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In the world of luxury limousines, it's the well-entrenched and much-desired European trio of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi that hold court. It's a brave car maker that tries to muscle in.
And here comes one of those brave souls now. For my weekend test, I'm driving the 2018 Lexus LS 500h F-Sport. Priced at $190,500, the LS 500h delivers a high-end blend of sports and luxury styling, including perforated leather on the steering wheel, gloss-black detailing on the side skirts and boot lid, and a set of smart-looking F-Sport 20-inch alloys.
So, what's this luxury saloon like to live with as a family hauler? My kids and I had the weekend to find out.
Parked in the garage, the LS 500h looks an absolute monster with an imposing presence that is heralded by a front end that is bold and distinctive. I say bold, because it's one area of the car’s design which will either work for or against it in the eyes of many drivers. The gaping mouth of its ‘Spindle Grille’ has the look of an angry whale shark. Overall, though, the design definitely has appeal.
Closer inspection of the front end reveals an incredibly intricate design which is worth taking some time to appreciate. New LED headlights and ‘Zorro-sword-slash’ LED running lights add further flare and command attention. Anything but boring.
The proportions of LS 500h are immense. With an end-to-end length of 5235mm and width of 1900mm, it’s longer and wider than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class - its slightly lower height helping to further accentuate the width.
That said, the kids were more interested with what lay inside, and with good reason. On cue, the car raises 30mm as we approach (and lowers by 10mm when getting out), while wide-opening doors make entry and exit easy. Elsewhere inside, floating armrests, ambient interior lighting and quality textured materials impress.
The look, feel and finish of the cabin is excellent and immediately apparent as we take our seats. It feels decadent. Our test car came with 'F Sport' seats as standard, with leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, dual-zone climate control and 28-way power adjustable front seats (which were supremely comfortable and supportive).
Our Saturday schedule was a hectic one, with soccer for the twins in the morning, a quick bite out for lunch, followed by a tutoring group for the oldest and then a friend's place for a BBQ. With none of these destinations close by, it worked out to around 200kms of family taxi driving.
The kids lounged in the back seats, taking in the acreage-like space, and they proceeded to make use of the two cupholders and test out the controls housed in the centre armrest. There’s also air vents back there and pockets in both doors.
I was failing miserably in my attempts to get to grips with the trackpad interface that control the car's 12.3-inch multimedia system, though. It requires a nuanced touch that takes far too much attention away from driving. A few long minutes later, though, the music was pumping through the 23-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system. The quality was outstanding, helped in no short measure by the well-insulated cabin.
Around the suburban back streets and Saturday morning traffic jams the LS 500 was a pleasure to drive. Its comfortable and refined ride soaked up speed humps and undulating road surfaces with barely a blip. The electric power steering was well weighted with light, small inputs to the steering wheel met with direct and positive responses.
Our schedule today was light, with just a trip to the National Maritime Museum and a quick stop at the local supermarket.
Our LS 500h has a 220kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6 mated with two two electric motors, upping total power output to 264kW. A good thing, too; at 2.3 tonnes plus myself, four kids and luggage, there is a decent amount of weight to haul.
From a standing start, the car glides away confidently in electric mode, with the petrol engine kicking in when more urgent acceleration is needed. For mine, though, the CVT does the LS 500h no favours. The sound in the cabin never quite married with what I was asking the Lexus to do, and so it took away from the experience.
On twisty open roads, though, the Lexus handles itself well courtesy of a more sophisticated version of Lexus’ 'Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management' (VDIM) system – a stability program that uses data from various functions within the car to control the longitudinal, vertical, yaw, roll and pitch movements for better ride and handling.
Parking the LS 500 in the local Woolies proved somewhat tricky, with its large dimensions meaning we could only exit via one side of the car. On the plus side, its protruding rear end makes it easy to find again. We loaded up the 480-litre boot (30 litres shy of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class) with the week's shopping and headed off back home.
The Lexus LS is waiting to receive a crash-test rating, but with a suite of safety kit including adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane-keep assist, you would expect it to fare well.
Over the course of the weekend the LS 500h covered around 400kms of urban and open-road driving, with the trip computer displaying fuel consumption of 10.2 litres/100km. Quite a hike from the 6.6 litres/100km Lexus claims.
The Lexus LS 500h is a car that delights and frustrates in equal measure. Its ride, handling and exceptional levels of comfort exceeded all expectations.
As for styling, it's anything but boring with kerb appeal that is bound to turn heads. Unfortunately the hybrid/CVT setup works against it, and I think it actually detracts from an otherwise refined and luxurious package.
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