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Lexus LS 350 Review: Harbinger of fun

Lexus sets its phasers to stun with a lovely-looking, sharp-driving LS limousine.

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San Francisco

IN 1989, Lexus disrupted the luxury car world with its flagship model, the LS. It wrenched buyers away from German luxury cars by delivering unheard-of levels of performance mixed with supreme comfort.

Over the years, the LS has remained in that groove of being fast and ultra-refined, without quite managing to be the most exciting car - either to look at or to drive. If anything, the LS has always been the equivalent of a strait-laced butler, capable of meeting any demand but raises a disapproving eyebrow at any shenanigans on the master's part.

This model turns all of that history on its head.

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A glance at the new, fifth-generation LS is enough to tell you it's far more a Batmobile than an Alfred. Koichi Suga, its chief designer, told The Business Times that it was done entirely on purpose.

Lower, wider, and looking more like a sporty coupe than a chauffeur's office, it's the first LS we've driven that draws eyeballs without a celebrity in the back seat.

Its front end is a riot of aggressive angles and bold surfaces, none more so than the huge spindle grille, which is not only loud but incredibly intricate. Mr Suga said it contains 5,000 individual surfaces that took six months of computer-aided design to perfect.

That meticulous attention to detail, or what Lexus proudly terms its takumi (craftsmanship) spirit, is also strongly present in the interior with its fine material choices and plush-feeling buttons and well-honed controls.

This time, it's mixed with plenty of technology, such as the improved infotainment system and active driver's instruments. The Lexus boasts the largest, full-colour head-up display for the driver as well.

A hermetically-sealed cabin with top-notch refinement is a Lexus hallmark, but that's been honed further as the car glides silently on most roads, banishing discomfort and noise with ease, thanks to improved air suspension and active noise cancelling, like the kind found in airplane and some audiophile headsets.

It also does a fair job of emulating First Class travel. Our test car came with adjustable rear seats that incorporate ventilation/heating and massage functions. With the front seat stowed away, it delivers more than a metre of legroom, probably enough to keep an NBA player happy.

But what we like most is how the best seat in the house is no longer in the back, but the one behind the wheel.

Feelsome steering, lots of grip and eagerness to change direction mean it's easy to forget you're driving a luxury limo if you don't glance over your shoulder.

A near 2m-wide luxury limousine is usually no fun for narrow, forest-lined lanes, but the LS has that rare quality of seeming to shrink around the driver, so the experience behind the wheel is no longer about conservatively avoiding trees but seeing how quickly you can hurtle around them.

But perhaps the biggest thing to hit the Lexus LS is the smallest engine in the model's history. It's still a 3.5-litre V6, so it's not exactly small, but prior to this, you'd have to stomach the road tax bill for a 4.6-litre V8 engine with your LS.

Now, all versions of the LS have a 3.5-litre engine in varying forms: The entry-level LS 350, a pricier and more powerful LS 500 (to which two turbochargers are added), and the flagship LS 500h (which has fancy hybrid electric hardware).

Having tested all three models, the LS 350 is the most fun to sling around corners. It has less weight over the nose, and feels noticeably more agile as a result. The power-hungry needn't apply, but 311hp is still nothing to sniff at and the car's still more than decently quick.

In Singapore, where small engines are more popular than big ones (even in big cars), the LS 350's appearance could spell better sales figures for the LS. That makes moving away from its go-big-or-go-home approach to engines a smart decision for Lexus, and could boost LS sales.

Replacing the car's staid, stately personality with a more vibrant and engaging one is another clever move. By turning the LS into a car with sharp looks and sharp drive, Lexus is effectively aiming to disrupt not just the limousine market this time, but its own history as well.


Lexus LS 350

  • Engine 3,456cc, 24v, V6
  • Power 311hp at 6600rpm
  • Torque 380Nm at 4800-4900rpm
  • Gearbox 10-speed automatic
  • Top Speed 250km/h
  • 0-100km/h 6.5 seconds
  • Fuel efficiency 9.6L/100km
  • CO2 No data
  • Price TBA
  • Agent Borneo Motors
  • Available 2018