Lexus LS saloon - Engines, drive & performance
Handling doesn't inspire, and the Lexus 500h is noisy when pushed
With its underpinnings sharing so much with the exciting LC500 sports coupe, it would be nice to think that the LS500h would be a truly dynamic, responsive machine to drive, but the reality sadly falls a little short of that dream.
First impressions are that the Lexus is closer to the Audi A8's fairly taut if rather disconnected feel in corners than the BMW 7-series' meaty, involving manners. However, it soon becomes apparent that the Lexus leans into corners rather more than the Audi.
This is a big car and, at 2.4 tonnes, an extremely heavy one, and the feel through its steering does nothing to disguise the LS 500h's size. It feels more cumbersome than the Audi and nothing like as responsive and poised as the BMW. There is a sportier chassis setting available at the flick of a switch – it firms the suspension up a little, as well as increasing the engine noise and allowing more precise reactions from the accelerator and gearbox. It can't defy physics, though, and fails to make the Lexus a more exciting car to drive.
Unfortunately, while the 'sporty' box remains unticked, the Lexus can't challenge the Mercedes S-Class for ride quality, either. The air suspension system fitted to the range-topping model can match the Audi A8 for overall smoothness, but certain undulations such as potholes and expansion joints can send a shudder through to the passenger compartment – perhaps a consequence of its huge 20-inch alloy wheels, which lack much tyre sidewall to absorb shocks.
There's little doubting the Lexus' advanced technology, though, and the Lexus Safety System's combination of adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist does a great job of making fast motorway journeys a safe and relaxing experience.
Lexus LS 500h hybrid engine
Having established that the LS 500h is a far more adept cruiser than sports car, the smooth, quiet 3.5-litre V6 hybrid power system makes a lot of sense. Once up to motorway speeds, it really is very subdued and has enough grunt to take four-wheel-drive versions from 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds.
However, it's not what you'd call inspiring. While quiet, the non-turbocharged petrol engine doesn't have anything like the pulling power of its diesel rivals, despite the 354bhp you can call upon when you need it. Unfortunately, doing so is often met with confusion from the four-stage variable-ratio CVT gearbox, which unsuccessfully tries to mimic a 10-speed system.
Sadly, calling for full power brings a loud wail from the engine that's far from the cultured power delivery experienced in rival models, and recalls the behaviour of the far less glamorous Toyota Prius hybrid.