YOU know for sure the good times are rolling when big, luxury saloons such as the new Lexus LS flagship are back in demand.
It has been absent from the Irish market for pretty much 10 years now. Such a car was not a priority in the recession.
But now Lexus expect 35 people to buy a new hybrid LS 500h next year. Not bad for a car due here soon with prices ranging from €112,750 to €122,750 to
€148,750 depending on just how luxurious you want your luxury to be.
Anyone for rear-seat shoulder massage? 23-speaker Mark Levison surround sound?
Buyers will be most impressed with the attention to detail in this. It is extraordinary, I think. Some models have folded-fabric door inserts, others boast inside-door handle surrounds of crystal-like design, echoing the car’s signature enormously aggressive front grille.
This is the fifth generation LS. The first was sold in Ireland in 1990. Around 800 have been bought since (virtually all before the recession).
So this is a rebirth, of sorts, for the marque which, I’m glad to say, is using its own Japanese craft and culture to make it a car that stands apart. Rivals include the Audi A8, BMW 7-series, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes S-Class, Porsche Panamera etc.
This LS (all models are long wheelbase) has been five years in the making. And in that time they’ve revolutionised how they want their cars to look. Gone is the bland conservatism of old. In its place is an aggressive design that you love, or not. What other car in this class can live with that blazing grille, for example? Not one, I’d say (the rear is tame by comparison).
It has a cabin of great invention too, echoing much of the interior in the excellent LC 500 sports car. I like it a lot in both cars. It’s a bit special, I think. But the LS is let down too by a dark vacancy to the extreme right of the display/dash. And, if I could, I’d get rid of the two ugly, unnecessary, large buttons that jut out from the driver display binnacle. While I’m whingeing, I’d change the touch pad too. Far too feckity.
But these are minor enough blemishes on a car you can so easily luxuriate in (I did).
It is now longer, lower and wider and sits on a stretched version of the new GA-L platform that underpins the LC; wheelbase is longer too. But I would have expected air suspension to be standard for that entry-level money (it isn’t). I was also disappointed to note the boot is only of moderate capacity.
Powered by a 3.5-litre (3,456cc) V6 petrol (299bhp) a lithium-ion battery pack and two electric motors, there is a combined multi stage hybrid system output of 359bhp, which means the LS is no slouch – it bolts from 0-100kmh in 5.5 seconds. Really impressive. They have also cleverly devised the effect of driving a 10spd automatic shift with the car’s continuously variable transmission (CVT). More anon.
For a change, we spent part of our first day being driven in the back seat. That’s because some buyers will be chauffeured, but it also helped us get a flavour of how luxurious life can be back there. Suffice to say, I enjoyed the multi-choice seat massage as I stretched the back and legs. And I could get used to versions in which the seat gauges my body temperature so it can decide to percolate cool or warm air.
We got driving yesterday. It was smooth and extremely quiet (I used Sport or Sport + mode mostly). But while I loved the burbly exhaust sound when I prodded for pick-up at higher revs, it could be slow and a bit CVT whiny at lower speeds.
After a few hundred kms it was clear that this is a car to enjoy, but don’t expect to drive it like hell-seeking supercar performance. It’s made for someone looking to not just to own a luxury hybrid but also a car that has that something to set it apart. I still think the Mercedes S-Class is the best all round. Dynamically the LS lags the Merc but it beats the whole lot of them with its daring design. And I think today’s good-time buyers will respond to that in no uncertain terms.
Here’s a quick run through of the new Lexus LS spec and trim.
Entry-level Executive includes smooth leather, 12-speaker audio, triple LED auto-levelling headlights, 19ins alloys, adaptive variable coil suspension, moon roof, front-seat lumbar support, electric/heated/ventilated front seats, two-zone climate control, 8ins multi-information display, 12.3ins multimedia display, sat nav, Hill-start Assist Control, auto high beam, front/rear parking sensors, panoramic view monitor, drive mode select (Eco, Comfort, Normal, Custom, Sport S, Sport S+), Lexus Safety System, Pre-Crash Safety, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), lane keep assist/departure alert, road-sign assist, vehicle dynamic management.
Luxury trim (they expect 65pc of buyers to go for this) adds semi-aniline leather, rear heated/ventilated seats, wood/heated steering wheel, electric butterfly headrests, 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, 20ins alloys, front seat massage, electric rear seats, suede roof lining, air suspension.
F SPORT adds to Executive: 20ins F SPORT alloys/radiator grille/accelerator pedal/shift leaver/ brake pedal, scuff plates and foot rest, leather, 23 speaker Mark Levinson sound system, heated steering wheel, suede roof lining, electric front headrest, rear-seat heater, air suspension.
Premium adds to Luxury 20ins alloys, Ottoman rear seats with extra legroom (1022 mm), rear DVD player and rear-seat massage.