Lexus LS saloon
"The Lexus LS 500h luxury saloon can't compete with the refinement, technology and performance offered by its rivals"
- Impressive technology
- Quality reputation
- Opulent interior
- Intimidating size
- Unexciting to drive
- No diesel version
When the Lexus brand first appeared in the UK at the beginning of the 1990s, its LS 400 was the first car to really challenge Germany's near-total domination of the large luxury saloon market. Almost 30 years later, its LS 500h descendent is here to remind the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8 not to rest on their laurels.
In fact, after an initial surge in interest at the beginning, Lexus' largest saloon became rather a niche choice in recent years, and Lexus is only pinning its hopes to 100 sales of the latest model in 2018. But, bringing technology to the very fore, and wearing a far more distinctive look than its predecessors, the latest LS 500h stands a good chance of introducing new buyers to the brand.
The small 'h' tacked onto its name hints that a hybrid power system is at the Lexus' heart. Its V6 petrol engine isn't all-new, but has been heavily revised to go under the bonnet of this flagship model. The platform the LS sits on has plenty of promise, too – it's a lengthened version of that used by the blisteringly fast and sweet-handling LC 500 coupe.
You can choose it in four trim levels, the plain LS500 h, Luxury, F-Sport and Premier. Every version has 20-inch alloy wheels, 20-way power seat adjustment, LED exterior lighting, climate control, sat nav and a 12-speaker stereo. The range-topping Premier really does pile on the standard equipment – with 'Shiatsu' massage seats all round and an indulgent 'Ottoman' feature that allows one rear-seat passenger to stretch their legs over an flattened front seat.
It also boasts the Lexus Safety System, which brings the ability for the car to stay in lane with only a feather-light touch on the steering wheel, automatically changing lanes when you hold the indicator stalk halfway down.
Alas, those in the hunt for pure speed from their prestige saloon will be disappointed – the UK is denied the twin-turbocharged petrol LS offered elsewhere. No longer is a choice of wheelbase offered, although the latest model does stretch some 35mm further between its front and rear axles than the previous car, which bodes well for rear legroom.
That hybrid powertrain consists of a 3.5-litre 295bhp V6 petrol engine and a pair of electric motors – a total of 354bhp is available when all three work together. This is enough to take the LS 500h to 62mph from rest in just 5.4 seconds. That figure applies to four-wheel-drive variants – this is standard on the Premier and optional on other grades apart from the entry-level model, which is rear-wheel drive only. Every version uses a 10-speed automatic gearbox.
Unfortunately, despite its hybrid powertrain, the LS 500h isn't exactly the last word in fuel efficiency, largely because the car is very heavy. The top model is claimed to return 39.7mpg, while CO2 emissions of 161g/km place it in a steepish 31% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) bracket for company-car users.
The Lexus fights back with a very plush interior. Build quality is first-rate, and in Comfort mode the car wafts effortlessy around town. Then there's Lexus' enviable reputation for reliability and customer service – the brand took the top spot in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.
The problem for Lexus is that the German rivals to the LS are better in almost every area. They are more refined at all speeds, offer better in-car tech, are more efficient and better to drive. While the LS 500h is by no means a bad car, alternatives such as the Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series make it very difficult to recommend.
This car scored 3.5 on our sister site DrivingElectric