Since the launch of the original Lexus LS back in 1989, which also spearheaded Toyota’s charge in competing squarely with the premium German triumvirate, it has remained a very important model for the marque. With each new generation the model has managed to up the ante as far as technological aspects are concerned. Of course, going toe-to-toe with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, in particular, and the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series in general, will take some doing, but after sampling the latest LS 500 F Sport, I think that the Japanese luxury brand is finally carving a good niche for itself.
Now I am quite cognisant of what a momentous task it is to try and beat the Germans at their own game, what with many having tried their luck and came unstuck, Lexus decided to carry on its trajectory of offering an alternative to the establishment. Consistency, it would seem, is starting to pay some dividends for Lexus as it marginally managed to grow its market share locally in recent times. Of course, the ES had a major role to play on that front, so too did the NX and LX, the latter soon to get an update. However, back to the LS, which is now in its fifth generation has managed to change the status quo as it marks the first LS generation to not feature a V8 engine in the line-up. And while that might sound sacrilegious, there’s method to the madness on Lexus’ part, and I will elaborate on that later.
There is a great deal of craftmanship that went into the interior such as the intricate stitching on the door panels, the airvents that run the entire expanse of the dash. There are aluminium trimmings abound, including the foot pedals, while F Sport specific items such as the steering wheel instrument cluster and seats, which in our test car is finished in a black and white accent. Criticisms, however, can be levelled at the pseudo alcantara roof lining and the flimsy-looking leather of the gear lever boot, which detracts from an otherwise classy cabin. Then there is the infotainment’s track pad controller, which is anything but intuitive to use and Lexus will do best to replace it with a more workable solution. Other than that, the rest of the cabin appointments live up to the model’s sporty executive disposition.
As mentioned, prior, this is the first LS in the lineage that forgoes V8 power in favour of a 3.5-litre twin turbo V6 that delivers 310 kW and 600 Nm and, to be frank, it is a worthy replacement. Allied to the 10-speed automatic gearbox – essentially a four-speed automatic transmission with six planetary cogs – the LS delivers smooth, progressive power throughout the rev range. We managed around 8.4-litres per 100km with some careful driving and saw a worst figure of around 11.4-litres per 100km when we attempted to use the entire quota of 310 kW. Speaking of which, the engine feels particularly peaky in Sport + mode and takes a bit to get going until you hit the 3,500r/min twilight zone where it really begins to make some haste.
Thanks to the F Sport air suspension, the LS remains ever so composed despite the large alloy wheels, while it remains an entertaining thing to hurl into corners with verve, responding with the dexterity befitting a much more compact sport saloon. Yes, the LS F Sport manages to blend its executive disposition with sporty elements to arrive at a saloon that is all things to most people.
At a sticker price of R2 103 600, it does command a higher capital layout than its German equivalents, and this would be its undoing. On the contrary, it matches them on most fronts, and is decidedly more refined in my books. It might not have the heritage nor prestige among many players in this space, but the residuals are quite similar, the latter an inherent trait of the segment.
It might not be the first port of call for those looking for a sporty yet executive saloon, but I can recommend that it is a worthy alternative to the Germans and, to be frank, I have never driven a more exciting Lexus since the IS F some moons ago and that, alone, speaks huge volumes of the LS 500 F Sport's overall repertoire.