Handsomely styled (if you can get over the dramatic ‘spindle’ grille), impeccably built and with exquisite detailing in its serenely comfortable cabin, the new Lexus LS 500h certainly promises a relaxing drive – but does it match its more conservative German rivals as an all-rounder?

Engine, transmission and 0-100km/h time
The only powertrain available is a 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6, paired with a lithium-ion battery pack, a three-speed power-split device and four-speed planetary final drive, and a pair of motor-generators.

It’s fiendishly complicated on paper. The planetary gearbox operates like a CVT but provides ten virtual ratios, and the motors each largely serve a different job – one handling start/stop and acting as a generator, the other powering the vehicle and occasionally boosting regenerative capabilities.

The upshot is a combined output of 263kW, an ability to drive on electric power alone in some situations, and claimed economy of 6L/100km. Nought to 100km/h comes up in 5.5sec.

What’s it like to drive?
When a press of the anodised starter button results in little more than the whir of some servos and awakening of the instruments – a hint at the hybrid powertrain – you know you’re in for a relaxing drive.

On the road, though, the LS 500h starts to lose its lustre. True enough, it’s effectively silent at start-up and low speeds, near-silent at a cruise and unobtrusive as it switches between combustion and electric power, but in the intervening moments it lacks the easy-going performance and refinement of its closest rivals.

Requests for even moderate acceleration see the revs rising and falling with abandon as the virtual ratios slur through changes at what seem like random intervals. Knocking the gear selector into manual and doing the job yourself improves matters, but throttle response is poor whichever mode you choose. CVTs have never been the choice for enthusiast drivers, but a recent jaunt in Toyota’s own Prius illustrates that a continuously variable set-up is at its best when not forced to act like a conventional geared transmission.

The hybrid set-up dissuades you from exploring the chassis to any real degree, and perhaps that’s for the best – at nearly 2.2 tons the LS 500h has considerable mass to carry. Adopting a brisk pace results in body lean through corners, floatiness during undulations and uncertainty through the feel-free steering. The LS can be hustled, but it’s best driven more sedately, ignoring the occasional jarring thumps that put a black mark against an otherwise serene ride. ANTONY INGRAM