By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
Normally when we think of a hybrid vehicle, we think of something small and reasonably priced like the Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion or Honda Insight. However, as manufacturers work to achieve higher mandated fuel economy levels, the hybrid lineups are expanding to the larger and more luxurious models. As a bonus, the hybrids have allowed engineers to improve performance in the process by combining the gasoline engine and electric motor output using the instant torque of the electric motors.
The Conspicuous Hybrid
One of the more conspicuous hybrids, in terms of luxury, size and price, is the Lexus LS 500h. In the world of luxury sedans, the Lexus LS is royalty with consistently top levels of passenger pampering and cutting-edge technologies.
The LS 500h sets new levels of powertrain sophistication using a 295-hp 3.5-liter V-6, Multistage Hybrid Power System with two water-cooled electric motors, an electronic continuously variable transmission and a four-speed transmission. Combined the system produces 354 horsepower; plus, it is available in rear- or all-wheel drive.
A Fast-Full-Size Luxury Cruiser
Performance is impressive, especially for a 2.5-ton full-size luxury cruiser. Think about 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and a top speed of 136 mph. That compares with the 4.6 second 0 to 60 mph run and the same top speed as the gasoline-powered 416-hp twin-turbo V-6 engine in the LS 500.
Luxury Cruising at 33 MPG
The EPA fuel economy rating for the LS Hybrids is 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. We averaged 31.9 mpg during our week of pampered driving. The gasoline-only version is rated at 19/29/23-mpg. While that’s not a massive improvement, but it’s still significant.
The 2018 LS 500h pricing starts at $80,505, including the destination charge, for the rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive adds $3,220. The Hybrid is priced $4,510 more than the rear-wheel drive gasoline version and $6,000 more for the AWD. Although very well equipped at the base level, Lexus allows for a high degree of personalization in the form of about $35,000 in options. Our test vehicle totaled $104,720 after a dozen options were added.
New from the Ground Up for 2018
The Lexus LS is new from the ground up for 2018 and is built on Lexus’ new global rear-wheel drive architecture for luxury vehicles (GA-L). It is the stiffest Lexus platform ever and it helps the LS achieve an outstanding balance between comfort and handling. The big Lexus sedan’s new design is longer, lower and wider with a coupe-like silhouette. As good-looking as the new LS 500h is, we thought the front spindle grille is getting too big and is a little overwhelming.
Symbol of Lexus Brand
Chief Designer Koichi Suga explains, “The LS is the flagship of the Lexus brand. More than any other model, it embodies the history and image of Lexus and serves as a symbol for everything the brand stands for.”
The interior styling is dramatic with strong wave-like lines and traditional Japanese aesthetics mixed with precise feeling controls and large state of the art video displays. The interior ambient lighting is inspired by Japanese Andon lanterns and armrests seem to float next to door panels. A discriminating shopper could add an Executive Package with Kiriko Glass option ($23,080) which adds the famous Kiriko Glass to interior door trim along with an extensive list of pampering features like multifunction Shiatsu massagers, rear ottomans and other luxury comfort accoutrements. This is the limousine version of the LS model.
Sensitive Touch Pad
We liked most of the driver controls but thought the console-mounted touch pad was overly sensitive for our awkward fingers. Perhaps if we were more familiar with the touch pads on our laptops, rather than always using a mouse, we might be more comfortable with the pad. Plus, more practice would probably help, perhaps if we could extend our test to six months or a year?
Lexus points out that the new Dynamic Navigation system offers three enhanced features: greater accuracy through continuous cloud-based updates with Dynamic Map; alternative routes based on conditions ahead via Dynamic Route and Dynamic Points of Interest (POI), which automatically sorts POI results based on relevance; and search the cloud using conversational speech for addresses or POIs via Dynamic Voice Recognition system. The destinations we asked for were easily identified.
It’s hard to find any fault with the LS 500h. It’s very fast and the handling is good for such a large sedan. It’s also one of the more comfortable and quiet cars we’ve ever driven. This certainly is a car to consider for those with a high enough income level to buy the expensive hybrid and the desire to be pampered.