Lexus’s hybrid LS limo is back for its most determined attempt yet to shake up the luxury car class. That means beating the Audi A8
*** Note : £1 = $1.33 (correct at time of post)
Audi A8 50 TDI quattro
- List price £69,415
- Target Price £63,446
The current benchmark in the luxury car class is back to defend its five-star rating.
Lexus LS 500h Luxury AWD
- List price £82,595
- Target Price £79,642
Lexus’s striking new flagship is a technological tour de force with a hybrid powertrain.
“The drive to the conference was great. Nose to tail.” So says Audi’s double-page advert for the new A8. We thought it was rather clever; just 10 words overlaying an interior picture of the car are enough, it would seem, to describe exactly what a luxury saloon should be about. And Audi knows a thing or two about luxury.
The A8 saw off the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class to be named best luxury car in the £50,000 to £100,000 price bracket at our 2018 Car of the Year Awards. With a beautifully built interior, a powerful yet refined 3.0-litre diesel engine and a ride quality that puts even the Rolls-Royce Ghost to shame, the A8 has simply wafted past all the competition.
And yet, just as you find in business, it’s best not to get too complacent; there’s always a new start-up waiting to muscle in on your share of the market. And in this case, it’s the new Lexus LS that wants a piece of Audi’s comprehensive pie.
Now, it’s stretching things to describe the LS as a plucky newcomer – indeed, its family tree runs back to the late 1980s – but such is the reinvention of this fifth-generation model that it genuinely feels like a new competitor. While the previous car wasn’t exciting to look at or drive, this new model has a sloping roofline to give it a striking silhouette and it’s packed with technology aimed at beating the A8 at its own game.
Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation,” novelist Herman Melville once said. This quote seems rather apt when it comes to describing the LS, because instead of imitating its German rivals by fitting a diesel engine, Lexus has instead decided to go down the route of petrol-electric hybrid power.
Around town, that decision makes sense. While the A8’s 3.0-litre diesel sounds slightly gravelly just above idle, the LS remains virtually silent, thanks to the wonders of electric propulsion. It’s a serene experience and one that simply can’t be replicated by a conventionally powered car, no matter how many layers of sound deadening you fit.
However, unlike a Porsche Panamera 4 e-Hybrid, the LS is not a plug-in hybrid, so you get electric power in small bursts only. That means you have to rely mostly on the LS’s 3.5-litre six-cylinder petrol engine once you’re out of town – and this presents two problems.
The first is that the LS’s engine is coarser than the A8’s, and the second is that, once the battery that powers the electric motor has been depleted, what you’re left with is a rather thirsty two-tonne petrol limo. And neither of these issues is helped by the elastic nature of the CVT automatic gearbox, which causes the revs to flare with even the smallest prod of the accelerator.
The A8 scores even more points over the LS when it comes to handling. On fast country roads, the willingness with which the A8 turns in to corners, while still keeping body movements under control, is impressive for such a large car. Meanwhile, the LS’s light steering doesn’t build enough weight to instill confidence in the driver, and there’s quite a bit more body roll through corners.
In cars like these, a crucial area to get right is ride quality – and here the A8 is again streaks ahead of the LS. The LS frequently shimmies and thumps over potholes and expansion joints, whereas the A8 simply translates those impacts into registrable but untroubling patters. It’s one of the best-riding cars we’ve ever tested.
Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality
Finding an ideal driving position in either car is a breeze. Their electric front seats both include four-way adjustable lumbar support, and the LS’s even have a massage function. The A8’s move to a touchscreen for functions such as the climate control and heated seats is a backward step, though, because it means adjusting the temperature on the move is trickier than it should be. The LS’s physical buttons for the air-con are far easier to operate.
Despite their substantial length and width, neither car is intimidating or difficult to see out of, thanks to decent-sized side windows and windscreen pillars that aren’t too thick. Parking is a different matter, of course, but both come with rear parking sensors and reversing cameras as standard – although the LS’s camera is surprisingly low in resolution.
Both cars are beautifully put together. The switches and dials all operate incredibly slickly and the interior panels fit perfectly to give a general feeling of plush luxury. If anything, it’s the LS that has the edge for quality, with its plastics and trim pieces feeling even more robust than the A8’s.
