SA launch drive: Daring (and decadently plush) Lexus LS
Johannesburg - There are many words that might flow through your mind when someone mentions the Lexus LS, likely adjectives related to comfort, luxury or smoothness, but it’s a fair bet that “arresting” and "head-turning" aren't among them.
The fifth-generation Lexus flagship sedan, which will go on sale in South Africa this July, is here to change all that.
The new LS 500 shakes off its previously conservative skin, adopting a bold new look inspired by the brand’s L-Finesse design philosophy. Perched 15mm lower to the ground and rolling on glossy 20-inch alloys, the new LS has a more coupé-like stance and plenty of design details that make it interesting to behold. The ‘spindle’ grille up front, for instance, has over 5000 distinctive surfaces and it apparently took Lexus’s CAD modellers many months to design.
Make no mistake, the design is not going to be to everyone’s liking, but this car has certainly got presence. Toyota gave us one in the few days leading up to the local launch, and the newcomer turned heads as it paraded through the streets of Joburg.
There is a lot more to LS gen-five than brave new skin - the car is formed around the company’s new GA-L rear-wheel-drive architecture that also underpins the LC coupé, and there’s an advanced new engine beneath the sedan’s bonnet.
This 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 was designed specifically for the LS and produces a meaty 310kW and 600Nm to give it a proper performance advantage over its predecessor. Mated to a 10-speed automatic gearbox, the new engine provides smooth, flexible and utterly effortless performance at all corners of the rev range, and we feel no reason to doubt the company’s claim of a five-second zero to 100km/h acceleration time.
The LS feels lighter than it is, wafting along comfortably on a redesigned electronically-controlled air suspension system, which also raises the car by 40mm upon unlocking to enable easier access for occupants. The suspension, along with the engine and other dynamic systems can be individually adjusted by the driver.
The car’s operating system is a bit on the complex side however. Lexus has come up with an interior inspired by ancient Japanese design techniques and it looks just as interesting as the exterior, with its wavy lines that flow across the dashboard and door panels, and arm rests that appear to float. Designers also sought to unclutter the cockpit by eliminating as many buttons as possible, but this doesn’t necessarily bode well for user friendliness.
The infotainment and climate systems are operated via a touchpad, which is similar to what you get on a laptop, but there’s no haptic feedback and overall it’s just not as easy to operate as BMW’s iDrive. You also have to do a lot of menu digging for functions that should be quick and easy, such as activating the seat heaters.
Other than that, the LS cabin is a wonderfully relaxing place to be, with soft illumination inspired by traditional Japanese Andon lanterns and a vast array of luxury features and gadgets.
The newly designed front and rear seats offer a sophisticated new Shiatsu massage function, and those in the back get the full business class treatment with individual rear seats offering 22-way adjustment and three pre-set positions including a ‘Relax’ setting that pushes the front passenger seat all the way forward and reclines the left rear seat to enable a comfy nap.
In-flight amusement comes courtesy of a rear seat entertainment system with screens built into the front headrests and there’s also a 23-speaker Mark Levinson QLI Reference surround sound system to indulge those musical moods.
You don’t have to tick any options boxes for the aforementioned features, which are standard along with head-up display, active cruise control, Bi-LED headlights with Adaptive High-beam, Lane Keep Assist - with steering input - and Lane Departure warning. It’s not ‘semi-autonomous’ like its key German rivals, although it's debatable whether that actually matters to the target customer.
What does delight in this Japanese chariot is the level of craftsmanship in the cabin, from the smart-looking polished metal surfaces on the switches to the rich wood inlays on the door panels and the intricate stitching on the seats. Even more impressive is the artisan-crafted Kiriko cut glass door trim elements that will be available at a later stage.
For now only the ‘standard’ LS 500 will be available and we do say that with tongue firmly in cheek as this cruise liner is loaded with spec, albeit it is expensive at R2 141 400. Also included in the price is a seven-year/105 000km warranty and maintenance plan.
Later in the year Lexus will introduce an F-Sport derivative, while the LS 500h petrol-electric hybrid is scheduled to go on sale around the middle of 2019.