Head to head with Lexus LS400 and LS600h
Lexus is currently celebrating 20 years in the UK. To mark the day when the Japanese brand arrived in the UK with just one model and a car advert that involved a stack of Champagne glasses and a revving engine, Autoblog has conducted a special test.
We've got our hands on the original motor show car that helped launch the marque here, the LS400, and pitched it against its spiritual successor, the very green and very expensive LS600h. Here's what 20 years of development has done for the Mercedes S Class rival.
What is it?
Lexus LS600h: It's luxurious, executive transport that the head of Greenpeace would be happy to be seen in. Probably. The LS600h uses a V8 petrol engine mated with battery power to offer the performance of a V12 but with fuel consumption and emissions to rival the segment's best diesels.
Lexus LS400: The car that launched Lexus in the UK. Arriving in 1990, the LS400 was Japan's first entry into the 'upper-luxury' car market. The LS400 was the only derivative of the car and aimed to provide 'style without gimmicks in a user friendly hi-tech vehicle'.
What's under the bonnet?
Lexus LS600h: Some clever stuff. The 5.0-litre V8 engine produces 389bhp, backed up by an electric motor that adds a further 221bhp. We say add, but it's more like assists, as the maximum output for comparison is 439bhp. There's a decent 520Nm of torque to waft execs along but emissions of just 219g/km and 30.4mpg. A similarly powered BMW 750 emits 266g/km and returns 24mpg.
Lexus LS400: There was no hybrid power back in 1990, instead Lexus had to make do with a silky quad cam 4.0-litre V8. The ethos was the same - a relaxed and luxurious drive - and to prove just how smooth the engine was the maker stacked Champagne glasses on the bonnet and revved the engine in a stunt. None fell off. It produces 241bhp and 350Nm of torque while returning 19.6mpg.
What's the spec like?
Lexus LS600h: Incredible. Pretty much anything you could possibly want - and stuff you might not - is included. Our test car had a rear DVD system, 19-speaker surround sound, four zone climate control, heated massage seats, parking camera, leather, cruise control, sat nav, and lots more. And most of that comes as standard. It's actually a bit too spec crazy - it took us half an hour to find the electric button to adjust the seatbelt height!
Lexus LS400: For 1990, pretty impressive and it needed to be to justify its £34,250 price tag. Standard spec included ABS, climate control, electrically adjustable seats with memory settings, electrically adjustable steering wheel and mirrors, seven speaker sound system with cassette player and a six-disc multi changer in the boot. And to top it all off there was walnut trim. Classy.
What's it like to drive?
Lexus LS600h: Silky smooth. The car wafts along in near silence, cocooning the driver and passengers from the outside world. Although it's more than five metres long it doesn't feel too big and there's always bundles of punch in reserve. Handling can best be described as sedate, but this is about cruising in comfort, and it does that very well. The seamless switch between battery and engine is very impressive.
Lexus LS400: Unsurprisingly, relaxed. That lazy V8 has plenty of power and it's still swift by today's standards - hitting 60mph in 8.3s. But at cruising motorway speeds it excels, wafting you along in comfort. Just like its younger sibling, it doesn't like to be hurried and wallows a little in bends, but it's the relative simplicity of the drive compared to the LS600h that really impresses.
What do we think of it?
Lexus LS600h: We grew to love it during our week-long test. At first the looks put us off, but as the miles piled on, we started to enjoy its comfort and extravagant kit. There's something quite ironic about watching Alan Partridge in the back seat of a £90k version of his favourite car. What impressed us most was the hybrid set up. Okay, it might not be that economical on motorways, but in town it makes perfect sense.
Lexus LS400: It's amazing how similar the two Lexus feel, even after 20 years of development. Dealers we've spoken to all have stories of owners that still have the original LS and love it – and it's clear to see why. It doesn't look dated; the design has stood the test of time very well, and it's wonderfully relaxing to drive. That big V8 may not be the most economical but it does the job of smooth transportation perfectly and that's exactly what an LS is all about.
Model: Lexus LS600h
Engine: 5.0-litre V8, electric motor
Power: 439bhp, 520Nm
Max speed: 155mph
Residual values (three years): 27 per cent
Model: Lexus LS400
Engine: 4.0-litre V8
Power: 241bhp, 350Nm
Max speed: 155mph
Emissions: Not tested at the time
Value now: £2,000