Wait, what? Bentley confirms its first official entry in the ‘race to the clouds’
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A new Lexus LS?
Yep. Almost 30 years after the launch of the original – Lexus’s first car full stop – this is our first drive of the fifth-generation limo.
It will come with a choice of pure petrol and petrol-electric drivetrains, and it’s the hybrid LS500h we’ve driven here. It pairs a 3.5-litre petrol V6 with two electric motors for a 354bhp total, and you can have it with rear- or all-wheel drive. Its gearbox is a CVT.
The LS500 petrol is rear-driven only and uses a 416bhp twin-turbo V6 with a ten-speed auto – the same one that works really rather well in the Lexus LC500 sports car. The UK is likely to only get the hybrid, mind.
Is there loads of tech?
Naturally. There’s air suspension to keep the ride comfy and something called ‘Lexus Dynamic Handling’ to keep keener drivers happy.
But it’s the swathes of safety stuff – all combined into Lexus Safety System+ – that’s of interest here. Our first drive of the car has been limited to a toddle through Tokyo traffic with the aim of showing off its active cruise, lane keeping and lane change systems. The three combine to make this a semi self-driving saloon.
Like a Tesla Model S?
Kind of, and the technology is certainly similar. The key thing here is that Lexus doesn’t refer to it as ‘autopilot’ or anything else that might lead you to think you can press some buttons and then sit back. Or switch on your camera to record some unwise YouTube footage of the car doing all the work.
The car can keep in the centre of its lane, though only when you’ve set the active cruise control and taken your foot off the throttle. And it does so rather well. There’s none of the jutting between the white lines you get with some rivals’ systems and it’s all nice and smooth.
Obviously, you’re not meant to take your hands off the wheel. We did, and found a pretty lengthy period before the car asked us to grab the wheel again. Ignore it for too long and the LS draws itself to a gentle halt, sounds the horn and calls the emergency services, presuming you’re very unwell and need attention. So best not tease it too much and keep your hands close by.
What else does it do?
Lexus also boasts of the LS’s ability to change lanes itself. Hold the indicator down for a second or two and, so long as it’s clear behind you, the car will merge into the next lane, the direction chosen by whichever way you flicked the stalk.
Again, it’s very smooth, though the time it takes for you to hold the indicator down and the car to meticulously check its surroundings mean it would be far quicker and easier to just change lane yourself, via the usual blind spot checks and small steering inputs.
Tech for tech’s sake, then?
Not necessarily. Toyota – which Lexus is part of, don’t forget – is targeting zero road fatalities by focusing, one-by-one, on each type of road accident. So by fixing each with a bit of tech, it will eventually make a set of safety systems theoretically able to avoid each one. The haphazard motorway overtake looks to have been neutralised here, but this feature will probably make more sense when there’s a full suite of autonomy for it to work alongside.
What else have they focused on?
Parking accidents. The car is ready to trigger its brakes at very low speed, such as when you’re pulling out of a bay (when there could be oncoming cars or errant pedestrians) or creeping towards a wall or barrier (which you’ll need to, in order to fit the 5.2m LS in a space).
We got to have a go with both scenarios, with a child-sized doll playing the part of a passer-by behind the car where the rear-view mirror might not see. And both times the car beeped incessantly before stamping itself to a standstill when its warnings were ignored. Anti-crash tech isn’t new, of course, but it traditionally focuses on frontal impacts.
And what if I really want to drive it myself?
First impressions are that you’ll have bought the wrong limo. If you want a sharp-driving saloon car, there’s still nowt wrong with a Jaguar XJ or Porsche Panamera. The LS is a far waftier thing than either, especially if you’ve gone for this hybrid.
Comfort is the order of the day, even if the same sport mode selection dial from the Lexus LC500 coupe features above the steering wheel. In silent EV mode it’s pretty serene, though our car was keen to let tyre noise in. And engine noise too, when the V6 kicked in.
It feels like it’ll be swift enough outside of Tokyo traffic – 0-62mph is a claimed 5.4sec – and its all-wheel drive should make it a reasonably easy thing to hustle along, with the usual caveats associated with CVT gearboxes and their dull and sometimes clumsy responses. However, full judgement is reserved when we drive it at bigger speeds on better roads in a couple of months.
It’s a limo. How is it inside?
Serene and comfy enough to send a jet-lagged colleague straight into slumber. And more stylised and individual than any other Lexus saloon we’ve driven. The original LS launched to be a very rational purchase; 28 years on and its maker wants it to be more desirable.
So there’s complex sculpturing everywhere, right down to a dashboard that looks like it’s had guitar strings stretched taut across it. There’s even an ‘ornamentation panel’ on the passenger side, like in the new Rolls-Royce Phantom.
It’s the usual Lexus mixed bag, mind. A stunning dial setup is flanked by neat knurled switches, but nearby, an unintuitive mousepad system controls a media system that lacks the classy layout and typography of rival efforts.
We do like how much effort has been put into making it look different, though, even if the design outclasses the materials. The dramatic door inlays are modelled by origami, but house familiar plastic switches. But then, at a smidge over £70,000, prices start a lot lower than the outgoing LS, which bowed out in £100k top-spec trim only.