Comparisons are inevitable, because Lexus cars have been essentially upmarket interpretations of Toyota models. That is changing, and Lexus now offers vehicles not available in Toyota versions. The Lexus LM is not one of these bespoke models. It shares its platform and engine with the Toyota Alphard, and is thus, technically, one of the interpretations.
Here’s the thing: I’ve ridden hours in Toyota Alphards, and this is a different beast altogether. It’s majestic.
This is not a family van, where you pack in the kids and the grandparents to head to the mall. It’s a limousine. The principal LM version is a four-seater, which means the driver, and probably your bodyguard up front, and just two passenger seats. And what seats they are: as vast and comfortable as any La-Z-Boy armchair I’ve ever sat in, electronically adjustable any number of ways, and with more leg room than you can use. There’s a little bolster than can come up behind your calves for a deep recline, and there’s even room to install ottomans to put one’s feet on.
The version I was lent had the optional rear seats, making it a seven-seater. The only thing is, the rear seat passengers cannot easily exit the vehicle unless the middle-seat passengers rack their seats forward. But hey.
The suspension is definitely different. While the Alphard’s is excellent, the LM’s is transcendent: firm when it needs to be firm, like at speed on the expressway, or braking hard, yet incredibly compliant, when it needs to be. Corrugated roads are heard distantly, rather than felt, and potholes are soaked up as if nonexistent. This thing is smoother than a sailboat on a lake. The overall effect is that of wafting forward on a cloud; in fact, you forget that the car has suspension at all. This is not just Range Rover-level suspension, it’s approaching Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
The LM is equipped with many amenities, including an optional partition that seals you off from the driver. In front of the passengers is a cinematic 26” screen that folds up into the ceiling, on which you can view anything, whether navigation software, a movie stored on your tablet or a flash drive, YouTube videos streamed from mobile signals— whatever. This touchscreen also controls the sunroofs (yes, there are two), sound system, airconditioner/ ventilation/ heater, interior lighting, and seats.
There is a drinks cooler in there, and the two principal seats have clever trays that fold into the armrests, like they do on certain airplane seats, but much more solid. Of course, there are about a zillion cup holders everywhere, and even (sharp intake of breath) ashtrays with lighters. How retro.
My favorite party trick is the automatic doors, on both sides, and the automatic rear hatch. I know, more prosaic rides like the Kia Carnival have this, but the ones on the LM are just way cool. You just press a button on the key fob, which produces a discreet beeping, and the door, or both of them, slides open or closed majestically (and safely, it must be said). The automatic function can also be triggered by a light touch on the door handles themselves. I was so fascinated by this, I did it several times, like I was 12 years old.
Later, it stopped working. I could not figure this out immediately, which caused me to have to open the doors and tailgate manually. This required some upper-body strength, because the doors are huge and heavy, although you don’t have to slam them shut; you merely place them in position, and they suck themselves closed, like a 1991 Mercedes W140 S-Class. I later figured out that I had inadvertently defeated the automatic function by pressing a button low on the dashboard with my knee. Pressing it again restored the function, but let me just say, right in front of the driver’s knee is a silly place to put it.
The Lexus LM is a car to be driven— conveyed— in. I regret now that I arranged it for a Sunday, when I drive myself because it is my driver’s day off. He’s not even really “my” driver, he principally drives the kids to school and my wife to work, but we’re all doing these things from home now. I figured since I was supposed to review the car, I should drive it. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. But I did drive it, and so, here are my impressions.
While you necessarily remain aware of its proportions, you quickly forget its mass
The car is surefooted and nimble in traffic for its size. While you necessarily remain aware of its proportions, you quickly forget its mass. Handling is responsive and amazingly neutral, a hint of expected understeer, and never oversteer, at least not at street-legal speeds. It simply goes where you point it. The power steering doesn’t have much feel, but neither is it flaccid and loose in the American style. Even the smallest motion makes the car respond, although at high speeds, this is variable so that you don’t swerve by mistake.
