Natural Aspiration : Lexus LS 350 Driven [review]

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With a nat-asp V6, the LS 350 is the surprise package of the new Lexus LS range

USA - Unless you’re already lucky enough to be able to own whatever you wish, a luxury limousine is something you arrive at. Choice looms at each step up to a more expensive segment, and naturally there remains a large swathe of the luxury limo audience who want a big, presentable car without the big, resentful bills.

The LS 350 is meant to fit that (smaller) bill. As brand reps explain it, it’s supposed to fill niches where tax breaks on power help the local market to big cars with less imposing engines – a spot sorely missed by the smallest fourth-gen engine being the LS 460’s 4.6-litre V8.

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As it happens, this big car/small engine dichotomy is exactly what the average Singaporean luxury limo buyer wants if the historical success of the old Mercedes-Benz S 280 and S 300 models are anything to go by.

Powering the entry-level variant is a new 3.5-litre, naturally-aspirated V6. Codenamed 8AR-FKS, it's closely related to the V6 in the hybrid and a successor to the current 3.5-litre V6 (from the 2AR family) in the RX 350 and GS 350.

A limo with a ‘small’ engine works, as BMW’s 730 Li (with a 2.0-litre turbo four) proves, but the V6 here is no slouch either. 311bhp on tap is 15bhp more than the RX 350’s V6 makes, and it’s nothing to sniff at since the LS 350 does 0-100km/h easily below 7secs – it just feels a tad slower driven right after its brawnier brothers.

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Where the 350 gets an edge is weight. Without any turbo piping, extra gearboxes or batteries to carry about, it’s 80kg lighter than the turbo, and almost 150kg less fat than the hybrid. Behind the wheel, that translates into even more fun.

Spooling up the engine doesn’t take aeons, thanks again to the tech-trickery of the 10spd auto, and in corners it’s more about maintaining corner speed, and seeing how much you can load the tyres.

Less mass also makes the car a little more playful and the steering more lively, contrasting the slightly more ponderous, serious nature of its heavier brethren. Again, in Sport mode, the V6 soundtrack is piped in for extra ‘in car entertainment’.

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The only negative is increased fuel consumption and CO2 output, but traditionally buyers of limos like these have never let that get in the way of their modulated view of aspiration to more.

Lexus is one of the few brands still flying the non-turbo flag in the luxury segment, and it’s cars like these that prove natural aspiration still has a future, if not in the name of technology, then at least in the form of a more affordable, but still very capable, luxury limo.

STORY DERRYN WONG

Lexus LS 350
Engine: 3456cc, V6, nat-asp
Power/rpm: 311bhp/6600rpm
Torque/rpm: 380Nm/4800-4900rpm
Transmission: 10spd auto
0-100km/h: 6.5secs
Top speed: 250km/h
Fuel consumption: 9.6l/100km
CO2: TBC

TopGear
Author: TopGear
Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the most widely watched factual television programme in the world.

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