This is not a comparison between the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Lexus LS 500h. Then what are we doing with these two cars, you might ask. It is slightly personal — I have been whining about new SUVs, and so many SUVs, for a while now. And this month I stopped whining and chose to call for the two best sedans on sale in India. Yes, they’re unaffordable for most of us, but that shouldn’t stop us from admiring both these cars for what they are — flag bearers of luxury and technology for their respective brands.
Both cars are head-turners and draw attention wherever they go, and yet they have very different approaches to design. The LS 500h is anything but understated, and is almost aggressive with its design, while the S-Class follows a more mature design language. The spindle-shaped grille on the LS 500h, built using 5000 individual surfaces, is so striking it could easily find a place in any museum of modern art. Function seems to be following form on the LS 500h, with the strong shoulder and the massive 20-inch chrome wheels giving it an almost athletic stance. The S450, on the other hand, follows the evolution-over-revolution approach and looks commanding. The 20-inch AMG alloys, privacy glass, retracting door handles and the iconic three-pointed star on the hood. Like a Benz of old, the S450 is elegance personified.
Unless you are an informed millennial, which may be an oxymoron, there is a slim chance you remember the delicious V8s which were a regular feature on both these cars. Changing times and newer regulations have had them replaced with six-cylinder engines and it is interesting to see how both manufacturers have adapted without taking the fun out of driving.
Lexus has a hybrid system on the LS 500h, using a 3.5-litre 294-bhp petrol V6, coupled with electric motors that generate 60 bhp, taking the total to a respectable 354 bhp and 35 kgm of torque. There is clever technology at play all around in the LS 500h, but it is not as visible always. The innovative 10-speed gearbox, for example, combines a 4-speed automatic and a CVT, and works surprisingly well. There is no getting around the rubber-band effect of the CVT, but the LS 500h offers a good combination of high gears for cruising and shorter gears for when you want to push hard. There are multiple driving modes to choose from and Sports+ will make you forget you are in a car that’s 5 metres long. The LS 500h shrinks around you and the performance is genuinely impressive.
Under the hood of the S450 is a six-cylinder engine too, with EQ Boost, which makes 367 bhp and a decent 51 kgm, and is mated to a 9-speed automatic gearbox which sends power to all four wheels via the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. Like all Mercs, the S450 has multiple driving modes, too, and it is in Sport Plus where you really feel the car come alive in a manner which isn’t exactly the preference of S-Class buyers. Despite its size and weight, the S450 is always up for some fun. The steering is nicely weighted and triple-digit speeds are effortless, the adaptive suspension firming up adequately if you are in the mood to attack some corners.
On the inside, the LS 500h is truly unique with the influence of Japanese arts and crafts clearly visible. Something as mundane as the door trim is a sight to behold with origami folding techniques used, and contrasting inlays using Kiriko glass work. The texture, colours and design are very different from what you might find in any car in this segment. The rear seat reclines to an impressive 48 degrees, there is a fantastic Mark Levinson sound system, along with multiple massage options for you to truly enjoy the ride. There are a lot of buttons in the cabin, and before you faint, no touch screen. The touchpad is not the best option in today’s world, but I am sure the next model change will sort the gizmos out.
The S450, on the other hand, is a vision of the future on the inside. The 12.8-inch OLED high-resolution central infotainment touchscreen is the centre of attraction and action. The new S-Class features the second-gen Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX. Saying ‘Hey, Mercedes’ activates it and you can operate everything from navigation to checking the weather. The seats are comfortable to another degree and come with heating/ventilation and massage options, as one would expect in the S-Class. It is not the driver who gets to choose different modes, there are custom programs which choose the massage, music and lighting for you. Say, ‘Hey, Mercedes, I feel stressed’ and let the car do its magic.
At ex-showroom prices starting Rs 1.91 crore for the LS 500h and Rs 1.66 crore for the S450, these are cars very few could own. If you are one of those lucky few, let me make your decision a little more difficult. The LS 500h is, in one word, unique. It does everything well, but with a flair of its own. The S450 carries the ‘best car in the world’ tag with aplomb and never puts a foot wrong. It is not easy to choose between the two, despite their different approaches to luxury, comfort and technology. Whatever you choose, you cannot go wrong.
AUTODATAMercedes-Benz S-Class S450
2999cc, inline-six, turbo-petrol
367 bhp@6100 rpm
50 kgm@1600-4000 rpm
F/R: 225/45 R19 / 225/45 R19
Rs 1.65 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi)
AUTODATALexus LS 500h Luxury
3456cc, V6, hybrid
354 bhp@6600 rpm
35.69 kgm@5100 rpmm
F/R: 245/45 R20
Rs 1.91 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi)