White or grey, Lexus LS 500 or Lexus LS 500h?
When I was a kid, everything was easier. The city cars were French, the sports cars were Italian, the luxury cars were English, the pretty comfortable sedans were German and the Japanese… well, the Japanese were trying experiments. This was the 90s through the eyes of a child under 10 years old (I prefer to specify before making too many enemies). Now (and with age), everything is much more complicated. The French make coupés (actually there is only one coupé in production, at the moment), the Italians make SUVs, the English make diesels (eurk), the Germans make city cars and the Japanese make hybrids, but not only!
Created in 1989, the brand is young, very young. To tell you the truth, I’m only two years younger than Lexus. And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know Lexus until I was 9. Indeed, the brand first developed in the USA and Japan (under the Toyota brand) before arriving in Europe with… drum rolls, SUVs. Finally, the RX 300s are the first Lexus I remember. Fortunately, one fine day in 2010 Lexus introduced the legendary LFA. In addition to being an incredibly desirable supercar mechanically (thanks to a 4.8L V10), it was finally beautiful. I don’t mean to say that until then the Lexus wasn’t pretty, but we clearly felt that comfort took advantage over aesthetics (as the American market generally requires).
Lexus LS : a Nippo-American-German-French tradition (you will understand why)
Okay, the Lexus used to be ugly. The best example is the very first Lexus LS. Released in 1989, at the launch of the brand, it lacks character.
In short, the young and handsome Donald Trump could have been driven in the ultra-comfortable seats of the Lexus LS XF10 through the crowded streets of Manhattan thinking he had sat in his new Lincoln proudly made in the USA. Indeed, the first Lexus LS looks like the awful 1990 Lincoln Continental and that’s why, (perhaps) you can punch a Toyota Celsior (Japanese name of the LS) in a Street Fighter 2 Bonus Stage (true story).
Oh sorry, I did some researches, you’ll never believe me. The 1990 Lexus LS (XF10) received the award for the most beautiful car of the year… But history doesn’t tell which drug the jury members had taken, whatever the effects were slow to dissipate because the Renault Safrane won the award in 1991, the Laguna 1 in 1994 or the Mistubishi Carisma in 1996. Wtff!
In short, Lexus has been able to meet a demand and position itself as a manufacturer of high-end limousines (and more generally vehicles) for North America. And it was working very well, in 1999 Lexus already had more than a million sales in the United States. It’s colossal.
In the meantime, the Lexus LS lengthens and rounds out very slightly to become the XF20. Honestly, it’s only a timid evolution of the first. Apparently the market agreed with me cause in 1997 the XF20 phase 2 is being modernized considerably to become a real Audi A8. The resemblance is striking.
In 2000, Lexus designers thought it was enough to confuse the A8 and the LS, so they decided to launch the LS XF30. Unfortunately, the new LS and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class are as alike two peas in a pod… One wonders if the Germans were secretly spying on all Japanese production to copy their drawings. I’m kidding.
Finally, it was in 2006 that Lexus replaced this S-Class, uh this XF30 with the XF40, of course. This time, it doesn’t look like any other car. It looks like a Lexus with no real character. That’s probably why the XF40 has undergone three attempts at dynamisation. The third was the right one. Except the car looks like a Peugeot 508. Ohhhh again!
Its own Lexus way
Anyway, since the introduction of the LFA in 2010, Lexus has found its way and its market: comfortable, rational and elegant cars with a touch of typically Japanese madness. This madness is reflected in bold lines, baroque interiors with refined and original materials that reinvent the codes of the different segments.
Just the opposite of the LFA you will tell me. Yes and no, since Lexus is looking to be where we don’t expect it to be, as by offering surprisingly noble engines, but also hybridization (since 2006, due to the Toyota group) and a more dynamic F Sport range.
2017 is the year of the introduction of a brand new Lexus LS. Inspired by the sublime LF-FC concept car, the new XF50 is just splendid. The car asserts its character and unique style in automotive production. Special mention to the front which is particularly beautiful. All the lines converge towards the centre of the grille, which itself consists of a vertical diamond grid that catches the light and gives an attractive, almost disturbing optical effect. I have a slight preference for the classic grille, indeed, the F-Sport grille with horizontal diamonds is may be a little too aggressive, but it’s really a detail. The “Z” shaped headlights are tapered, drilled and aggressive to match the striking design of the grille. Made of tense lines, the car stretches thanks to straight lines that make it statutory. Seen from the rear, the car is a real three-box car (rare enough to be highlighted today). Indeed, a wide and high trunk completes the LS’s silhouette, which makes it a little heavier, even if the rounded shape of the window and the horizontal rear headlights attenuate it rather well.
