Lexus LM

lexus lm review 2023 01 cornering front
Lexus steps back into the full-blown luxury sphere with a rather unconventional BMW i7 rival

We’ll start in the back for this one, because the Lexus LM is one of those cars where the driving experience feels more than a little inconsequential.Nine times out of 10, the buyer and driver, you have to imagine, are separate people – and the one signing on the dotted line won’t be spending much time in the front seat. Once you’ve stopped chuckling at the sheer incongruity of a Lexus van with a £113k price tag, eased yourself into one of those sumptuous rear armchairs, fired up the 48in screen and selected a beverage from the mini bar, the LM actually starts to make a lot of sense.Lexus, for so long the last word in understated opulence (imbued with a subtle touch of bling), has felt rather under-represented in the highest echelons of the car market, and now that it’s introducing its most affordable car in decades in the form of the sub-£30k Lexus LBX crossover, it feels like the time is right to go after the oligarchs once again with a car whose soul focus is simply to eradicate any discomfort from the act of travelling from A to B. The formula is clearly an enticing one: Lexus says it has taken around 170 orders in the UK so far and forecasts another 300 through 2024. Obviously, most are specified with four seats (because why ever not?) and four-wheel drive, but there’s also a slightly less ostentatious seven-seater with optional front-wheel drive for £89,995.That’s still comfortably more expensive than any other similarly conceived MPV on the market, but to create a comparably specified Mercedes-Benz V-Class, for example, you would have to enlist the services of an aftermarket modifier, which would cost a similar premium.And though the V-Class can be configured from factory or otherwise in specifications befitting the most demanding characters of HBO’s Succession, it remains a conspicuously van-based proposition, whereas the LM uses the same Toyota Global Architecture as the Lexus NX and RX SUVs, which makes for a much more overtly car-like driving experience while facilitating the levels of noise and bump isolation necessary to justify that lofty price tag. The top-link four-seater is the variant that best represents Lexus’s aims for the LM: to give the brand a footing in the lucrative VIP shuttle market and reinforce its positioning as a bona fide luxury marque – an image that you might argue has faded in recent years as it has strengthened its showing in the mid-sized SUV segment in pursuit of increased market share.The LM – Lexus’s most expensive car since the LFA supercar – has an especially important role to play in this regard, because it arrives at the same time as the firm launches its most affordable model in years, the LBX, which means, interestingly, the firm now has a range of 10 cars on sale in the UK, with nearly £100k between the cheapest and most expensive. For the sake of brand image, then, the LM, in its position as the crown jewel, had better be posh, lest it be misconstrued as no more than an innocuous Heathrow hauler and lumped in with the likes of the V-Class, the Volkswagen Multivan and its Toyota Alphard relation. The LM’s sheer presence will be immediately enough to justify that comparison, even if in its exterior design it is as polarising as it is prominent. Even in its most modest of specifications, the LM draws the eye by dint of its monolithic silhouette and expansive grille – a BMW i7-esque concession to the proclivities of the discerning Chinese aristocrat. That does mean the backseat passenger might get more attention than they would like, but it’s really no trouble to roll up the side windows (a unique feature in this segment) and lower the full-length blinds in crowded areas for a more covert approach. Inside, the obvious parallels with the likes of the Gulfstream G650 and Cessna Citation are no accident. Lexus worked with private jet manufacturers (as well as “hyper-affluent” customers) to create a cabin environment that is as once more opulent, cosseting and tech-laden than any other car in the brand’s line-up. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find comparable decadence in anything without a Flying B or Spirit of Ecstasy on its nose. Each occupant gets their own tablet device, which gives access to a dizzying array of seat settings – heating, ventilation, massage and reclining among them – as well as controls for the electronic roof and window blinds, ambient lighting, TV volume and doors. It’s a nice touch, but one that feels a touch unnecessary, given buttons and switches for all of the above are hosted in a nicely formatted control panel in the ceiling – airliner style. In fairness, though, you would struggle to reach that when fully reclined at a full 180deg. Lexus says the LM is as much a mobile office as it is a living space, and indeed it’s better equipped than many a London boardroom in this instance. The screen can be plugged into two laptops at once and split into two separate interfaces to allow maximum productivity (or more likely two different Netflix programmes), and there are tray tables that fold and flip out of the armrests, Boeing 737-style, to host a laptop or tablet. At a steady cruise, it’s eminently possible to get some decent work done in the back and forget you’re moving entirely. The windows are absolutely massive on purpose, so that passengers are always aware of the LM’s speed and orientation, and the seats have been painstakingly structured to minimise body sway and head roll, so you can keep your eyes on a screen or a book without getting nauseous.Twistier roads probe the limits of this sense of isolation, when the laptop starts sliding from side to side and you start feeling ever so slightly peaky, but pop your devices in one of the expansive storage