Stunning attention to detail, exquisite material choice and splendid crafting: Alvin Thomas discovers how the Japanese luxury sedan leaves its famed rivals miles behind in interior dynamics
The automotive community is a waggish crowd: You have fanboys and girls lining up at clubs or meets – or, as is the case now, at groups and forums online – to discuss their love for their favourite cars. It’s uncanny, I tell you. I, for instance, am a (joyful) member of one of the lesser prestigious forums on the internet.
Nevertheless, this is the point I’m trying to make: Segments of cars have a galore of forums for their members – and one of the stalwart clubs floating around the car scene is the one that houses the royalties – the ones that are proud members of luxury sedans.
So, what sort of cars do you think feature in these forums? Well, it’s rather simple, actually: Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi – the Holy Trio, as I like to call it. What more can possibly be featured?
That’s where things slowly start to change. One new entrant is beating (rather violently) its way into these clubs, and is darn nearly annihilating its counterparts from Germany.
It’s the warrior from Japan – the Lexus LS – and it bows to everyone in the crowd with its shinjitsu; it stands for what it has always stood for: luxury – and that makes this one of the most desirable luxury sedans out there.
The LS, ladies and gentlemen, is no longer the underdog; it’s the one that every car wants to be and the car you never knew you needed. Trust me when I say that.
Let’s start things off with the exterior. The LS looks virile and like nothing else in the market; it makes cars like the gorgeous Aston Martin Vantage and even the Alfa Romeo Giulia (a car that I absolutely adore) look like they were designed in
The LS, with its oversized spindle grill and electric-bolt-like headlamps, pushes car design to the very limits. Oh, and if you didn’t notice, the daytime running light splits into three separate strands to give the front a three-dimensional look (not that it needed it).
Apart from that, there are several chisels and slits upfront that lets the car ahead of you know of your presence. From some angles, the LS looks like an elongated sports car.
The rear complements the quirky design too. Sure, it’s not as razor sharp as the fascia, but it’s still out there, with its swooping (or shall I say drooping) tail lamps that continues to indent the bumper. The rear is completed with faux dual chrome-tipped exhausts.
Jumping into the car reveals a whole different cosmos (you’ll see why I said that later) altogether. I was expecting it to be reminiscent of the one from the Cadillac CT6 that I tested a while ago; but the LS – even in the base 350 variant – trumps it with room to spare.
It’s hard to point at what makes the interior stand out, so I’m going to start with the 12.3-inch screen. It first comes to life when you push the start button, and it plays a short clip of the Lexus badge coming to life from among the stars – it’s to die for. Although, I suspect you’d enjoy that after playing it for the millionth time.
Then there’re the metal elements – six chrome lines – that start from the driver door and all the way to the passenger door. The doors itself have accented panels on them – one finished in leather, the other in metal (or real wood depending on trim) and the last one in stitched leather. The attention to detail is unbelievable – the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, even with its dual screens, is light years away from the Lexus.
The steering, meanwhile, is a derivation from the Lexus IS, but it feels more plush and matured. The buttons on the wheel, however, are easy to use.
What will take some getting used to is the infotainment mousepad. It has a learning curve, but once you learn where the menus and the controls are, and disable the haptic feedback, it’s rather simple to operate.
As expected, there’s plenty of room upfront and in the back. Passengers above six feet can also enjoy sitting in the rear without any discomfort. All the seats are finished in high-grade leather and are well bolstered. The seats up front have great lumbar support too and offer heating and ventilation.
My tester LS 350 came packing a 3.5-litre V6 motor breathing out 311hp and 379Nm of torque. The car definitely needs more grunt, but there’s a hybrid version and there’ll be a twin-turbo variant of this very engine in the future.
The torque kicks in at about 4900rpm and slowly revs its way to 6600rpm, which is when the power takes over. Still, acceleration isn’t what I’d call blistering, and it takes about 6.5 seconds to hit the 100kph mark from a standstill.
The engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to the rear wheels. While 10 speeds on a gearbox is overkill, it’s interesting to see the gears shift seamlessly from one to six, while using the other four for overdrive. Ideally, this should improve fuel economy and also increase smoothness in the cabin.
The smoothness and the superior comfort can also be put down to the brilliantly tuned suspension and the supple Bridgestone tyres. The Lexus’ strong suite has always been that it has never really tried to take on the giants from Germany in performance – and that’s what makes this generation of the car even more distinct.
Its focus is completely on the interior dynamics: comfort, driving easiness and luxury that swathes the occupants. And on those fronts, the Lexus LS 350 delivers. I know I’ll be criticised for saying this, but I’ve driven the competing versions of all of the Lexus’ German and American rivals, and none can quite deliver the ride comfort and luxury as is seen in the LS 350 – and that tells you how chucking marvellous a car this is. That’s the mark of a true-to-the-core Japanese sedan.