2018 Lexus LS 500 Review

The LS sedan is the car that Lexus was built on.

Launched in 1989, it was the brand’s first vehicle and it showed the world that the Japanese automaker had what it took to pamper serious luxury car buyers. It’s been almost 30 years since, and it feels like the Lexus LS has lost that go-get-em attitude. Fortunately for 2018, there’s a whole new generation that will bring some mojo back to Lexus’ big sedan.

The LS uses the same global platform that underpins the stunning Lexus LC coupe, but features a stretched wheelbase of 123 inches and a chassis that’s composed mostly of steel, which contrasts with other automakers that use aluminum in their luxury sedans. While Lexus says this is the stiffest chassis it has ever made, it’s worth pointing out that several body panels use aluminum to trim weight, and some suspension components use die-cast aluminum as well. The car can weigh between 4,700 and 5,200 pounds depending on how it’s configured, figures that are notably hefty: the rival Mercedes S550 tips the scales at 4,600 lb, for example, while Lexus’ own body-on-frame GX 460 SUV weighs in at 5,100 lb!

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With that much extra car to move around, you might expect the Lexus LS to be packing a big, smooth V8 engine as it’s done in the past, but you’d be mistaken (which is nothing to be ashamed of because every one of the LS’s competitors use a V8 except the Acura RLX, which is hardly a competitor). Instead, Lexus offers 3.5-liter V6s served up two ways. Either with a twin-turbo setup or a hybrid. Both systems can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Lexus LC 500h Review

Lexus is putting the spotlight on the twin-turbo model, which makes 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque while paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission, just like the one seen in the LC coupe. The big sedan manages a sprint to highway speeds in about 4.5 seconds, so the extra weight over the competition isn’t that big of a deal performance-wise. What is a big deal here is that the twin-turbo motor is more fuel efficient than the competitions’ V8s, earning 23 mpg combined in RWD form and 21 mpg combined in AWD setups. The engine even incorporates intake valve seats made with technology from Toyota’s World Rally Championship and World Endurance Championship cars. This engineering change (which uses frickin’ LASERS!) allows for a new port shape and allows for more air to be drawn into the engine, leading to the excellent performance of this force-fed V6.

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Should it Have a V8?

I really was surprised at the car’s power. It gets going effortlessly and with a loud but synthesized growl. Selecting the sportier drive modes will allow you to hear the engine exhaust note better as well. We tested the high-end F-Sport model, which is designed to highlight the car’s handling and performance characteristics. 

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The transmission in the twin-turbo model is pretty accommodating as well, and the powertrain is as refined and sorted out as any other in the Lexus lineup. I didn’t feel the need for two extra cylinders at all. Lexus test drivers told me that they were gunning for Porsche-like shift quality with the transmission, and while they fell just short of that expectation, the transmission is extremely refined and can be pretty quick when operated in the sport settings.

ALSO SEE: Lexus Might have a Hot Lexus LS F On the Way

We spent a limited time driving the hybrid model. Interestingly, Lexus didn’t sell the hybrid LS last year. With a combined output of 354 hp, this vehicle earns a combined fuel economy of 28 mpg in RWD form and 26 mpg in all-wheel-drive models. This is pretty good, but not as efficient as the PHEV BMW 7 Series (although that uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and makes only 322 hp total). Its worth mentioning that we last saw the Lexus LS hybrid back in 2015, when it was AWD only and used a V8 gas-electric hybrid designed to bring better fuel economy than V12 rivals.

Lexus pairs the new hybrid LS to an interesting transmission. With four real gears and a power-splitting device, the car actually has ten total gear ratios, which makes it a smooth, although not very sporty transmission. It helps the LS Hybrid sprint to highway speeds in just more than five seconds, but I’m excited to do more testing with the hybrid to see how fuel efficient it can be. Seeing as it comes from the same people who make the Prius, I’m sure we have nothing to worry about.

Smooth Under the Hood, Smooth on the Road

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The Lexus LS leaves some positive impressions in regards to its on-road performance. The stiff chassis makes the vehicle more responsive, which is a surprise in this big and heavy flagship sedan. It helps matters that buyers can get an adaptive suspension system or an air suspension system. The regular adaptive system is continually monitoring the cars G-forces, yaw rate, and speed sensors to adjust the damping, which packs 650 different settings. Suffice to say, the Lexus delivers a smooth ride, but if you want something a bit more floaty and luxurious, you’ll have to go for the air ride, which also adjusts entry and exit height to make getting in and out of the car easier. However, during a quick ride in the rear seats, the car had a very noticeable amount of vertical travel, which could leave rear passengers feeling a bit woozy. Adjusting the drive modes, which affects the suspension behavior, might help this issue for some.

