The LS500h marks Lexus’s flagship model. A 5.25-meter-long Limousine with many more options you might expect because the car is able to impress in many ways, too. But can the Japanese luxury-liner compete with the German competitors from Audi, BMW and of course, Mercedes-Benz? Let’s find out.
The LS500h is a boat. Literally. The car shown is a Lexus LS 500h (Multi-Stage-Hybrid) with the optional “Excellence” Package. It sets you back 27’000 CHF on top of the base price, speaking of 135`000 CHF. On top, the car has a few extra options like the metallic paintjob (Mangan Silver, 1’990.00 CHF extra) and a special leather option leading to the final price of 192’390 CHF. A huge number. At least for a huge car.
Walking towards the car makes you feel like a president. Especially when you take a seat on the Ottoman chair in the back and get chauffeured to your next destination like my girlfriend used to enjoy during our trip through the French Alsace.
The car itself looks futuristic compared to its competitors. Quite an advantage because the styling might still look contemporary in a few years. A layman won’t notice the LS’s age for sure.
What it’s all about
A pure luxurious driving experience as comfortable as possible. But in a Japanese way of understanding, speaking of special gimmicks, craftmanship and techniques only insides will recognize and probably properly appreciate. The LS tries to compete and keep up with the German dominance in the luxurious segment.
The downsizing-trend has reached the full-size limousines, too. Lexus shortened their V8 option to a V6 engine combined with a hybrid system and a combined power output of 350hp. And in my humble opinion, the drivetrain is the LS’s limping leg. A V8 engine would have that prestige, majestic and sublime feeling of superiority which I have missed in this car. I think that the Sublimity gets lost due to the Lexus’s CVT transmission. A Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) does not use gears like a basic automatic transmission. Rather, it makes use of 2 pulleys linked by a belt. It’s a little bit like a snowmobile transmission: One pulley links to the engine, the other one to the transmission. The belt transfers the power in between them. As the name suggests, this transmission adjusts settings continuously which leads to a very monotonic engine noise I remember hearing from the regular Toyota Hybrid cars like the Auris and Prius. Additionally, the LS feels underpowered at higher speeds, especially on the motorway.
Despite having a lack of power, the LS500h is a very prestigious, comfortable cruiser and traveling companion.
To the interior
The LS’s interior attracts almost everyone. Of course, because isn’t an average car at all. But it seems to impress. Including myself!
When you open the door, the seats are setting back automatically and move back onto your beloved and comfortable position as soon as you have fastened your seat belt. Even the illuminated belt buckle moves back down after getting the seat belt on. The driver’s seat resets to the beloved position after turning on the car’s ignition. On the other way the seats return to their regular position just after you’re opening the door.
But what sets the Lexus apart from its competitors are the nice Japanese peculiarities such as Nishijin-ori or Haku, both centuries-old, traditional handicraft techniques from the land of the rising sun. It also cast a spell over the passenger and ensure a very own oasis of well-being. Nishijin-ori is the art of weaving using flat silver threads. The pattern woven into the door panels is said to be reminiscent of waves in the moonlight. And Haku is a process in which metal is rolled so thin that ultimately only a film no more than two microns thick remains. This is then applied by hand by Takumi masters in the area around the interior door handles.
The shown “Excellence” version marks the highest interior trim level. It includes the back seat entertainment system, the relax Ottomann-chair, obviously electric sun visors, seat massage in front and back and a Mark Levinson® Reference Surround Sound System with 23 speakers. Only a small fridge between the back seats is missing.
Regarding the music, especially the entertainment system: Because of the possibility to listen to music in the back seats separately, it is a bit tedious until the smartphone finally connects to the Apple Car Play. In addition to that, I often had to reconnect my phone.
At least the LS has a huge touch screen where you can do all the settings instead with the still existing fussily working touch pad in the center console like in the Lexus LC500. A big plus on that!
Furter on, the materials are a big plus, too. Finest leather and Nishijin-ori artwork all over the place make you feel like you are in the secret pantry of a Japanese textile factory. The composition of the materials feels very bespoke and high quality. The Nishijin-ori door panels truly captivated me. A true work of art. But I’m still struggling if this interior option would be worth over 17’500.00 CHF, almost 1/10 on top of the car’s price. I mean that you’re getting leather anyway. Honestly, I'm still torn what to think about this expensive option.
Now what to buy
Everyone has its own preferences. And as I have experienced, buyers of luxurious cars mostly stick to their beloved brands. A typical human thing because people do not like to change to something they haven’t any experiences with. And this might probably be Lexus’s main issue to sell their cars in bigger numbers all over Europe.
As a supporter for individualistic cars and niche products I can highly recommend having at least a look at the LS500h. It’s totally worth to check this car out. It is such a great ride. The Lexus can absolutely compete with the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series. Although Mercedes-Benz is still that brand to set the bar a level higher than its competitors and will probably remain up there. A subjective comment for sure. But I think that I’m not alone sharing this opinion.
To end this review, I wanted to thank Lexus Switzerland, for an unforgettable opportunity to have a go in their Lexus LS 500h Excellence which they had in their press fleet. A car I could live with for sure but won’t buy at all due the huge depreciation almost any luxury car has to fight with. But as a used, maybe two-year-old car, the Lexus LS500h might be a solid and very individualistic choice to stand out.