The LS has an impressive 12.3in infotainment screen, but the system is accessed via a fiddly touchpad controller between the seats, so it’s particularly tricky to operate while driving. The LS partly makes up for this with its beautifully balanced 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. The equivalent Bang & Olufsen system in the A8 comes in at a whopping £6350. Then again, the LS doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
The A8’s infotainment system is operated via a 10.1in touchscreen, mounted above the 8.6in one for the climate control. The absence of physical buttons can make it tricky to use on the move, but a combination of a high-resolution screen and haptic feedback ensures that it gets easier with experience. DAB radio, Bluetooth, sat-nav, wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirrroring are all standard.
Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot
Despite the fact that both cars occupy the same luxury limo class, the A8 and LS excel in very different areas when it comes to space and practicality.
For both front and rear seat occupants, the LS offers the most leg room – by far. In fact, should you move the front passenger seat all the way forward, a rear seat passenger of average height won’t even be able to touch the seat in front with their toes.
Head room is a different story, though. In both the front and the rear of the LS, tall adults will find their heads brushing against the roof – something they won’t have an issue with in the A8 – and although the LS’s standard 18-way-adjustable rear seats help to mitigate the problem if you choose to recline them, adults much over six feet tall might still feel a bit claustrophobic.
Despite the LS’s vast length, its boot is around 75 litres smaller than the A8’s, swallowing seven carry-on suitcases to the A8’s eight. The A8 also comes with the option of folding rear seats, something you can’t get on the LS.
- Official boot capacity 430 litres
- Suitcase capacity 7
The LS is the longer car, so both front and rear seat occupants are treated to much more leg room. The rear seats are 18-way adjustable as standard. Taller adults might wish for more head room, though, due to the LS’s lower roof.
- Official boot capacity 505 litres
- Suitcase capacity 8
In standard-wheelbase guise, rear leg room isn’t as plentiful as you might expect, and adjustable rear seats are extra, but A8 has more head and shoulder room than LS. Its boot is a more practical shape, so it holds an extra suitcase.
Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security
The LS has a list price of just over £80,000 in our preferred mid-range Luxury trim and with four-wheel drive (to match the A8), making its rival look like a bargain. But don’t be fooled. The LS comes with a vast array of kit; spec an A8 to a similar level and you’d be looking at nearly £90,000.
No matter how you look at it, though, the LS is more expensive to insure, service and fuel. Slower depreciation should take some of the sting out of the LS’s hefty list price for private buyers, but that seems of little consolation when the LS costs £441 more a month on a PCP finance deal.
Anyone looking to run the LS as a company car, however, will find it a closer-run thing. If you compare both cars as standard models, the A8 will save anyone in the 40% tax bracket around £5000 over three years. However, once you factor in those aforementioned options on the A8, it’s actually the LS that comes out fractionally cheaper.
This latest version of the LS is Lexus’s most convincing attempt yet to build a competitive luxury limo. With distinctive looks, a beautifully crafted interior and a comprehensive list of standard equipment, it manages to stand out in a sector that is dominated by quite conservative Germanic styling and increasingly unfashionable diesel engines.
However, the LS misses the mark when it comes to achieving greatness. Not only does the A8 offer superior engine refinement at speed, a plusher ride and sharper handling, but it’s also cheaper to buy and run. So, once again, the A8 takes a convincing win and continues to lead the way in the luxury car class.
1st – Audi A8
For Plusher ride; more refined at high speeds; cheaper to buy and run
Against Not nearly as well equipped; average rear leg room; depreciation
Specifications: Audi A8 50 TDI quattro
- Engine 6cyl, 2967cc, diesel
- List price £69,415
- Target Price £63,446
- Power 282bhp @ 3750-4000rpm
- Torque 443Ib ft @ 1250-3250rpm
- Gearbox 8-spd automatic
- 0-60mph 5.9sec
- Top speed 155mph
- Gov’t fuel economy 50.4mpg
- CO2 emissions 145g/km
2nd – Lexus LS
For Holds its value better; near-silent around town; generous standard kit; more leg room
Against Mixed ride quality; limited rear head room; fiddly infotainment system
Specifications: Lexus LS 500h Luxury AWD
- Engine size 6cyl, 3456cc, petrol, plus electric motor
- List price £82,595
- Target Price £79,642
- Power 295bhp @ 6600rpm
- Torque 258Ib ft @ 5100rpm
- Gearbox 10-spd CVT automatic
- 0-60mph 6.4sec
- Top speed 155mph
- Gov’t fuel economy 39.8mpg
- CO2 emissions 161g/km