Road Test With a hybrid powertrain and plenty of room, this big Lexus might eventually appeal to Kevin Hackett.
Straighten your tie, it's business time in the 2012 Lexus LS
Dh472,000. That's a big chunk of change in almost anyone's book but, when it comes to luxury automobiles, not all that unusual. For that kind of money there's a wealth of choice out there, but let's dispense with the sports cars, shall we? Let's think instead of all the big, luxurious saloons on offer, predominately from European manufacturers. If you had that amount of cash at your disposal, just what would you choose to waft around in? BMW 7 Series? Mercedes-Benz S-Class? Jaguar XJ? A nearly new Bentley Continental Flying Spur, perhaps? Hmmm, how about a Toyota? What was that? No?
However, before you write off the Lexus LS 600hL as nothing but a posh Toyota (which essentially is exactly what it is), it's perhaps worth giving this Japanese luxobarge a chance to stake a claim to your small Dh472,000 fortune. Because while it may still have the wrong badge (seriously, the logo must have taken all of five minutes to design), Lexus reckons its big saloon is a worthy contender against the Germanic and British competition.
My experience with Lexuses (should that be Lexi?) has been rather limited so far. I've been sitting on the fence for years when it comes to the "posh Toyota" thing, hoping that, with more seat time in them, I'd be able to forget the stigma. So a chance to pilot a gargantuan LS 600hL for a few days was too good an opportunity to miss. Back in the UK, these models are relatively scarce, but here, they're quite ubiquitous. See a car hammering towards your rear bumper on the E11, headlamps flashing like there's some dire emergency to attend to, and chances are it'll be one of these. I make it my goal to be different. I'm actually going to drive this thing like it's meant to be driven. Sedately. That should get my fellow road users nice and confused.
There's another reason I'm keen to drive this white behemoth, though. That little "h" in its nomenclature tells those in the know that this is a hybrid. The "L" signifies an extra long (3.1 metre, no less) wheelbase. But before we get to some serious numbers and find out what it's like from within, I need to get something off my chest. While I've been willing to give Lexus the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the "posh Toyota" jibes, and while I've admired the handsome lines of the standard LS in the past, when I park this one next to a lowly Toyota Camry, the looks are way too close for comfort. The Camry just looks like this Lexus after it's spent too long in the washing machine at 60°C. For my Dh472,000, I'd be wanting something with gravitas, individuality and unabashed prestige - the opposite end of the evolutionary scale to a Camry.
There, that's better. Right then, let's see what this car is all about. It's a big, big hunk of metal. It's 5.2 metres long and almost two metres wide - it's nothing if not imposing. And ignoring the generic Camryesque looks, take a seat inside and you realise what this car is all about: absolute refinement and complete insulation from the outside world. This cabin is the personification of "well appointed" and even before it's turned a wheel I'm impressed by its ability to make you think all is well with the world. If I was a well-heeled company exec, I'd be happy enough ensconced in its rear quarters.
There's a plethora of electrical toy goodness to be fiddled with and enjoyed. Yet the plastic switches and buttons used to control them, as well as the soft plastics covering the dashboard and other surfaces, feel decidedly low rent when compared with the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar. An XJ, at least, would have everything covered with gorgeous, opulent leather. For a car that costs - and I know I'm labouring the point here - Dh472,000, I expect better, and so should you.
If the front of the cabin is comfortable and luxurious, it's nothing compared to the rear. For this is the Platinum model (there's another called "Prestige," which retails at a stillquite frightening Dh463,000), which means there are two rear seats as opposed to three. And the one on the opposite side to the driver rivals those found in a 747's business class. At the touch of a button, having made sure the front passenger seat is fairly well forward, this becomes a reclining ottoman. Not relaxing enough? Try the advanced massage function then. The two passengers I ferry around in the back during my time with the car reckon it's as good as it gets. Naturally there's also a DVD entertainment system for rear occupants and the controls are all neatly presented inside the centre armrest.
Bearing in mind that this is obviously a car where passengers are the main focus, I'm not expecting too much from the driving experience but the specification is still pretty impressive. Up front is a 5.0L V8 which, when combined with the extra poke that comes courtesy of that enormous bank of batteries in the boot, gives a peak output of 438hp. This car is also four-wheel drive, which does seem a bit pointless and if Lexus really was keen on reducing the environmental effect of this car, it could have saved some serious weight by keeping it as rear-wheel drive.
My first experience behind the wheel is rather embarrassing. With a glamorous young lady beside me, I follow instinct and place the keyless key fob thing in the centre console, press the brake pedal and the starter button. Nothing. Not one sign of life. Just an array of flashing lights on the digital display. After five attempts I start losing my rag - just what am I missing? And then I realise it isn't the car's fault, it's mine. The big Lexus is actually ready to roll, it's just that it does so initially on battery power alone so it's dead silent. I won't live this one down for a while.
The way it glides along at low speeds in complete silence is so weird it's almost hilarious. Pedestrians beware, in the wrong hands this thing is a stealth weapon.
As more oomph is required, the V8 rumbles into life yet this, too, is quite gentle and serene. It does become a bit more vocal when I mash the throttle and there's enough pace to perform some deft overtaking moves, but it still feels breathless compared to a BMW 750i or a supercharged XJ. Lexus claims it'll average 9.3L/100km but in real life it's more like 10.2L. Not bad but still not exactly green.
But you know what? It doesn't matter because this is as comfortable and refined on the move as a Rolls-Royce Phantom. As relaxing motoring experiences go, it's up there with the very best and I'm left extremely impressed by its composure and the ride, which feels like there's nothing mechanical going on underneath you whatsoever. It's a business class magic carpet.
The steering makes you feel rather disconnected, but that's the point. The outside world is something occupants of this car are protected from and, while I don't think I'll be buying one until I am at least 60 years old, if I was in senior management and an LS 600hL was on offer as the company car, I wouldn't be complaining too loudly. I'd be in the back, having a snooze, sleeping safe in the knowledge that it wasn't my own Dh472,000 spent on it.