There are four variants of the new Lexus LS limousine. Two engines and two trim levels are available and the car has quite a unique character depending on the combination you have chosen.
The car we are examining here is the most driver-focused example, the LS500 F Sport. This means it’s fitted with the 310kW/600Nm 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6, rather than the 264kW 3.5-litre V6 hybrid, as well as a raft of mechanical inclusions aimed at making it sharper to drive.
Both the twin-turbo and hybrid F Sport models kick off the LS range at $195,953 before options and on-road costs. The Lexus website suggests this results in a driveaway price of $218,300 in Melbourne and $209,561 in Sydney, but simply enter your postcode for a guide as to the final cost in your location.
Lexus’ warranty remains at four years, though an extended warranty is available at extra cost. The first three annual/15,000km logbook services are capped at $595 each and loan cars or pick-up and delivery are available while the car is being serviced.
There are 12 exterior colours, two of which – White Nova and Cobalt Mica – are exclusive to the F Sport models. All are no-cost options, while F Sport customers can specify the interior with black, black and white or red leather with ‘Naguri’-style aluminium trim. The F Sport is identified by dark exterior trim and wheels, and slightly sharper front styling.
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For their substantial outlay, LS owners do benefit from a fairly absurd level of standard equipment. You can’t put a kitchen sink in a car, but no doubt Lexus has tried.
Starting with access, there is keyless entry and start, a foot-operated remote boot release and soft-close doors. The powered seats are 28-way adjustable and heated, as is the steering wheel. There is an electronically controlled rear sunshade and sunroof, while the infotainment has been upgraded to a 12.3-inch widescreen with digital radio, a DVD player, smartphone mirroring and 23-speaker Mark Levinson stereo with subwoofer.
Historically Lexus infotainment systems have been controlled by the brand's clunky, awkward trackpad but it now has touchscreen functionality, which is infinitely preferable. A digital rear-view mirror appears for the first time, ensuring vision even with the rear sunshades up, while a 600 x 150mm colour head-up display displays speed and navigation.
The list of safety equipment is even longer. There are 10 airbags and the Pre-Collision System not only has day- and night-time pedestrian detection, pre-collision warning, brake assist and brake operation, evasive manoeuvre assist and daytime cyclist detection but also debuts Intersection Turning Assist, which warns if the driver is about to turn across the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Radar Cruise Control is also standard, which can recognise speed signs, trace road markings of its own accord and be programmed to slow by itself for curves. The new adaptive LED headlights, rather than shutting off lights to avoid blinding oncoming drivers like most systems, instead shine backwards to a ‘blade mirror’ that enables the light to be controlled in 0.1-degree increments.
The new LS also debuts Lexus Connected Services with automated collision notification, stolen vehicle tracking and the ability to SOS call via a button in the overhead console.
Lexus has also made lots of nerdy tweaks to the mechanicals in search of greater comfort and refinement, so nerdy you wouldn’t possibly want to read about them. Oh, you do? Alright, you asked for it.
The twin-turbo V6 has new lipped pistons to reduce noise, especially when cold, a larger crankshaft crank pin diameter to reduce vibration and revised turbochargers to improve low-end response. A new one-piece aluminium intake manifold reduces weight by 50 per cent over the old iron manifold and hydraulic control for the variable intake valve timing sheds further weight.
As you’d expect from an engine producing 310kW at 6000rpm and 600Nm from 1600-4800rpm there is ample power, the V6 shrugging off the burden of 2230kg of limousine with ease. It’s assisted in this task by a 10-speed automatic which is incredibly clever in its shift logic when Sport+ mode is selected.
Its broad spread of power makes for effortless progress – 0-100km/h is claimed to take 5.0sec – but it does come with an equal thirst, the official combined claim of 10L/100km quickly becoming irrelevant in heavy use. The claimed urban consumption of 14.2L/100km is a better indicator, but if fuel consumption matters then the Hybrid’s claim of 7.8L/100km (urban) will be more palatable.
On the chassis side, enlarging the flow path inside the control valve for the adaptive dampers, larger, liquid-filled compliance bushings for the lower controls arms and a new bound stopper that reduces front damper stroke friction by 30 per cent is claimed to deliver a 26 per cent improvement in large input shocks, measured under the driver’s seat.
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Perhaps so, but there’s still room for improvement. The latest LS is generally a comfortable car but on poor surfaces the ride is restless with too much disturbance fed back to the driver, the car feeling its weight by lumbering through larger bumps and jostling the occupants, though it must be said that this was felt in the hybrid F Sport that is slightly heavier and lacks active anti-roll bars (see below).
Oddly, it’s when the road turns twisty that this enormous machine begins to shine. The F Sport models include variable-ratio steering, rear-wheel steering, monster brakes (400mm discs with six-piston calipers at the front and 359mm discs with four-piston calipers at the rear), 30mm wider rear tyres and, on this twin-turbo variant, active anti-roll bars front and rear.
For such a big, heavy car, the LS is remarkably athletic. It has great balance, plenty of grip, accurate steering, strong brakes and can be hustled remarkably quickly. Impressive, but its talents do seem slightly the wrong way round for a car of this ilk.
The experience in the back is just as important as that behind the steering wheel in a car like this and the LS scores plenty of points in this area. Its vast 5.24m length gives it incredible levels of legroom and the seats (also heated in the rear) have been revised, with deeper stitch points and softer urethane padding.
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Speaking of seating, the front seats are a little short on under-thigh support and despite their 28-way adjustment lack the ability to extend the cushion, which seems a strange oversight.
Returning to the rear, the Sports Luxury model includes a lot of equipment the F Sport misses out on, including quad-zone climate control, rear entertainment screens, powered rear seats with massage, cooling and recline function for the passenger side, two more airbags, side sunshades, a cooler box (twin-turbo model only) and a touchscreen in the fold-down centre armrest to control all these functions.
LS ownership does extend beyond the car, however. As one of Lexus’ flagship models, owners are welcomed into the Lexus Encore Platinum club. This includes exclusive events, access to money-can’t-buy experiences with Lexus ambassadors, perks at various luxury hotels around Australia and the Lexus on Demand program, which allows Lexus vehicles to be accessed in Australia when travelling for a maximum of eight days, four times over three years.
To say the Lexus LS is not a volume player is an understatement – just 145 were sold in the last three years combined, compared to 656 S-Classes, for example – but these are important customers, Lexus boss Scott Thompson stating many LS customers are on their third or fourth consecutive example.
These customers clearly rate the car’s combination of interior quality, whisper-quiet operation, after-sales experience and unique design. Given that scenario, it’s probably a case of which LS to buy and it’s difficult to recommend the F Sport. It’s remarkable to drive but the greater interior personalisation, improved ride comfort and extra equipment (for relatively little extra outlay) swings the pendulum in favour of the Sports Luxury.
Pros: Road presence; specification level; powerful twin-turbo engine; handling
Cons: ride could still be better; strange mix of talents; twin-turbo thirst; weight
Body: 4-door, 5-seat sedan
Engine: 3445cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Bore/stroke: 85.5 x 100mm
Power: 310kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 1600-4800rpm
0-100km/h: 5.0sec (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 10L/100km (combined/claimed)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Suspension: multi-links, air springs, adaptive dampers, active anti-roll bars (f/r)
Steering: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes: 400mm ventilated discs, 6-piston calipers (r); 359mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 20 x (f); 20 x (r)
Tyres: 245/45 R20 (f); 275/40 R20 (r) Bridgestone Turanza