LEXUS has launched a version of its LS luxury sedan featuring a high-performance “Multi-Stage Hybrid” powertrain that can propel it from rest to 100km/h faster than an entry-level Porsche Panamera.
The Multi-Stage Hybrid version of the LS 500 sedan couples a 220kW/350BNm 3.5-litre V6 engine with two electric motors, allowing the saloon to produce a combined 264kW and an as-yet undetermined amount of torque. It will do 0-100km/h in just 5.4 seconds, but turn down the wick and Lexus says it will return what it says is “good fuel economy”.
The LS 500h is the latest addition to the luxury carmaker’s large sedan range launched at the Detroit Motor Show in January with all new underpinnings and a fresh 310kW twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine that makes the 0100km/h sprint in 4.8 seconds.
It’s powered by the same “Multi-Stage” hybrid system used for the LC 500h coupe, which shares the LS 500’s all-new GA-L (Global Architecture – Luxury) platform that will underpin a new generation of cars and SUVs ranging in size from the BMW 3 Series-fighting IS up.
Lexus chief engineer Koji Sato said the company wanted to change the way hybrid vehicles were perceived.
“In the past, people only associated hybrid with 'eco'. We wanted to broaden that perception and create a true high-performance powertrain.”
Acceleration is managed by a four-stage shifting device – a second four-speed automatic gearbox that sits behind the continuously variable transmission – that quickly responds to driver inputs while maintaining a smooth ride enhanced by the car’s air suspension.
Although the unit has four speeds, it has a feel of a 10-speed gearbox for a direct and continuous acceleration without the "rubber band" effect associated with continuously variable transmissions (CVT). According to Lexus, it will shift through gears quickly while accelerating, and then stretch the gear changes out at higher speeds.
The LS 500h is fitted with a compact, lightweight, lithium-ion hybrid battery that’s 20 percent smaller than the cheaper, more bulky nickel-metal hydride unit featured in the current Lexus LS 600h, yet has a higher power density.
This allows the LS 500h to run at higher speeds – up to 140km/h – with the petrol engine shut off.
Hybrid performance aside, the LS500h shares most of the features as the rest of the all-new four-door LS range, which is longer and lower than the series it replaces.
Built on a dramatically extended and widened version of the GA-L platform, the wheelbase is 158mm longer than the existing normal-wheelbase modeland 35mm longer than the current long-wheelbase LS 600h L. This means a more spacious interior including the most legroom of any LS generation.
The luxury interior is inspired by Omotenashi, the spirit of Japanese hospitality, “that welcomes and envelops the occupants and treats the driver like a partner”.
This is exemplified by new seat designs, including 28-way powered front seats with heating, cooling and massage functions, and rear seats with an optional extending ottoman.
Up front, the dashboard is designed so the driver can operate all systems without having to change posture. It’s dominated by a 12.3-inch navigation display that complements a 24-inch colour head-up display – the largest in the world – that projects key vehicle information and performance data into the driver's line of vision.
An already quiet ride is further softened by Active Noise Control while a state-of-the-art Mark Levinson premium audio system pumps out the noise you do want to hear in 3D surround audio via an infotainment system designed to mirror the way a smartphone is used.
Advanced driver assist technologies include the Lexus Safety System+, which combines information from sensors and cameras around the vehicle to assist with parking and activate automatic emergency braking when necessary.
LS chief engineer Toshio Asahi said while the LS 500h would compete against traditional upper-luxury German sedans, its design and technology were inspired by a relatively new kid on the block.
“All the main competitors in this segment were considered – obviously BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and Audi A8 – but in addition to that, we also benchmarked the Tesla (Model S),” Mr Asahi told WhichCar.
The 2018 Lexus LS is expected to go on sale in Australia early next year, with pricing and features confirmed closer to launch.