Lexus LS500h road test review
After they were done mocking me for ordering a Japanese green tea in an Italian café, one of my friends asked pointing at the large keyfob on the table, "How are these Lexus cars?" One word answers are considered rude, so by the time I could construct a one-liner, another friend who drives a Beemer exclaimed, "They are the Toyotas of the luxury world!" Pat came the next response, "You mean they are reliable but boring?", and they all burst out into a condescending laughter again. Stereotyping is rude too, but there is no denying that Japanese saloons are often perceived to be boring. The Lexus LS500h that I had brought along to this meet up though, aims to change that perception in more ways than one.
Lexus is moving away from understated elegance towards a more radical design and the LS being the flagship saloon, has the heaviest of this burden to bear. So while its three-pot lamps, harpoon-shaped DRLs and the controversial spindle grille are familiar in appearance to the other models we have been introduced to last year, it's the finer details that set this limousine apart and give its form a sense of occasion. Complex grid work in the grille forms 5,000 facets that add to the sophisticated appearance of the face. The pleats and creases around the headlamps, air dams, and the bonnet make the bodywork appear like it's converging into the grille like a satin cloth pinched by a metal ornament.
Lexus only makes one wheelbase option for the new LS, and it is on par with the long-wheelbase variants of the European models sold to us in this class. The lengthy body carries off the 20-inch rims with grace, while the flared wheel-arches and pinched roofline give the LS an athletic and low-slung stance.
If you still prefer the low seating of a luxury saloon in these times, when even Bentley and Rolls-Royce are forced to produce high-riding luxury SUVs, then Lexus has some tricks up its sleeve to fascinate you. The moment you open the door, the car raises itself, the driver's seat rises up and the outer bolstering tilts outward to aid easy ingress (or egress). Thumb the ignition and the seat and steering position themselves back to the car's last memorised driving posture.
The touchpad input for the infotainment needs getting used to
The comfortably large front seats are 24-way adjustable and let you fine-tune the lumbar and shoulder support and the bolstering for your back and thighs. If you would rather occupy the rear seat like most buyers in this segment ideally would, the left seat pampers you with an enormous 1,022mm of leg space, a backrest that reclines by up to 48 degrees, an ottoman-like support for your feet and a generously large centre armrest that houses the controls for seat adjustment, infotainment, and massage.
The cabin employs a sweet sounding 16-channel Mark Levinson audio system that creates quite an immersive experience with the roof mounted speakers. These are a part of a 23 speaker setup and one of the reasons why the LS500h misses out on a panoramic glass roof.
The big talking point of the LS is the implementation of Japanese arts and craft in the design of the cabin. Origami folding techniques are used on the door trim, while contrasting inlays come in the form of glass work that is cut, etched and intricately detailed using a Japanese art form called Kiriko. It looks quite unique but received mixed reactions from my audience. Lexus is aware of that too and therefore the options list lets you tick the more conventional mix of leather and wood. The narrow glasshouse, the lack of a panoramic roof and the dim ambient lighting inspired by traditional Japanese lamps make the rear seat a bit too cozy for everybody's liking. But choosing brighter upholstery could impart an airier feel to the cabin.
No matter what seat you choose, the LS knows how to pamper you
No matter what seat you occupy, the LS features a bouquet of massage functions. The pressures applied by the system mimic the effect of Japanese Shiatsu thumb massaging techniques and I would rate them to be one of the best I have ever experienced on four wheels. The seats impress further with their ability to gauge the surface temperature of your body's contact points to fine tune the ventilation and cooling functions of the zone you are seated in.
Choosing brighter upholstery could impart a roomier feel to the cabin
The experience in the backseat of this Lexus, then, is unique in its own way. Think of it as Japanese omakase dining versus a boardroom tapas spread - both comprise of tasty, bite-sized portions, but it's the fine combination of unique flavours and the celebration of technique that differentiates the Japanese experience from gloried bar-food.
Drive, ride, and handling
The LS lineage was known for its V8s, but thanks to a smaller carbon footprint a new V6 hybrid now leads the charge and trumps its European rivals sold in India. The drivetrain gets its battery power from a lightweight lithium-ion pack that uses a new space-saving satellite construction design. Lexus assures that these batteries will work reliably in India despite the fact that lithium-ion batteries are sensitive to hot conditions.
The hybrid system employs a 3.5l, 299PS petrol V6 mated to electric motor generators for a total system output of 359PS. The electric motors are capable of delivering a healthy 300Nm of torque right from the word go, while the petrol motor can churn out 350Nm to take care of the cruising and pulling duties at higher speeds. An innovative 10-speed transmission that combines a four-speed gearbox and a CVT works with telepathic precision. Our test car managed to sprint from standstill to 100kmph in 6s flat. Impressive! Ditto for the fuel economy too, with an overall figure of around 11.5kmpl.
The Lexus takes on corners with authority too and almost makes you feel like you're flicking a compact sports sedan and not manning a 5.2m long limo! After all, the 7 Series was its benchmark when it came to driving dynamism and the LS delivers quite nicely on that front - while maintaining an impressive ride fit for a luxury saloon. My only gripe in this department is the road noise from the low-resistance types and the occasional suspension noises when driving over ruts and sharp bumps. I would have liked a bit more isolation while relaxing to Yanni and enjoying the massage. But then, it is a small price to pay for the kind of experience the LS offers to all of its occupants.
The question is, do you want this Japanese experience over the European big-badges? Why not! The Japanese seem to have the gift of putting their thought and hard work into the simplest of things and create a magical experience from it. The LS does just that - it takes the features, elements, and specifications that we have come to associate with this class of car and transforms it into an experience that is unique and greener at the same time. Looking for the same attributes in the current crop of the super luxury saloons is like ordering a macha green tea in a European cafe
+ Appealing cabin, hybrid drive, sporty dynamics
- Radical yet polarising styling elements
Starts Rs 1.82 Crore