The 2017 Tokyo Motor Show as well as the following presentations were full of information on how autonomous tech will change our lives and also the fact that there is a lot of research going on behind the scenes. While the 2018 Audi A8L might just be the ultimate word right now with respect to autonomous technology, boasting level 3 intelligence, Toyota says they aren’t far behind.

Lexus is on a roll! After beginning it’s Indian innings earlier this year and ending the year on a high with the launch of the NX crossover, the Japanese luxury brand will begin 2018 by introducing its limousine flagship in India – the LS 500h. To be precise, the Lexus LS 500h will be launched in India on January 15, 2018.

Autonomous Tech

While there are a host of new features with this 2017 model, the two technologies we got to experience on our short drive were the Lane Change Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control. The Lane Change Assist uses radar as well as cameras to ensure that you make a safe lane change maneuver. When the car is ready for a lane change, a blue guideline appears on the meter console. One has to then softly tap the turn indicator stalk and then keep it held for a couple of seconds.

The Adaptive Cruise Control works above speeds of 60kmph and keeps track of the car ahead. If the car ahead accelerates, the Lexus LS will too. If it slows down, the Lexus will also do this and additionally, if there is no input from the driver, the car will automatically brake as well. The ACC works brilliantly. It doesn’t require the driver to hold the steering or even use the brakes or accelerator. Other technologies that will make their way to future Lexus cars, including the 2018 flagship LS will be Parking Support Brakes. The system works in conjunction with the existing mechanism that can detect obstacles like a wall or other passing vehicles. Parking Support Brakes, Lexus claims, is a world first that also detects a pedestrian at the rear. The system will first give a warning alert and then automatically brake if no action is taken by the driver.

Engine, Ride and Handling

The new Lexus LS 500h has a 3.5-litre V6 engine coupled to a multi stage hybrid system which includes two electric motors. The engine makes 356PS of power but more importantly Lexus now uses a lighter lithium-ion battery. On electric power alone, the Lexus LS 500h can attain a speed of 140kmph. Since the new battery is lighter than before, the boot space too has grown marginally. Lexus uses an all-new 10-speed automatic transmission for the LS 500h.

It’s also quick when you plant your foot on the throttle and keep it there. Low-end torque comes from the 60hp electric drive on this hybrid, but most of the performance at high speeds comes from the V6 engine that spins all the way to 7,000rpm and delivers a maximum of 299hp. A naturally aspirated unit with a nice crisp top end, this engine, along with the 10-speed automatic gearbox, delivers a strong performance too; 0-100 takes just 5.4sec.

A larger 4.0/5.0-litre V8 and twin turbos would have gone down well, but Lexus seems to be clear – customers also want to be green. And that’s where the virtual 10-speed automatic gearbox comes in. Combining a four-speed automatic and a CVT, and blending the resulting efficiencies, it can deliver a super high gear when you are cruising, as well as a tightly spaced short gearing when you want to accelerate. And because there are only four fixed gears, transmission losses are reduced as well. Add to that the electric assist from the hybrid drive and you have a pretty smart package.

This Lexus can be optioned with a rear-wheel or all-wheel drive system. Our test unit was the all-wheel drive. While it’s too early to comment on the handling and ride quality, thanks to Japan’s smooth flowing roads, Lexus officials tell us that this car has a greater bias towards ride quality than outright agility.

Looks and Interior

Lexus cars have always known to be radical especially with that arresting spindle grille up front and use of body kit. The adaptive LED lights and the lightning bolt-shaped headlamps look the part. The use of aerodynamic bits show in the way the mirrors have been designed as well as the shape of the alloy wheels. The sloping roofline, looks quite smart and doesn’t eat into the passenger headroom either. The boot space is good and should be able to swallow 4-5 suitcases.

Cabin quality as I’ve discussed earlier is very high and there are a lot of gizmos to play around with. Auto parking, infotainment system complete with Apple CarPlay, powered seats with memory function and much more. What I especially liked with the cabin is the ease of use. There was not a single button which felt out of place or I wasn’t sure of its function. Neat!

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