cubbies and turn up the ventilated seats and you will soon feel restored. The seven-seat LM goes without some of the more overtly Bentley-baiting features, swapping the 48in screen for a more conventional 14.0in flip-down device and the fridge for a storage bin, for example, but still occupants are afforded excellent leg room, sufficient gadgetry and enough storage bins to keep them satisfied and relaxed.Notably, the third row seats fold up and to the side when not needed, which feels rather an inelegant solution, although it does maximise floor space in the expansive boot. The electronic cabin divider – raised, lowered or opacified at the touch of a button – is exclusive to four-seat Takumi trim, but what the seven-seater loses in perceived privacy as a result, it makes up for in forward visibility and airiness. Both versions convey their rear-seat occupants in an immaculately trimmed cocoon of tranquillity the double-wishbone rear axle tuned for maximum absorption of road imperfections and the active noise-control device (which works like the noise-cancelling system in a pair of pricey headphones) stopping all but the most pervasive of road and wind noises from reaching the passenger area. Engineers have worked to ensure a small degree of background noise remains, so as not to provide an ‘oppressive’ silence, but it’s never noticeable enough to dampen the decadence. There’s a perceptible feeling of quality to every item of switchgear or visible mechanism, too, which only serves to enhance the luxury appeal – and, dare we suggest, lend credence to the notion that touchscreens and haptic controls aren’t always the answer. Nothing says relaxation like being able to deftly adjust your seat bolster or turn up the stereo with a mere flick of the wrist – with your eyes closed.Okay, Parker, pipe down: let’s deal with life up front, then. Perhaps unexpectedly, given the LM’s somewhat rear-biased approach to occupant comfort, Lexus is at pains to emphasise that the cockpit has been designed according to the same ‘tazuna’ (that’s ‘reins of a horse’, for the uninitiated) principles as the latest NX and RX. Chiefly, tazuna means “the driver only needs to make small hand or eye movements and can keep their attention focused on the road ahead”. Well, we wouldn’t want to hit a pothole and spill the Chablis now, would we? Indeed, the high centre console, sensibly arranged infotainment interface and chunky steering wheel controls make for an intuitive arrangement that minimises distraction and, crucially, mitigates the need for any preponderous adjustment procedures that might translate into a jittery ride for the VIPs out back. The front cabin area is markedly less decadently appointed than the rear, majoring instead on the qualities of dependability and ease of use that will be of infinitely more value to the LM’s drivers, who will no doubt spend entire days behind the wheel at a time. And there’s more good news for those mile-munchers: the front seats run close to the rear armchairs for support, stability and adjustability, and the dazzling suite of electronic safety aids thankfully tend more towards helping than hindering, as is so often the case. The powertrain itself is a full hybrid arrangement familiar from the NX and RX, combining a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol engine with a pair of electric motors for combined outputs of 247bhp and 176lb ft. It isn’t a quick car by any stretch of the imagination, as you might expect, but it still feels much more comparable to a car than a van in terms of its straight-line performance, and indeed a 0-62mph time of 8.7sec (or 9.1sec for the FWD version) is more than sufficiently peppy for such a large vehicle. It’s eminently manoeuvrable, too, despite its not-insignificant bulk. The expansive glasshouse and HGV-esque mirrors afford excellent visibility at all corners, while a comprehensive suite of parking aids and an impressively tight 11.6-metre turning circle (it’s all relative) will ease the pain when negotiating the airport VIP drop-off ramp or the notorious Savoy Hotel circle. If pressed to identify a fly in the otherwise silky-smooth ointment, it has to be the CVT. It’s obviously the logical choice for minimising head roll and facilitating a linear, unbroken acceleration path, but there’s no escaping the distinctly unluxurious soundtrack that accompanies uphill acceleration or overtaking manoeuvres. This is a heavy vehicle, at nearly three tonnes, and the drone that permeates both sections of the cabin under load just emphasises how hard that engine is having to work to maintain momentum. This is less obvious on lower-speed urban jaunts, where the LM switches in and out of EV mode almost imperceptibly to maximise efficiency and, as a by-product, comfort. It makes us wonder whether a plug-in hybrid powertrain, or better yet a fully electric one, might have been a more appropriate means of propulsion for a car of this ilk. But happily its low-speed EV ability does mean it nudges 40mpg on the WLTP combined test cycle, which is no mean feat for a car of such imposing stature and suboptimal aerodynamic properties. A compelling suite of attributes, then, wrapped up in a subtly striking but somewhat incongruous alternative to the stalwarts of the luxury car market.For some, the very image of luxury motoring is bound up so intrinsically with gargantuan saloons and SUVs that the concept of swapping into a van (much less one with a Lexus badge) will seem nothing short of nonsensical. But next to the likes of the i7, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and perhaps even the Bentley Bentayga, the LM holds its own as a credible, convincing and highly innovative take on the limousine formula – and one that, true to form, is best enjoyed from the rear. 
Source: Autocar

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