Lexus LS 500h review
The luxurious Lexus LS 500h is the only luxury hybrid saloon on the market right now. However, new hybrid or plug-in hybrid versions of the Mercedes S Class and Audi A8 are expected to appear in the near future, and the Lexus is very close in price to the all-electric Tesla Model S.
The LS 500h is a relatively rare sight on Britain's roads; its maker doesn't expect to sell more than 100 in Britain before the end of 2018. If you do see one, though, you'll recognise it instantly. Its curvaceous outline looks more hatchback than saloon and, though its huge, angular front grille and aggressive z-shaped headlights rather polarise opinion, there's no dispute that it makes a statement.
And that's a big part of what the LS 500h is about. Choosing one marks you as somebody who doesn't follow the crowd. Its unique style continues inside, too, where things are perhaps even more individual thanks to a wide, sculpted dashboard with high-quality metal inlays and a sleek layout that avoids being too heavy on buttons.
It's fair to say that the LS 500h – despite its hybrid nature – doesn't stack up particularly well if your sole aim is to save money or protect the environment, though. With no model claiming more than 43.5mpg, plug-in hybrid rivals have the Lexus licked for economy, on paper at least, and soundly beat it for CO2 emissions, too. The LS 500h is more competitive against diesel alternatives in these areas, but is considerably more expensive to buy than most of them, too. And, although Lexus says that it can offer true zero-emissions motoring at up to 87mph, it falls short of claiming an official battery range.
If you're looking for standard equipment, though, you're looking in the right place. There are four versions to choose from and they become increasingly opulent as you ascend the price list. Entry level models – named simply LS 500h – pack all the luxury features that buyers of this type of car expect. There's climate control, electrically adjusted leather seats with heating and ventilation, sat-nav, active cruise control and autonomous emergency braking.
There's a more aggressively styled F Sport that introduces a racier interior environment, while the LS 500h Luxury brings lavish features like adjustable, heated, ventilated rear seats and a 23-speaker stereo. The flagship Premier model goes even further, providing rear seat occupants with an entertainment system and a seat massage function, as well as an 'ottoman' feature that provides the left-hand passenger with a footrest and increased legroom.
It's perhaps a shame, then, that Lexus has done such an uneven job of balancing passenger comfort and driver appeal. Even the F Sport, with its active rear-wheel steering, fails to match the BMW 7 Series for agility – pronounced body lean does little to encourage keen driving on a twisty road.
Meanwhile, even with the air suspension of Luxury and Premier models, the standard 20-inch alloy wheels send pothole shocks through the car's structure, which a Mercedes S-Class would soak up with ease. And, while the V6 petrol engine and electric motor combine to provide more than enough power, they make rather too much noise for truly effortless acceleration.
With a first-place finish in our 2018 Driver Power survey, there's no doubting Lexus' reputation for owner satisfaction, but that alone isn't enough to earn the LS 500h our unreserved recommendation. Although some may love its fiercely individual character inside and out, it's badly shown up by rivals in the areas where it has the potential to shine.
Company car users will find plug-in hybrids offer considerable tax advantages, while those for whom fuel consumption is the focus, a conventional diesel would be better suited. The all-electric Tesla Model S is only a little more expensive, too, and scores just as highly where it comes to individuality. There's a lot to like about the LS 500h, but seems set to remain a rare sight on Britain's roads.
For a more detailed look at the Lexus LS 500h, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.