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2018 Lexus LS500h charges up

Lexus has followed current engine downsizing trends by flicking its V8-engined LS600h hybrid saloon and replacing it with a V6 in the new LS500h, which aims to at reduce fuel use while retaining driving enjoyment and performance.

The new LS500h hybrid - to replace the current flagship LS600h next year in Australia - was outed at the Geneva motor show along with confirmation that it carries over the hybrid powertrain of the overseas-spec LC500h coupe.

Though buzzing with high-tech features - including a multi-stage hybrid system, twin-turbo engine set up and all-wheel drive (AWD) for European markets - the 3.5-litre V6 pumps 264kW compared with the 327kW of the V8-hybrid combo that it is replacing.

Lexus argues the new LS500h is lighter - thanks to a shift from the bulky and heavy nickel-metal hydride batteries to the more compact lithium-ion cells - and is more responsive due to its multi-stage drive system and all-wheel steering.

The proof of the pudding is in the acceleration times. The new LS500h claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.4 seconds, substantially quicker than the LS600h, which takes 6.6 seconds.

It can also cruise at lower engine revs because of its innovative automatic transmission and can travel at up to 140km/h with the petrol engine switched off. However, electric-only range is still relatively low at about 40km.

The multi-stage hybrid system incorporates the V6 engine and two electric motors that drive through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The twist is that Lexus has integrated a four-speed automatic transmission.

This allows the CVT to work at low engine revs and low speeds, but then lets the engine work through a much wider rev range. Though complex, the idea is that there's more power on tap.

Lexus has introduced some sophisticated electronics into the CVT, synthesising distinct gear ratios to give the impression of 10 speeds. It also has a manual M-Mode feature with paddle shifters. Interestingly, the non-hybrid LC500 - and the forthcoming LS500 - have 10-speed automatic transmissions mated to their twin-turbo 310kW V6 engines.

The car is scheduled to launch in Australia in the first quarter of next year.

No fuel consumption figures have been issued by Lexus for the LS500h but the lighter and smaller coupe version is rated at 6.4L/100km.

More focus than at any time in the past has been given to the cabin. The LS500h will be capable of being ordered with an extensive list of options, but standard equipment will include the finest leather, selected Japanese timbers and a 12.3-inch central touchscreen with the latest multimedia systems.

Safety equipment will include Lexus' new pedestrian detection system, that for this car will include active steering which is capable of autonomously steering around the hazard.

The LS500h will be offered in long wheelbase only and though it will be available in Europe and North America with AWD, the same is unlikely for Australia.

The car is 85mm longer than the current LS600h - which is 5150mm in long wheelbase form - and has a wheelbase of 3124mm, well up on the outgoing car's 3090mm.

The car is scheduled to launch in Australia in the first quarter of next year. No pricing is available for the Australian market, though based on the comparison with the LS600h in the US, the new sedan could be about the same price. In Australia, the LS600h sells in two variants at $214,030 and $245,140.

The LS500h will also compete with LS600h rivals, including the BMW 740e ($229,000) and Mercedes-Benz S500e (319,715).

Do you think a smaller engine harms the LS500h's status as the Lexus flagship model? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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