Lexus LS 500 — Raising the luxury bar

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Lexus brand was launched nearly 30 years ago to take on the European auto elite. The first car produced by Toyota's new luxury division was the LS 400, a large sedan with a 4.0-liter V-8 engine making 250 horsepower and mated to a four-speed automatic. It became an instant success. As the years went by, the LS has become more sophisticated and the engines have gotten bigger and more advanced. And they have all come with eight cylinders — until now.

As the all-new fifth generation LS carries on as the brand's flagship it reminds us again that Europe doesn't have a lock on world-class luxury. And notably Lexus has joined the trend toward smaller, turbocharged engines, and for the first time a six cylinder lies under the hood of an LS. The new 2018 LS 500 comes with twin turbochargers, 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It's still rear driven — and an all-wheel drive variant is available.

The 2018 LS also 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. It 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 exec
utive seats that heat, cool, massage, and recline — along with a raised ottoman.

Power window shades add privacy and keep out the sun. There are also 11.6-inch entertainment screens, a 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 several Shimamoku wood patterns available 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 that is nothing short of exceptional — pure genius.

While the overall interior layout is extraordinary, we were dismayed that Lexus decided to carryover the infamous touchpad-based infotainment system. It has to be the most distracting feature found in any car regardless of price. It's impossible to use without taking eyes off the road — and that's never a good idea while hurtling down a highway at 70 mph. There is a better way, just check the competition.

For those who want more performance Lexus again offers the LS 500 with the F Sport package that will take you on a 0-to-60 run in just 5-seconds. The F Sport is also equipped 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 is easier for entry and exits from the cabin.

The LS 500 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 driver when the vehicle wanders, and even provides steering wheel assistance to keep the vehicle in its lane.

The Lexus comes in just two trim levels — base and F Sport and with the choice of rear wheel or all-wheel drive. The LS 500 starts at $75,995 including a $995 destination charge. All-wheel drive raises the bottom line to $79,215. Our F Sport test car with all-wheel drive carried a bottom line of $88,155, which included virtually all the options available on the Lexus.

Base price: $75,995; as driven, $88,155
Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6
Horsepower: 416 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 442 foot-pounds @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 123 inches
Length: 206.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,905 pounds
Turning circle: 39.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 17.0 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21.7 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 18 city, 27 highway, 21 combined
0-60: 5.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Cadillac CT6

The Good
• Excellent performance
• World-class build quality
• "Lexus" quiet at all speeds
• Spacious, feature-laden interior

The Bad
• Not as sporty as European rivals

The Ugly
• Touchpad infotainment distracting