Kintsugi, otherwise known as ‘golden joinery’, is an age-old Japanese art form in which broken ceramics are repaired using precious metals. It is said that the philosophy promotes non-materialism, celebrates imperfection and embraces the fact that age and damage are simply part of life. In practice, it’s absolutely beautiful. A perfect jumping-off point, then, for Lexus’s newest slice of high-tech machinery, the LS 500 limousine – a car that’s righting the wrongs of the past in fine precious metal.
Just get an eyeful of it. Its large spindle grille reflects a dramatic departure in the limousine sector. Something not far removed from the LF-FC concept car that rolled on to the main stage at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2015; something looking nothing like the German proletariat Merc S-Class and BMW 7 Series that populate the sector. Nowadays, the East is where it’s all happening, theirs are the new capital cities of free-world economy: Beijing, Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul, not Berlin, Stockholm or Copenhagen. If a new era of Eastern influence is on the rise, consider the LS 500 a trailblazer. And yet, look a little deeper and you’ll find it’s as much about innovation as it is aesthetic expression. Overt, yes. Overly grand? Never.
When it was unveiled a decade ago, the previous LS grabbed a fair amount of attention for its whisper-smooth V8 motor, exceptional build quality and almost pedantic attention to detail – details such as it also being the first car to electronically move the seat back and the steering wheel away from you as you climbed out. That may sound a bit passé now, since you can get the very same thing on a Kia Cerato, but it set the trend nevertheless. In 2007, the LS won World Car of the Year, making it a distinguished alternative if your idea of luxury motoring doesn’t begin and end with the Germans. The car we’re testing now has embraced the turbocharged, downsizing trend. While hybrid LS models are available overseas, none are heading down to SA – so it keeps things short, fierce and precise with an all-new, turbocharged 3.5-litre V6. It’s a magnificent, sharp and pointy motor, which produces 310 kW and 600 Nm and sends power to the rear wheels via a 10-speed automatic gearbox. It reaches zero to 100 km/h in five seconds flat and top speed is limited to 250 km/h.
As a concept, I much prefer it to any large Lexus hybrid I’ve tested. Trying to make something sporty by deploying eco, hybrid technology is like trying to carbo-load on gallons of wheatgrass – the end result is almost certainly going to be green and meh. A large limo jammed full of all the luxury and technology imaginable in this day and age is always going to be heavy; and at more than 2 100 kg, the LS certainly is that, but Lexus claims it emits 217 g/km of CO2 and consumes 9.5 ℓ/100 km of fuel. The only thing stopping you from attaining such a figure yourself comes when you let your hair down and indulge in its wholesome performance. Deep below that plush leather and polished-wood veneer, it’s, in fact, a damn fine driver’s car.
Sure, its civilised behaviour on the highway cruise is a major plus: a civility, quietness and refinement that completely takes the edge off any daily commute, especially with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, holding you safely positioned on the road with all its radars and cameras and your feet nowhere near the pedals. All around you, people cut and thrust in the heat of traffic battle, but there you are, sitting back in supreme isolation. Then the traffic clears and the road opens, allowing you to pin its ears back with a forceful jab on the throttle. Flick the rotary dial into Sport S+ mode and the big V6 begins to pulse to a different tune, the engine note really making its presence felt throughout the cabin. There is a resonator that beefs up the best of the V6 growl and eliminates the less savoury resonances, but it still sounds gruff and low and puts me in mind of the LC sports coupé’s magnificent V8. From then on you are utterly invested in the drive, marvelling at how beautifully it steers and how supple the ride quality is – comfy but always communicative. The traction control, too, seems to work in a helpful and unobtrusive way when called upon. Even at high speeds, this long piece of precious metal doesn’t get too unruly, wrapping itself around corners with surprising agility, forgiving that mountain-pass thrashing is hardly what the Lexus LS 500 was built for in the first place.
No, limos are all about interior comfort for rear passengers and the convenience of a large boot, and it is within this cabin that true Japanese craftsmanship comes to the fore. Cosseted by fine leather and real wood inserts, the new LS interior is complemented by the unique Art Wood Herringbone design. Handcrafted by Lexus’s Takumi, individual pieces of wood are cut and glued together to create the layered wood design. Soft, sculpted leather seats with massage function, intricately refined switchgear, fine mood-enhancing LED lighting and Japanese-style graphics on start-up are all part of the unique experience. My personal favourite feature is the 12.3-inch EMV screen for the central control unit.
It drives the satnav, Mark Levinson surround sound system and reverse camera all in kaleidoscopic clarity. The driver’s instrument binnacle switches to red, blue or green depending on which mode you’re in. All told, in the LS 500, driving a big Lexus is no longer something that happens in a galaxy far, far away. Like the fine art of kintsugi, it embraces its own flaws and explores a whole new aesthetic. Poignant and accomplished, the Lexus LS 500 is a four-door limousine worthy of occupying anyone’s garage.
3 444 cc, 6-cylinder, turbo petrol
310 kW @ 6 000 rpm, 600 Nm @ 1 600–4 800 rpm
0–100 km/h 5.0 sec, top speed 250 km/h
9.5 ℓ/100 km (claimed)
From R2 128 500