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Review

First Drive: Lexus LS car review

22/11/12

YOU COULD say that the LS is the definitive Lexus. It’s the model that Toyota first envisaged when drawing up plans for the brand in 1983.

Build quality, ride quality, comfort, performance and prestige were all prerequisites for the very first Lexus, and didn’t they do well – buy an early LS400 today and it’s likely that each of the myriad electrical features still work perfectly, while the V8 petrol engine will keep turning almost as long as the Earth itself.

The model became a reference for refinement and reliability, giving birth to the Lexus reputation as we know it; long since backed up by endless reliability survey wins and ownership satisfaction awards. You can’t argue with the LS’s record.

But change is inevitable. Lexus has pulled out the stops for this mid-life update with an astonishing 3,000 upgrades, and it comes as close to a brand new model as it’s possible to without scrapping the blueprints and starting from scratch. The chassis is even manufactured using different processes.

Driver enjoyment is something that’s often brought into question in large saloons like the LS, and it’s an area where Lexus has needed to improve. Ironically drivers of these cars scarcely drive like Lewis Hamilton along twisty roads, but the general acknowledgement that the car is good to drive counts towards its image, and that’s what counts to buyers here.

Let the first and biggest box be ticked: the new LS is genuinely very good to drive. Both the V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive LS460 and the long-wheelbase, hybrid-powered four-wheel-drive LS600h L are much nimbler than previous models, with lots of grip, a modicum of adjustability on the throttle relative to the class norms and excellent mod-corner balance. The weight and size are controlled well, and despite the longer car feeling just a little more ponderous through bends it’s still impressive.

The most noticeable improvement is in torsional stiffness, where the new LS behaves impeccably even through the high-speed, bizarrely tight and undulating corners on some European motorways.

Three LS versions will come to the UK. The 4.6-litre V8-powered LS460 is being reintroduced to appeal to existing LS owners for whom nothing but an LS will do. It’s a very unusual move in this economic climate but Lexus is hoping it will be a welcome one. The engine sounds delicious, waking up above 3,500rpm to deliver a stirring soundtrack at a gentlemanly distance thanks to seriously extensive new soundproofing.

It can be yours in two trim levels; Luxury and F Sport. Luxury is typical Lexus, with a bias towards everything that will make the people inside it more comfortable. For your near-£72,000 outlay the kit list is mighty. F Sport trim is atypical for the Lexus image but European buyers like its sharper looks. It’s sexier than Lexuses of old, with darker materials, a proper mechanical limited-slip differential and gear shift paddles behind the steering wheel.

On the road it rides with a slightly firmer edge than the Luxury model but still with that trademark Lexus compliance. The suspension has been re-engineered to give a more harmonious relationship between all four wheels and the results are top-drawer.

The chief difference in the LS600h L (aside from the lower benefit in kind bill) is the extra low-down shove from its 5.0-litre V8 and gigantic electric motor combination. It picks up its skirts in a deeply impressive way and, laws permitting, will spin around to 155mph with shocking ease. It’s heavier and uses a continually-variable transmission as opposed to the 460’s eight-speed auto, so is slightly slower to 62mph, but once it’s moving it’s the quicker car.

In the UK the LS600h L will only come in Premium trim, with an initial price tag £505 short of £100,000 and almost every luxury feature Lexus could throw at it. UK cars won’t get the special noise-cancelling alloy wheels though. From initial test drives little noise cancelling is needed anyway; this must be among the quietest cars in the world.

Luxury really isn’t something Lexus has a problem delivering, and the LS’s truly outstanding materials and overall solidity are matched by advanced new technology. A highlight is the Climate Concierge system on the 600h L Premium, which although sounding a bit naff is actually a revelation if it’s allowed to do its thing. Set the four-zone climate control and heated, ventilated seats to automatic and the system uses all the tools to keep everyone on board at their optimum temperature based on infra-red scans of their individual face temperature. In practice it works flawlessly.

Fans of the old LS have always lauded its equipment, refinement and relative efficiency. With the new version its driving dynamics have been brought up to scratch and there are no longer any chinks in its armour. It will be a deeply satisfying car to own, whichever seat is yours.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Lexus LS600h L Premium, £99,495 on the road.

Engine: 5.0-litre petrol V8 with electric motor, producing a maximum 439bhp.

Transmission: Continually-Variable Transmission driving all four wheels.

Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds.

Fuel economy: 32.8mpg.

CO2: 199g/km.

  • Engineshybrid
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats4

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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