2018 Lexus LS 500

SAN FRANCISCO — Luxury carmakers always have one flagship vehicle. Most often it is their biggest sedan, the one they want as their lead vehicle, one that radiates the essence of excellence, along with all the substance and presence of a dreadnought-class luxury sedan. For Lexus, that vehicle is the LS sedan, originally launched 28 years ago to compete with cars like the Mercedes-Benz S Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 sedans.

I recently attended the drive launch for the all-new, fifth-generation 2018 LS. It goes on sale in February, starting around $75,000 and up to $100,000 fully optioned. While expensive, the price falls well below the German sedans mentioned above.

The 2018 LS gets a new platform that’s even longer than the outgoing generation’s stretched model. The long wheelbase will be the only version offered for 2018.
As with previous generation models, the new LS comes standard with rear-wheel and available all-wheel drive, and will also be offered in a hybrid variant called the LS 500h.

The LS is powered by an all-new twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. The gasoline powered LS goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 4.6 seconds. The hybrid engine, also a 3.5-liter, puts out 354 horsepower and achieves 28 miles per gallon combined fuel economy. A new 10-speed transmission is standard for all LS variants.

The new LS has a lower, ground-hugging appearance and a striking coupe-like silhouette with a six-window profile. The body is mostly aluminum; only the roof is steel. Luxury audiences have a measured preference for big grilles and the LS doesn’t disappoint. A unique rendition of the massive spindle grille mesh includes 5,000 different surfaces (7,000 on the F-Sport trim), flanked by narrow slit-like projector lamps and L-shaped LED lamps. Overall, it’s the most sharply angled and edgy vehicle in its class.

The effects of the longer wheelbase really show up inside, with massive amounts of passenger room and comfort. Unlike most cars, the best seat in the new LS isn’t the driver’s. Rather, the backseat is like flying international first class with executive seats that heat, cool, massage, and recline, and a raised ottoman. 

Power window shades add privacy and keep out the sun. There are also 11.6-inch entertainment screens, Mark Levinson 3D audio system, ambient lighting, and a wide variety of hand finished trim options that include a choice of nine interior color schemes —†plus two more for the F Sport. There’s a choice of several Shimamoku wood patterns in a choice of matte or gloss, light or dark. All wood pieces are individually handcrafted by a Takumi (Japanese for “artisan”) craftsperson. 

Other interior trim elements include Kiriko glassware ornamentation and hand-folded pleats on the door trim when the Executive Package is included. This is unquestionably a showy, almost arrogant display of luxury automotive craftsmanship genius.

For those who want more, Lexus again offers the LS 500 with the F Sport package that equips it with dynamic handling, active stabilizers, sport-tuned suspension and air height adjustment to lower the vehicle’s profile for improved handling dynamics at highway speeds, and easier for entry and exits from the cabin.

As expected, the LS is one of the world’s most technologically advanced automobiles on several fronts. Among other things, it provides world-class safety technology with Lexus Safety System+ A, PCS that can detect pedestrians and vehicles ahead using millimeter-wave radar for collision prevention, and stereo cameras for damage mitigation. In certain situations, the active steering assist can automatically control steering and braking when there is a high possibility of collision with a pedestrian.

With its array of sensors, the LS can detect the threat of an impending collision and automatically apply the brakes if the driver does not. Lane departure alert detects road lanes and alerts the drive when the vehicle wanders, and even provides steering wheel assistance to keep the vehicle in its lane.

I only spent a few hours in the LS at a recent media press event but my initial impression is that the company has gone to great lengths to perfect the car in ways unimaginable to even the most learned. Examples: Seats are hand-stitched and pleated; the car is hand-sanded before painting; it’s precision constructed — all materials, wood veneers, leather; ambient lighting; armrests that appear to float next to the door panel; and hand-folded pleats on the door trim. It is nothing short of exceptional.

So what’s it like to drive? It’s certainly quick enough. Some will say Lexus made a mistake by removing the V-8 from its flagship sedan in favor of a V-6, but drivers won’t be disappointed with its performance, handling, and composed manners.

With expressive new styling, ample state-of-the-art technology and a new imposing length, Lexus promises a “new level of flagship luxury in every aspect.”

Vital Stats
Base Price: $75,000 (est.)
Price as Tested: N/A
Seating: 4
Engine: 3.5-liter twin turbo V6
Horsepower: 416-hp
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 19 MPG City – 29 MPG Highway

Competes With
Audi A8
BMW 7 Series
Mercedes-Benz S Class

Fab Features
Gorgeous interior, materials, craftsmanship
“Executive rear seat luxury”
New “Coupe-like” exterior styling

— Jim Prueter