An active stabilizer bar works with the rear steering system and variable ratio steering rack to help keep the car stable and flat while driving. The car also comes with run-flat tires, while four out of the five different wheels available on the LS are designed with a built-in resonator that helps cut down on road noise. Wheel sizes range between 19 and 20 inches.

New Standard for Interior Quality and Features

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Those quieter wheels are a cool example of how interesting it is to see how luxury automakers engineer solutions to keep the car serene, but it would be for nothing if the interior of the vehicle wasn’t a nice place to be. Fortunately, Lexus makes one of the most fascinating and well-designed cabins on the market. Not only is it full of gorgeous flowing lines that blend seamlessly from one panel to another, but there’s a wide variety of pretty and premium materials; not to mention fabrics that are downright addicting to touch and feel.

The highlight has to be the traditional Japanese Kiriko Glass ornamentation and the hand-folded pleats on the door panel. Photos don’t do them justice and they have to be seen and felt in person, where you can appreciate the plushy feel and depth. Like the furry wall in Get Him to the Greek, I couldn’t stop touching it. There are nine interior themes, which include two setups that are exclusive to F-Sport models. 

Naturally, a car like this can be filled to the brim with luxury features like four-zone climate control, massage seats and an automatic climate concierge that utilizes 16 sensors to determine how to effectively cool or heat the cabin. Up front, the car can be equipped with 28-way power adjustable seats and there’s an available ottoman seating package for the rear seats with 22-way adjustability including reclining functions, which encourages passengers to relax while their chauffeurs handle the commuting duties. The massage functions are part of this package as well, so you’ll likely have a less demanding tone when you tell Jeeves where to go next. If you were wondering, there’s a lot of room for passengers and the trunk promises at least 15 cubic feet of space.

It Also Comes With…

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Indeed, everything about the Lexus LS seems excessive. It even seems unnecessary to mention the available 23-speaker, 2,300-watt Mark Levinson sound system, which blankets the cabin in rich surround sound. Standard units, however, use a 12-speaker system, so pick your audio experience wisely. There’s active noise cancellation as well, because a car needs to be quiet enough for you to come up with your next million-dollar idea… like a social media network for people in the back seats of cars… 

However luxurious these features seem, some aspects of the Lexus’ interior are far from perfect. The remote-touch infotainment system, for example, is still a frustrating system to use, thanks to the touchpad controller that requires a bit too much attention. The infotainment system is much quicker to respond than it was before, but still, it’d be nice if Lexus had Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility.

BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP

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While that frustration is minor, some buyers may be a bit overwhelmed at all the driver assistance features and safety systems in the LS. While it’s awesome that the car can come with practically every tech feature like adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, front cross-traffic alert, pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assistance, the number of beeps and warnings that are fired off while driving can get very annoying very quickly. In particular, the front cross-traffic alert system, which monitors intersections for oncoming traffic and pedestrians crossing the street, is really sensitive, and then there’s the constant beeping that occurs when the car is put in reverse. The car beeps so much that it felt like I was driving via sonar at times. (Coincidentally, the car actually has sonar sensors to help with parking.)

One impressive feature, however, is the optional head-up display. This giant, high-definition system measures in at 24 inches wide by 6 inches tall, and is one of the biggest head-up displays ever put in a car. Additionally, instead of being displayed as if it is just on top of the hood, it is rendered as though it is three meters ahead, which is right in the driver’s field of vision, so you can keep an eye on the road while being able to see the information provided there.

The Verdict: 2018 Lexus LS 500 Review

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It goes without saying that Lexus has put forward a fantastic luxury sedan and is planning to undercut the competition with a base price of around $75,000 in the U.S. While base models are typically lacking many of the features mentioned, the LS is a very solid vehicle without the frills, too. The powertrain is fantastic and the brash styling is refreshing in the world of typically boring flagship sedans. While luxury buyers sometimes want to pamper themselves with every frivolous item, the Lexus will also appeal to those looking to treat themselves and make a statement without breaking the bank.