim was to hunt down and prey on the mighty German foe. In doing so Lexus meticulously developed new production techniques and tools just to reduce body panel and door gaps by millimeters. Designed from the ground up, with no time or budget constraints the LS took five years and $1bn dollars to develop before it reached market ready status in 1989. The LS was an instant revelation, setting new engineering and build quality benchmarks. It wasn’t enough to topple the S Class from its no.1 status in Europe but the LS found sanctuary and sales success in the most important market of the day, the US, and dominated the prestige luxury leader-board for years until the 2008 recession. Now four generations later the LS is coming into its prime. In the UK the model range starts at £71k with the LS 460 Luxury and £74k for the LS Sport, both use V8 engines and are effectively entry level SWB derivatives. The long wheel base, £99k, 600H-L Premier on test is the alpha male of the Lexus range, but this is narrowly topped by the 600H-L Night View which is rather self explanatory but costs £101k. The exterior design is discreetly handsome, that spindle grille is aggressively styled and on its own could pass for an art installation from the Tate Modern. The one area where Lexus has fallen in the past is the interior ambiance. However Lexus has learned its lessons, this interior is elegantly trimmed in soft leather throughout and the finish of the natural wood veneer is complimentary to the simplicity of the instrumentation which is in contrast to the overwhelming array of buttons and switches of past efforts. The only charge against Lexus is that the top surface of the dashboard area should have been clad in leather and the much talked about glove box door is a slight slap on the wrist. And why not make the indicator stalks more bespoke to the LS range, but these issues are minor. Of course it goes without saying the 600H-L Premier has pretty much everything going for it in terms of equipment levels. A fantastic audio system and a 12 inch high definition display monitor are the two most obvious. Indeed the list is endless, let just say you won’t be short on comfort or be left wanting for anything. The longwheel base edition is 4 meters in length about 1.5 meters longer than the standard wheelbase version, rear passengers are substantially accommodated for, leg head or what ever room they are looking for, its all there. The rear seats can be reclined, have massage features built in and the controls are accessible via the central arm rest along with the audio system and temperature/climate control. This is a civilised way of travelling, refinement at its best, indeed its so good at making you feel cosseted from the outside world that suddenly every other car on the road, this side of a Bentley, somehow feels inferior. You get a sense that this is how the top 1 percent live.
“..the LS in comparison to the new Mercedes S Class has the better, more comfortable ride although the S Class has the better handling and feels much more agile. But this is the most important part, the S Class interior looks expensive but doesn’t feel it. The interior of the LS feels on par with a Bentley”If speed is of importance then the LS Hybrid delivers subtle, break-neck performance, with the ability to out drag pretty much anything other than a performance car. This is due to the 5.0 litre V8 engine, not only is it supremely engineered but it is intertwined with the past and the future, today. The engine alone produces 389bhp and 520 Nm of torque, the electric engine displaces 221 bhp and 300Nm of torque. This unparalleled mountain of force is able to hit the 0-62 mph barrier in 6.1 seconds with a limited top speed of 155mph. Admittedly it doesn’t feel truly fast but the stats are impressive from a car weighing nearly two and a half tonnes. The Lexus LS borrows hybrid technology from the Toyota Prius, and the Achilles heal of that system is the CVT transmission which requires high revving to deliver normal bursts of speed. With LS it doesn’t matter because there is so much power and torque on tap that speed is delivered in abundance and effortlessly. As with all modern day cars the LS is equipped with three driving modes, accessed by a rotating dial on the central console. These are best described as serenity, urgent and exceedingly urgent. The best mode to be in at all times is ‘Sports’ mode, which firms up the magnetic suspension and increases the revs giving a much more cleaner and crisper throttle response. The hybrid power doesn’t just sleep until you reach a city destination to become operative. Electric power is generated continuously and is recharged kinetically. Therefore Electric power is always on tap and is used when bursts of power are needed to boost the performance, i.e. as you accelerate on a motorway. On the move, both the V8 and hybrid power are so seamlessly integrated that it becomes impossible to differentiate one from the other, its an impressive display of next-generation technology. Sports mode doesn’t necessarily transform the LS into the envy of all performance cars. The LS is a big car, its packed with hybrid technology and the additional weight parameters this inevitably brings. The underlying characteristic of understeer is a subtle presence which makes itself felt mostly when cornering at speed. When cornering the LS will tend to shift its weight with a gentle lurch of the body from side to side as you apex and exit a bend. The steering is geared for comfort so don’t expect an ethereal, mechanical link between man and machine. The ride? it goes without saying its very comfortable soaking up every surface imperfection with ease, only a Bentley or Rolls Royce is better. Whats even more impressive is that all this technology, all this comfort and equipment level should impact upon the fuel consumption but at times, i.e when driven sensibly, 40mpg is quite often possible and you have the added benefit of electric drive at speeds of up to 30mph, typically you get around 1.5 miles of electric power before the batteries are depleted and need re-charging when driving in an urban/city environment. Overall the LS is a towering example of automotive prestige-luxury done mostly right, but there is a problem. Its the attitude and acceptance in Europe that Lexus, as a luxury brand, has what it takes to face down the all conquering, latest generation Mercedes S Class. Lets put it this way, I recently tested the latest S Class, the Lexus had the better ride, the S Class the better handling. But this is the most important part, the S Class interior looked expensive but didn’t feel it. The interior of the LS felt on par with a Bentley Flying Spur and this sounds crazy, but in my opinion even treads water into Rolls territory. But in Europe the indifference towards the LS remains like an immovable barrier. This idealistic ignorance is their loss.