The V6 engine has a truckload of grunt, about 300 horsepower, to be precise. While this seems excessive for a van, it’s great to have when overtaking the usual clods who infest the left lane of the expressway, trundling along at 80 km/h. Overtaking on the right is quite demanding for any car, because the opportunities are fleeting, and require prodigious acceleration, especially between 60 and 120 km/h, to be safe. The LM can simply and confidently overtake pretty much anything on the road. I guess the power is also important to some people, as it sets you apart from the common folk on the roads.
The LM’s V6 engine has a disconcerting (to me) habit, which is that it shuts itself off in traffic. I know a lot of modern cars do this, but I don’t own modern cars, so I’m not used to it. Of course, I didn’t read the manual, so when it happened the first time, I swore, put the transmission into Park and pressed the start button. Of course, nothing happened, I had simply shut down the engine completely. Pressing the button again resulted in a regular (long) start, which was when I realized what was going on. When it does shut off in traffic, you’re not supposed to do anything. The airconditioning and everything continue running, and the engine will switch itself back on if it needs to charge the battery for this. When the light turns green, you simply step on the accelerator, and the engine does a short start— so short, you barely hear it, it is as if nothing happened, and the car proceeds forward with no drama. I later discovered that you can turn this function off easily, but I kept it on, because what the heck.
I took the LM to Lake Caliraya, which involves a well-paved winding road uphill (the lake is 1,000 feet above sea level). I last drove this road about 25 years ago in a Mercedes W123 sedan, and the LM was a lot more fun. I didn’t initially realize the LM is a front-wheel drive car— most luxury cars are rear-wheel drive— but it hardly made a difference. I could do fast-in-slow-through-fast-out like my old 280E, instead of slow-in-point-and-squirt-out like an old front-wheel driver. The car never lost its equilibrium, and 80 km/h through most curves, short of hairpins, was not only possible, but still comfortable. There wasn’t much body lean, and pressing too hard on the accelerator pedal seemed to tighten up the understeer a bit. I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing has some kind of traction control system in the ABS.
The automatic transmission was smooth and competent, but I did eventually shift it manually
The automatic transmission was smooth and competent, but I did eventually shift it manually, to suit my driving style through the curves. I like to keep the engine on the boil, in the middle of its torque curve, rather than lugging it up the hills. It’s not absolutely necessary to shift out of Drive, although it would help if the transmission had a Slope or Sport mode. Maybe it does, hidden somewhere in the menus; it wasn’t obvious to me.
The LM is library-quiet at city speeds. Wind noise only becomes apparent above 100 km/h, and you can probably carry on a regular conversation without raising your voice, well up beyond 160 km/h; I didn’t drive that fast. The engine is eerily smooth. You never quite hear it below about 2,500 rpm. You know it’s there, but its presence is merely suggested. Plant your right foot on the loud pedal, however, and this will produce a distant snarl, like a tiger roaring in the basement. The LM surges forward, rather than leaps, but it’s dramatic enough for those used to driving more mundane vehicles.
My two sons got to ride in the back (this was just before ECQ), and they liked it, although they were of course, blasé, being teenagers. One of them spent most of the trip asleep, the other watched videos. When I was their age, we had vans, too. My dad liked the Ford Chateau series (the ancestor of today’s E150), and he bought two of them. They were monsters, with four rows of overstuffed seats, lazy but torquey V8 engines and pillowy soft suspensions that caused them to wallow all over the Macarthur Highway on our regular trips to Baguio.
I never got to drive those, but I’ll say one thing: the luxury of the LM is at a much higher level. Those things were mini-buses. The LM is a private jet for the road.
As limousines go, this modern interpretation is really hard to beat. The great thing is that the styling is fairly discreet. It’s not understated, and certainly looks classier than your typical Hyundai Starex, but it is also not a car that shouts “P9.2 million!” except to the cognoscenti. The seven-seat version, for the more frugal tycoon, is a mere P5.5 million. It’s a great way to enjoy your ride without flaunting it.
It’s luxuriously big, fast, safe, reliable, with legendary customer support (the cornerstone of Lexus), and yet discreet. This is where the smart money rides.
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