At first glance the LS is discreet, it looks like a regular sedan. However, your eye will probably be captured by one of the sumptuous details of the bodywork and it’s exactly at this moment that you will notice the length, complexity and research of its design. Lexus has created the same effect by designing organic style rims that blend in perfectly with the car’s elegant shape.
So you’re going to tell me no, you don’t find this Lexus LS pretty. I can understand that, but admit the effort of Lexus who dared to produce a car over 5m long with a truly original and terribly assumed design. Lexus has clearly taken the decision to become the game changer of the segment in order to fully assume its identity.
Under the hood, forget the traditional V8 that accompanied the LS for nearly 30 years (featured with electric motors at the end of its career). Too bad. Instead we have petrol V6 engines. The first one is a 3.5L twinturbo V6, it’s the LS 500. The second is a 3.5L V6 coupled to two electric engines. Of course I will go more towards the non-hybrid version but after all, since we have to choose, let’s try both.
Behind the wheel of the Lexus LS 500h
I sit in the seats of the grey Lexus LS 500h and I feel good, really good. The seat is relatively flexible, it follows the shape of my body to make me travel the most pleasant way. The driving posture can be adjusted to the nearest degree, which helps you feel particularly comfortable. I press the “start engine” button and the steering wheel moves gently towards me. Everything in this cabin (except the two small horn buttons above the dashboard) makes me want to take the wheel and drive.
After a few meters on the road in total silence, I feel a car gentle, while restrained. In the city, we barely notice the atmospheric 3.5L V6 that wakes up just when we need it. You can feel a smooth, rather direct and above all a very pleasant steering. I’m really surprised by its agility in the city, we quickly forget that we’re driving a 5.23 m car. And we also forget that we’re in the city because the car is so soundproof. Only a slight cracking, probably due to the friction of two plastic parts on the sunroof, disturbs my fullness.
On the highway the Lexus LS 500h is relaxing but not as you imagined. At high speed we hear air flows from the outside mirrors that also disturb the tranquility of this ship. And what’s worse when you’re getting a massage? Huh what? Yes, all the seats in the car are equipped with a massage system offering a dozen combinations of movements available. I hesitate to buy this type of chair as an office chair. Imagine having a massage all day while you work… Under these conditions I’m willing to become a Uber driver.
The hybrid engine torque combined with the combustion engine do the job well on the highway, at the beginning of the journey. Indeed, after a few dozen kilometers I started to feel the car’s high weight (2425 kg) on some accelerations. In fact, batteries are discharged because I don’t brake much and I accelerate continuously. As a result, I find myself with a sedan of more than 5 meters and almost 2.5 tons towed by a naturally aspired 3.5L V6 outputting only 299 hp, which itself uses power to recharge the batteries (futile attempt).
Despite everything, the car is healthy and reassuring, ready to take you to the other side of the world. When you leave the highway for the small country roads the batteries have the joy of filling up again and you can finally enjoy the 359 hp! Far from being ridiculous, the hybrid car propels us from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds with this typical small electric boost and 4-wheel drive, but this is not the most impressive. I was amazed by the agility of the car on small roads. The LS 500h’s partly aluminium architecture gives it good rigidity. The batteries but also one of the electric engines are at the rear and give the LS a good balance and a rather low centre of gravity that ballast the car. This behaviour makes it take some roll but it’s funny and it gives a lot of charm to the LS 500h, but still remains reassuring.
One downside is that we discover / rediscover the strident sounds of a kind of CVT gearbox. And we would have done without them, especially in a vehicle of this range. Anyway, the Multi Stage transmission is smooth and reactive, it’s only a matter of sound perception.
On board the Lexus LS 500 (no, I didn’t forget a letter)
I finally settled into the optional F-Sport seats on the white Lexus LS 500 and I feel good, really good. This time the seats are a little firmer, a little more enveloping to give a touch of sportiness to the experience. Right away I was looking for the massage function. Disappointment, you have to choose between massages all the way and F-Sport seats. But it doesn’t really matter. In town, apart from the sound of the engine a little more present, the Lexus LS 500h and LS 500 are quite comparable. It’s always a real pleasure, especially since I don’t notice any crackling in this car. Exaltation!
As I get on the highway, I start feeling the difference. The twinturbo V6 is much more present and offers a torque much more adapted to intercontinental limousines. When driving the LS 500 on the highway, I don’t feel the slight lack of power felt with the hybrid version. With 417 hp (59 hp more) for 2389 kg (36 kg less), the LS 500 travels from 0 to 100 in 4.9 seconds (0.6 seconds better than the h version) thanks to the same 4 wheel drive! Impressive, isn’t it? This is only 0.4 seconds longer than an Alpine A110 or an Alfa Romeo 4C. Now it’s impressive.
On country roads the sound of the V6 wakes up. So I don’t promise you a devastating sound, but when you have a heavy foot like me you can enjoy a rather pleasant metallic sound emanating from the hood, which adds a certain charm to this long, very long sedan. Its behaviour is healthy, rather playful, it’s a real pleasure for a car of this size even if I feel it lighter and perhaps slightly less well balanced than the hybrid version. Efficient and extremely comfortable on imperfect roads, it could be even more fun if it was rear wheel drive and give up some more information from the road.
Anyway, this LS 500 is really an endearing limousine. It knows how to take care of you and please you with a subtle energy that needs a little time to reveal itself. In fact, its character is more in tune with the design of its grille than with its template.
Driving a Lexus is a unique experience
Since I discovered (quite recently) the Lexus experience, I must admit that I appreciate it. Trying the LS 500 is like trying out the flagship of the range, the manufacturer’s masterpiece in terms of comfort, luxury and smoothness. About the comfort we’ve already done a few laps, but if you’re a compulsive fan of the trunk volumes (we recognized you), you’ll have a nice surprise when you open the trunk of a Lexus LS. Indeed you will have the space to store a lot of things there because it seems very deep (obviously we are used to coupé’s pockets). Unfortunately I don’t have the exact capacity because I don’t really care… Well, I know it frustrates you, it’s 430 litres. Actually, it’s not that big for a limo… probably because of the electric assistance.
In terms of finishes, we were really spoiled. The 500 F Sport had a delicate black leather and Naguri aluminum inserts. “The word naguri comes from a traditional Japanese wood-shaving technique, which originated from the random artistic patterns local craftspeople would carve into the trunks of chestnut trees after removing the bark to repel bugs”. Here, this artisanal technique is applied to aluminum for a magnificent effect that is particularly appreciated on door panels that reflect like fish scales. From a distance, it almost looks like stingray. To the touch, aluminium is fresh and soft, you want to touch it as soon as you are at the red light. In the 500h we had, there was a very nice microperforated white leather and a glossy walnut veneer instead of aluminum. With the open roof the light shines magnificently on this warm wood with dark veins. I love it. The dashboard is very elegant, the design is very fluid, it’s splendid and very original. The door handles are very pretty thanks to a modern, sleek design. Only the steering wheel and the automatic gearbox knob aren’t very thin and don’t, in my opinion, match the refined and modern atmosphere of the whole car.
At the back, your children will be delighted because they have the same beautifully designed veneer inserts. No, actually, they won’t care since he has screens on the back of the front seats. The central armrest hides a small touch screen to activate massages and other unavoidable options. The rear seats also lengthen to ensure you a journey in the biggest of silences, a kid’s nap. Finally, since you are good parents (I’m sure), you will only have to press a button to close the rear window blinds, the three rear windows.
The on-board technology is all that is most modern, even if the autonomous driving assistance ricochets a little between the lines and is not yet well optimized to anticipate changes in rpm and overtaking. All the more reason to drive yourself.
Finally, the cars feature 3D-surround Mark Levinson audio with in-ceiling array speakers which is really amazing (knowing that the sound of the engine will not make you deaf).
Lexus LS 500 : then rather hybrid V6 or turbo V6?
Complicated question. To be completely honest it’s like choosing between green beans and broccoli, you wanted zucchini and there are none on the menu. So yes, these V6 engines are successful, there’s nothing to say, but I remain convinced that such a long and heavy car would probably have deserved a V8 (maybe even a V12). More rationally, I had a very different feeling behind the wheel of the Lexus LS 500 and the Lexus LS 500h. Indeed, I felt the hybrid version more balanced, probably because of the weight distribution due to the electric power assist, but I really appreciated the driving pleasure of the turbo V6 version and its slightly more playful sensation.
Lexus LS500 #FunToDrive Score: 80/100
Lexus LS500h #FunToDrive Score: 76/100
I actually believe that the LS 500 is a perfect GT car. It will take you, and your family, on a flying carpet to the other side of Europe without you noticing. On the other hand, I think the LS 500h is the perfect city limousine. It, and your driver, will take you from appointment to appointment in a calm and voluptuous environment.
Whatever your use, this Lexus LS 500 is a fine example of Japanese craftsmanship and know-how in terms of design, harmony and hospitality. A bit like a rematch on the past, the latest Lexus LS puts a “hadouken” in the competition: it’s a very serious alternative to German and British limousines, from which it has nothing to be ashamed. It’s all a matter of experience, taste and life philosophy.