You need to be loaded to afford a limousine. However, it takes a special kind of rich to purchase the new Lexus LS500.
Toyota’s luxury arm is passionate about its craftsmanship, and patriotically so. Determined to maintain the Japanese DNA underpinning the LS’s wealth of opulent features, Lexus contains the production of its flagship saloon within the walls of its Tahara plant in Aichi, Japan. There’s still a lot of love for fully imported cars amongst Malaysians, but the LS’s hefty CBU premium puts a big question mark over this romance.
In its simplest configuration for our market, the Lexus LS500 is priced at RM799,000, a full RM200,000 more than the locally assembled BMW 740Le. The decked-out Executive variant we tested is priced at nearly RM1.1mil, which is enough for two brand new plugin hybrid German limousines if you know how to fish for discounts from the right dealerships.
Paying twice the money for half the powertrain, in concept at least, may sound absurd, but not if you judge the LS against its rivals purely on the merits of its petrol engine. Nestled behind the parade of chrome that is its enormous spindle grille is a 3.5-litre V6 amplified by a pair of turbochargers. It may have two cylinders less than the outgoing LS460 and LC500 coupe, with which it shares a platform, but the numbers suggest that displacement can be replaced.
With 415bhp on tap, the LS500 is nearly on par with the 470bhp LC500 in power. But forced induction means it generates more torque than its two-door sibling’s naturally aspirated V8 (600Nm vs 540Nm). It’s the age-old downsizing pitch all over again, but, to our surprise, the twin-turbo V6 imbues the large Lexus with a surprisingly stimulating soundtrack for a limousine. Sure, NVH is still the name of the LS’s game, but it felt like some engineers took the liberty to conserve all the right decibels and pipe them directly to the driver’s ears.
The drive is equally inspiring for a car weighing a whopping 2.3 tonnes unladen. A torque-rich engine helps, but there’s also the matter of structural rigidity, which Lexus has improved by doubling the LS’s composition of high tensile steel to 30 percent. The suspension towers are now made of stiff aluminium, which are supposedly lighter too. The result is a chassis that’s dynamically sound and agile, giving the LS the ease of manoeuvrability of a much trimmer sports sedan. It’s the kind of driveability that would worry the BMW 7-Series, money issue aside.
There’s also enough refinement on the move to challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class which is widely considered to be the industry benchmark. Both are endowed with plush, adaptive air dampers and asylum-like insulation, but the LS500 raises the stakes with a 10-speed automatic which shifts as fast as a DCT, or so Lexus claims. That’s a grand total of nine gear changes from standstill to cruising speed. That said, you’d still be hard-pressed to identify a single shift, such is the silkiness of the power delivery to the rear wheels.
It’s the kind of driveability that would worry the BMW 7-Series, money issue aside
The only blemish in the LS500’s otherwise stellar powertrain is its engine start-stop system, something you’d expect most carmakers to have mastered by now. There’s no issue switching off, but the restarting can cause quite a shock as you can literally feel the car dive a centimetre forwards as the engine turns. You’re better off disabling the system completely whether you’re the driver or passenger.
You’d probably want to be the latter in a limousine, but the LS500 treats all its occupants as equals. We say this in reference to the four ventilated massage seats, which are easily the best ever fitted to a production car. Unlike typical luxury car seats that vibrate and tickle your back at best, these Lexus fitments really get in there like a strong pair of hands, if you have the intensity setting maxed out that is. And if you’re in the rear ottoman seat exclusive to the Executive model, you can recline and stretch your legs as you would on a business class flight.
Life inside the LS500 is a peach, specifically the individually boxed variety that goes for over a hundred bucks apiece in Isetan. But even the most precious fruits have imperfections. Getting that awesome massage started, for one, requires some tedious navigation of the LS’s touchscreen interface. There’s a control screen in the back too, which is cool. Just not when you need to fiddle with it simply to get the seat reclined. It’s not an issue if the software is intuitive, but Lexus still has some ways to go before its tech can be called user-friendly.
And then there’s the RM98,000 question whether the Kiriko Cut Glass package is worth it. For roughly the price of a seven-seat, fully imported Toyota Sienta, Lexus will decorate the LS500’s door cards with hand-cut Kiriko glass and origami-inspired, hand-folded pleats. The wow factor is there, but it doesn’t last very long. How often do you look to the lower half of your sides when riding in a car anyway? And since you can’t customise the design etched into the glass, we say it’s a novelty you can live without unless you have absolutely no better use of that extra hundred grand.
Then again, the conscious purchase of a million-ringgit Lexus is an emotionally driven luxury that casts financial logic aside to begin with. The LS500’s scorecard is positive in all areas except value for money in a market where bigger household names in the limo segment cost considerably less through local assembly. But if you measure a car’s value on its ability to break the norm, then the LS is virtually unrivalled in its class.
OR TRY THIS
Closer in price than the usual suspects. Not as spacious but similarly luxurious. And it’s a Porsche.
Price is a big pill to swallow, but you get expected levels of tech and luxury plus surprisingly good driving dynamics on the side.
|Engine||3,445cc, twin-turbo V6, 415bhp, 600Nm|
|Performance||0-100kph in 5.0 secs, 250kph|