Audi convertibles: most impressive
Lexus LS review (2013 onwards)
What - Lexus LS 2013
Date - November 2012
Where - Nice, France
Price - From £71,995-£99,495
Available - January 2013
Better-looking LS looks best in F-Sport guise, which is the best LS you can buy. But key rivals are still better.
We like - More characterful looks that F-Sport enhances well, return of LS 460, supreme refinement and interior comfort, F-Sport dynamics
We don't like - Very thirsty, no diesel, standard car too soft, German rivals are all more desirable
A few years back, Lexus steadily sold a Lexus LS every day. Then, it deleted the old LS 460 V8 petrol and switched to a hybrid-only range of LS 600h models. Sales duly plunged: last year, it sold just 70 cars, little more than an LS a week.
So now, the LS 460 is back, with the hybrid car relegated to £100k long-wheelbase range-topping status. This means the entry point of the LS range has been cut by nearly £20,000, to £70,995, with a 3,000-point facelift circling the changes.
The overall effect is more distinctive
The new LS is more striking than its predecessor thanks to one key addition - the Lexus spindle grille. But every part other than the roof and doors has actually changed, and the overall effect is more distinctive than the soft-shape old car, although it's still hardly standout.
In a real break from tradition, Lexus also now sells the LS in lowered, sharpened and sported F-Sport guise, costing £74,495. This looks great and is potentially the choice LS for driving-focused Brits - if the upgrades have gone far enough. So, have they?
Ah, it's good to have a regular petrol LS back. The 4.6-litre V8 engine is, of course, brilliantly smooth and quiet, but there's also just enough throb finding its way through to make it feel luxuriously special. Press on harder and the growl's edge hardens further; it's a rich treat to use.
It's quick enough, but it needs revving to give its best - those used to the turbodiesels of the competition will be aware of how power builds with revs or gearbox downshifts. The latter is no hardship as the eight-speed auto is responsive and, particularly on upshifts, quite fantastically smooth.
We also drove the hybrid to remind ourselves of the high-tech alternative. Yes, it's torquey and responsive, but the sound is like a kitchen appliance and acceleration is at times both snatchy and not linear. It's just 7hp more powerful and is slower against the clock than the non-hybrid: case closed.
Note, there's still no diesel. This is intentional: the major markets for the LS don't like diesel and Lexus believes the smooth running and vibration-free silky-smooth nature of petrol still has appeal to selected buyers. Sample the LS 460 and you may well agree.
Ride and handling
You'll be hard pressed to notice much difference with the standard car over the old one. It has a nicely supple roll along feel thanks to soft air suspension and relaxed settings: five-setting suspension adjustment can be dialled in to reduce this but not fully eliminate it. Very much a cruiser.
Lexus says it's fundamentally changed the setup of the variable suspension but only back-to-back drives will reveal the benefits. Until, that is, you sample the F-Sport. Here is the LS that validates Lexus' talk of greater driver focus promises.
Satisfying enough for those who like to drive
At first, it's not much different, despite 10mm lower suspension and 19-inch wheels. Dial up 'Sport+' mode, though; roll and float are cut, steering sharpened, front-end bite improved and the overall dynamic feel of the car gains attitude.
It's not a saloon sports car like a Jaguar XJ, but it'll be just satisfying enough for those who like to drive - particularly as a Torsen limited-slip differential and six-pot Brembo brakes give it the additional mechanical integrity to support its newfound vim.
There are few changes to the overall layout of the interior: the infuriating mouse-style central screen controller remains, there remain more buttons than a haberdashers, but comfort and ambience are plush and both space and layout are hard to fault. The rear of the long-wheelbase car is vast.
Quite a place to enjoy the new Climate Concierge air con, fitted as standard to this version. A world first, it uses infra red sensors to watch passengers' faces and assess their body temperature. Creating truly bespoke climate control for anyone. Quite incredible.
The F-Sport is the one Brits will prefer. It has bespoke sports seats, which are both soft yet supportive in equal measure, plus black leather with aluminium highlights and a moody black rooflining. The effect alone lowers the perceived age of the LS by two or three decades.
The old LS was already one of the quietest cars in this class. Lexus reckons this one is even quieter and, save for a bit of wind rustle at speed, it's hard to disagree. Perfect for enjoying the upgraded Mark Levinson stereo.
We did find Lexus' claim of reducing the button count rather amusing though - there are rows of buttons seemingly everywhere - and the graphics on both the sat nav and rear climate control displays are a bit dated (particularly so in the rear). Overall though, it's a great car to be a passenger in.
One advantage of choosing the LS 460 instead of the LS 600h is a bigger boot, 505 litres instead of 330 litres. Sounds a minor point but Lexus reckons this was actually putting off buyers of the old car. They, see, like to play golf, with their pals, electric golf cart in tow. Simply wouldn't fit in the hybrid, with its boot 15% smaller than a VW Golf...
You'd think this would be a Lexus strong point, given the firm's reputation. Not so. That eco LS 600h hybrid? Returns 32.8mpg, emits 199g/km; a BMW 740d does 49.6mpg and emits 149g/km.
The LS 460 is thirstier still, at 26.4mpg, but as it's £20,000 less, it's still the choice even for penny-pinchers. Besides, the comparable BMW 750i does 32.8mpg, so only 6.4mpg better...
The MSN Cars verdict
Lexus hasn't toppled the current Mercedes S-Class, so should fear next year's all-new one. The Jaguar XJ is also a more appealing car, while the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series are better. The LS is better than it was but it still missed the mark.
The F-Sport is closer than the rest, while the reintroduction of the old LS 460 shows the hybrid to be an expensive folly. Buy an F-Sport over a supercharged Jag XJ and we'd understand your thinking. As for the others, be sure to drive the competition before you sign up...
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