"The Lexus LS is comfortable, loaded with equipment and extremely reliable; it's the most luxurious Japanese saloon around but is available with only one engine."
Conceived as the pinnacle of Lexus's car-building know-how, the huge LS is Lexus' flagship model. Updated in 2013, both the entry-level petrol and a top-spec petrol-electric hybrid are packed with hi-tech equipment, offer a huge amount of passenger space and unrivalled comfort. Pitched as a limousine for environmentally aware company chiefs, the LS 600h hybrid can run on electric power alone at town speeds, yet rocket from 0-60mph in just 6.1 seconds when you put your foot down. The updated looks are more adventurous than before but they won't appeal to all, while build quality is sublime and the well-built interior can rival anything from Mercedes or Jaguar. Lexus has an unrivalled record for reliability, too, making the LS a luxury limo you can rely on.
There are only two engines to choose from in the flagship Lexus – a 4.6-litre LS 460 petrol and a 5.0-litre LS 600h petrol-electric hybrid. The former replaced the old LS 400 and is available in Luxury and F-Sport trim, doing 0-60mph in just 5.7 seconds. It feels extremely quick in a straight line, yet rivals like the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 offer similar performance but more driver enjoyment thanks to a firmer ride and more responsive steering. Elsewhere, the expensive LS 600h hybrid only comes in long-wheelbase Premier specification and is fitted with four-wheel drive as standard – giving it plenty of grip. There's no escaping the fact this is a long, heavy car, though, which can feel cumbersome and unstable when driven fast. Add in the slow and hesitant CVT automatic gearbox and you realise this is a car more suited to long motorway trips than narrow country roads.
This is the trump card for the LS. It offers an exceptionally smooth ride and is supremely relaxing – rivalling the class-leading Mercedes S Class for passenger comfort. There's virtually no wind or road noise, and if you choose the LS 600h hybrid, you can benefit from electric-only driving up to 30mph. The ride is superb but compromises driver enjoyment due to the soft suspension setup. That said, legroom is generous and it's great around town and if you opt for the top of the range long-wheelbase car, you get electrically-reclining rear seats for unrivalled comfort.
A total of ten airbags, stability control and a tyre pressure monitoring system are just part of the safety package. Adaptive cruise control helps to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, while the pre-crash sensor system prepares the car for an impact before it actually happens. A lane departure warning system is also available, which alerts the driver if the car is veering out of its lane – useful at motorway speeds. Lexus has a strong reputation for reliability, too, and finishes consistently well in the Auto Express Driver Power survey. Although the LS didn’t feature due to its relative exclusivity, the manufacturer finished second overall in 2012 – beaten only by the more mainstream, yet evergreen Skoda.
The standard Lexus LS boasts a decent 560-litre boot. Compare that to the 510-litre Audi A8 and 500-litre BMW 7 Series and it looks like a practical executive car, with decent interior dimensions, too. However, plump for the long-wheelbase hybrid version and you’ll quickly notice that although there is plenty of room in the back, the boot has been shrunk to just 420-litres to accommodate the large battery packs underneath the boot floor. That said, the same is true of its hybrid rivals, so like-for-like the Lexus still offers the most in terms of practicality and load-lugging capability. Inside, there's a useful selection of cubbyholes and a pair of large door bins, as well as plenty of adjustment in the well-bolstered leather seats. In the long wheelbase car, you get reclining rear seats, too, making the LS feel more like an aeroplane than a car.
Value for money
The LS is very expensive, and you can easily buy a more traditionally desirable badge – like a Jaguar XJ or Mercedes S Class – for less. The trade-off is that you won't get anywhere near as much standard equipment on another car, with the spec sheet of the LS listing everything from voice operated sat-nav to electric rear blinds and air-conditioned seats. There's virtually nothing missing, and optional equipment is limited. Used values aren’t good though, with those for the top-spec LS 600h hybrid liable to drop like a stone due to negligible fuel economy gains and a prohibitively high list price. Lease deals are worth looking at but we recommend the ‘entry-level’ LS 460 if value for money is top of your priority list.
Even for a hybrid, the LS600h is a thirsty machine. For a car this big, the benefits of the electric motor are almost negligible over the standard car, and the economy gains are immediately offset by the extremely high list price. Official figures claim the hybrid will do 32.8mpg but in real-world motoring, the huge 5.0-litre V8 is much thirstier, making the cheaper LS 460 a much more sensible purchase. Insurance costs are high, and servicing won’t be cheap, but given that Lexus finished second in the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power survey, unscheduled repairs should be few and far between.