2018 Lexus LS First Review
Ever since the first Lexus LS went on sale in America nearly 30 years ago, it established itself as a compelling mix of luxury and quality, at a price that was lower than that of its German competition. Styling was elegant but conservative, and while the ride was comfortable, the driving experience wasn't as engaging as what was being offered by Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The LS firmly established itself -- and Lexus -- as a major player in the world of luxury cars. For 2018, Lexus has given the LS a stronger, more passionate design, more luxury and technology, and an identity that separates this car from the competition while keeping a careful eye on value.
New Lines, New Size
Lexus LS styling has always been elegant and attractive, but never particularly bold. That changes for 2018. Based on a new platform that's shared with the gorgeous Lexus LC coupe, the new LS is lower, longer and wider than before. It's longer than even the long-wheelbase version of the previous LS, putting its size within half an inch of the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
While the new sedan’s styling isn’t quite as out there as that of the LC coupe, this is definitely the most expressive, eye-catching body Lexus' full-size sedan has ever had. There's a large not-for-everyone spindle grille up front, flanked by jagged, angular headlights. Along the sides, the sharp angles are overtaken by smooth curves, finishing with taillights that have L-shaped accents within the lenses. There are design cues that would seem to contradict each other, but end up working well together.
Also new for 2018 is what lies underhood. Gone is the V8 from last year, replaced by a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6. The new car is about 500 pounds heavier than the model it replaces, but the new engine offers 30 more horsepower and 75 lb-ft more torque to help counter the weight gain. The LS 500 is plenty quick from a stop (you can reach 60 mph in 4.6 seconds), but those who crave the burbling sound of a V8 will have to look elsewhere. If you can get past that, you'll be treated to a car that offers tremendous torque -- 442 lb-ft – peaking at an easily accessible 1,600 rpm. The potent V6 is matched with a buttery smooth 10-speed automatic transmission, a combination that delivers effortless yet assertive power. The LS offers Drive Mode Select, with modes including Normal, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Put the Lexus in Sport+ mode and the suspension and engine/transmission response become more aggressive. When cornering, you can tell this is a big car, but it has some spark. For those who prefer to stay on the comfort side of the equation, adjustable air suspension is available for a pleasant highway ride. We did notice some tire noise, likely due to a combination of the standard run-flat tires and some rough roads. We also drove the LS 500 F Sport, which has a firmer ride and quick transmission shifts, and feels more agile than the LS 500. Its excellent brakes are strong but not jarring.
The LS 500h hybrid is powered by a new Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V6 and two electric motors, which put out 354 total system horsepower. It's only half a tick slower than the LS 500, reaching 60 mph from a stop in 5.1 seconds. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is matched with a 4-speed automatic gear set, a setup designed to deliver the feel of a 10-speed automatic, with more feedback than you find in a more straightforward CVT. However, some of the shifts felt artificial, something that could easily be fixed with minor fine-tuning. The Hybrid was otherwise quick and comfortable, and boasts a range of over 600 miles thanks to its 28 combined mpg (25 city/33 highway with rear-wheel drive). All LS models are available with all-wheel drive.
Tradition Meets Modernity
The Lexus LS has always prioritized craftsmanship and quality, a dedication furthered in the completely new interior. There is a wide variety of interior color and material choices; we drove models with four different interior color schemes, and that was only a sample of what's available. The seats were inspired by comfortable arm chairs, and it's easy to let the comfort of the seats envelop you. Many of the interior flourishes were inspired by Japanese tradition, including available pleats on the doors that reflect traditional origami. Optional glass panels, also on the doors, are made from Kiriko-cut glass. That design isn't for everyone, though. If it were our LS, we would choose the absolutely gorgeous wood accents instead of the glass. As you would expect, the materials quality in the interior is top-notch. If you want to have the full LS experience, the Executive Package offers 28-way power adjustable seats, plus one rear seat that reclines and has an ottoman. Smart friends and family will let someone else call “shotgun.”
Nestled among the various niceties in the cabin is a vast array of technology and safety features, many of which are accessed through Lexus' Remote Touch Interface. This is a touch pad that operates many functions, including navigation, some seat controls, and some audio controls. This system is one of the Lexus' few weak points, though, as navigating it is counterintuitive and the pad itself can be touchy. (As an example, if you want to enjoy the available Shiatsu-inspired seat massagers, don’t look for "seat massagers" on the screen as you make your way through folders. Look for "driver seat refresh.") It's easier to use the massagers in the rear seats through the rear touch screen. The frustrating part of this system is that the LS offers several cool tech and comfort features that you access through the touch pad, but you have to spend some time learning the system before you can really take advantage of them. Instead of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are quickly becoming infotainment norms, Lexus is sticking with its proprietary Entune system. A 23-speaker audio system is also available.
Safety features include Lexus Safety System+, which includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, intelligent high beams, lane-keep assist and lane departure warning. Front cross-traffic alerts and road-sign assist are also offered.
After a top-to-bottom redesign, the Lexus LS has a stronger identity than we’ve seen in quite a while. It has the luxury touches you'd expect and with some digging, you'll discover even more. Its estimated $75,000 starting price is lower than most of its competitors, while offering an extremely competitive list of standard and optional features. You won't be able to get the all-new Lexus LS until February 2018, and Lexus will announce official pricing closer to that on-sale date.