The Lexus LS has been a firm favourite of the UAE for years, and the fifth generation is here
Road Test: 2013 Lexus LS460
Has any luxury car made an impact on the market quite like that of the Lexus LS? I doubt it. When the first model (it was actually the first ever Lexus) was unveiled in 1989, it sent shockwaves through the European and American establishment, showing Cadillac, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and the like that the Japanese meant business. That they could, if they put their minds to it, take them on at their own game, taking away tens of thousands of their customers at a stroke.
It's reckoned that about five per cent of LS sales in its first year were to those rival manufacturers, who set about dismantling them to see how the new upstart had managed to build something so impressive with no prior history. It was an extraordinary turn of events.
You can still see many examples of that first LS hammering along the UAE's highways, usually with their main beams set to "strobe", forcing their way through dense commuter traffic. They appear to be indestructible, and still manage to appeal to buyers in the used car market, with each successive generation becoming more refined, and more popular, than the one to go before it. And now the fifth is with us, Lexus promising the world that the LS is now a luxury car that will appeal to enthusiastic drivers as well as backseat passengers.
Physically, the main differences between this and the outgoing model relate to the front end of the car. Lexus has been drip-feeding its new design language into its range over the past few months and, while it's aggressive alright, it doesn't do it for me personally. From the side and rear, however, it remains a quite handsome machine, but it's when you're inside the new model that the progress is most manifest.
The attention to detail in the LS interior borders on the obsessive - something appreciated by Lexus owners, who choose value for money over brand loyalty to the competition. There's a new, optional Shimamoku interior finish (it roughly translates as "striped wood"), which involves the layering of dark and light veneers in a process that Lexus claims to require no fewer than 67 steps over a period of 38 days. In any case, the materials used in any new LS are of extremely high quality and there's a delightful tactility to anything you care to stroke with your fingers.
Rear passengers, depending on which options were ticked in the dealership, can luxuriate in either individual or bench seating, and there's a great deal of legroom, particularly in the long-wheelbase model I'm testing. This car has the bench seat to the rear, with one side featuring an "ottoman" seat that reclines like one you'd find in a business class airline cabin. There isn't much that Lexus hasn't thought of here, and the seats themselves are extremely comfortable.
But it's this rear seating that gives me the hump because, while the entertainment system does feature a Blu-ray player and a large, high-definition television screen, there's only a single viewing point. Rather than having a screen in the rear of each of the two front seats, there's a single, almost vertical screen that sits proud on the centre console that divides the two front chairs. As a result, the rear quarters are effectively cut off from the front, meaning it both looks nasty and prevents a front passenger reaching back to even place a bag or sort out problems with squabbling kids. I really do not like this - in fact, it would be a deal breaker for me if it was my money on the table. I'd rather do without it altogether, as it's the only thing that lets down an otherwise exemplary cabin.
But what of Lexus' claims that this new LS is, at last, a true driver's car? That really depends on what you want out of your driving experience, because the LS460 is supremely fast, comfortable, refined and quiet. It's a four-wheeled relaxation spa, not a sporty weekend chariot to tear up and down Jebel Hafeet in. The new model is, indeed, more planted and confident through the twisties, but it weighs (depending on the model) up to 2,815kg, and no amount of adaptive suspension can keep that from rolling about.
Instead, view the new LS as an improvement over the old in practically every single aspect. Some are more noticeable than others, granted, but Lexus has done a fine job of taking one of this nation's favourite cars and making it better. If you want a large luxury car that's a hoot to drive, get yourself a Jaguar XJ. But make no mistake, the LS continues to do what it always did best: provide the most serene way of traveling by road, this side of a Rolls-Royce.