Back in the 1990s, an upstart came out of nowhere to completely reinvent what people thought of the large luxury sedan. Branded as Lexus, one of the first vehicles to launch was the LS. It was a game changer.
With revolutionary advertising, an emphasis on excellent customer service, it was an all-new option that stood apart from the BMW, Cadillac, Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, people started becoming switched on to the “L” brand. What really differentiated this sedan though was its pricing that positioned it as a value play.
Since then, Lexus has become a powerhouse in the luxury vehicle market; however, gradually its LS sedan has lost its prominence. For 2018 though, Lexus has brought forth an all-new LS and I needed to see if Toyota’s luxury division brought forward a vehicle with some juice.
Upon taking delivery of an LS500 F Sport in San Diego, Calif., I took a moment to observe its all-new exterior design. While the LS has traditionally looked more akin to a bar of soap, this next-gen vehicle is looking to draw out an emotion from you. Love it or hate it, you’re going to feel something. That’s because it looks as though Lexus’ glorious LC500 mated with a Tesla Model S. This equates to a design that has sporting intentions with a fastback-type rear end.
With such a provocative design, there’s no way anyone can claim this vehicle looks boring, that’s for sure.
Getting situated behind the steering wheel, it quickly became clear that the F Sport vehicle I was driving also had an interior that was eccentric. Equipped with black leather and ultrasuede inserts, the perforations in the inserts had a layer of tan underneath so it just peeks out a tiny bit to give a hint of flavor. Personally, I would prefer something less in your face for a sedan of this caliber, but I heard positive remarks about this look.
If you spring for the $23,000+ executive package, you’re really going to be blown away though. That’s because LS’ specified with this equipment receive door panels featuring a hand-pleated cloth and Kiriko glass trim that looks like it’s straight out of a concept car. No one has ever put something like this into production and Lexus deserves credit here because this is a bold and impressive move. The pièce de résistance is the back seat that comes equipped with a seven-inch tablet to control essentially everything, and a recliner that allows a lucky passenger to effectively lie down while being chauffeured. Don’t forget to turn on your Shiatsu massage, either – seriously.
Other elements on the inside that’s sure to draw a gasp is the large, centrally located 12-inch display for the infotainment system as well as the largest head’s up display (HUD) I’ve ever encountered. It’s in full color and measures 24 inches wide and six inches high. Another party piece is the instrument cluster that can be physically moved – a la the LFA sports car – to prioritize different information for the driver.
None of this means that its interior space is perfect, however. That’s because there’s one significant problem with the LS. Its infotainment system is the complete opposite of what you look for. In other words, it’s difficult to use and not intuitive. Take, for example, preset radio stations. In any other vehicle you tune to your respective station and simply press and hold on the numbered slot you wish for it to be preset to. In the LS, however, I couldn’t figure it out after 10 minutes of navigating various menus. Perhaps it was the carpenter and not the tools? After letting one of my colleagues have a crack at it, they couldn’t figure it out either. And we’re both technology guys! With any luck, hopefully this is an area Lexus’ engineers revisit, but as this vehicle was just launched and its tech is shared with other Lexus vehicles, I am thinking its going to be in there for the long haul.
There is some good news, however. That’s because when it comes to driving, the LS500 F Sport excels.
Equipped with a twin-turbo, six-cylinder engine producing 415 horsepower and about 440 lb.-ft., the motor has an adequate amount of power. Given its heft that approaches 5,000 pounds, it doesn’t feel particularly powerful and it won’t pin you back in your seat. But I don’t think that was Lexus’ goal with this vehicle. Remember: It is a large luxury sedan with sporting intentions – that does not make it a sports car. Coupled with this powerplant is a 10-speed automatic transmission, which is an awful lot of gears. As I experienced in the LC500, this gearbox outperforms. While it may be switching cogs quite often to result with you receiving the best possible miles per gallon (MPG), it’s not abrupt or jarring in any sense of the word. Most of the time I didn’t notice what gear I was even in as I let the LS do all the work. In a mix of city and highway driving, this resulted in about 21 MPG during my time with the vehicle.
Another area that’s a strong suit for the LS is its ride quality. While it is not in the same league of the likes of the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the cabin is quite isolated over imperfect road surfaces. The LS’ biggest problem is that those two vehicles exist and their rides are magnificent, soup to nuts. And here’s the peculiar bit: When I had the opportunity to ride in an air suspension-equipped LS500 Hybrid, I found that the F Sport actually absorbed bumps better and was more comfortable. If you’re in the market, I highly recommend you drive both vehicles to experience it yourself and make a judgment call.
Where I think buyers will be impressed is if they put the vehicle through some twisties. As I previously mentioned, you will not confused it for a sports car but it will definitely put a smile on your face as you work your way home from a long day at the office. I dialed in the Sport and Sport + settings and took the vehicle through Rancho Santa Fe’s picturesque countryside to able to push it a bit. As expected, it doesn’t control its body as effectively as the LC coupe; however, you are able to hustle the LS in and out of corners. To me, when the going gets tough it feels more composed in corners than the likes of the Germans efforts in form of the 7-Series and S-Class, and is more on par with the likes of the last-generation Porsche Panamera. Once again though, the Lexus gets beat due to the Porsche’s sharpness and its more direct steering setup.
There is a greater point here, though: Who would’ve thought the day would come where a Lexus is compared alongside a Porsche?
Having said that, there is still one caveat. Today there is an all-new Panamera on the market. And, the LS does lack in another area relative to the competition. Sound. Although the cockpit is a quiet space where you can get comfortable, the F Sport’s engine note is subdued and not enthralling in any respect.
When you pump up the six-cylinder motor, there’s zero excitement or panache. It’s as though Lexus didn’t give it any thought, which is sad. That’s because Lexus is known to produce some of the best sounding vehicles on the planet – when it wants to. The perfect case studies are the LFA supercar, RC F coupe and GS F sport sedan.
Ultimately, I will say this as it relates to the LS500, more specifically, the F Sport. I think it’s a very well done product and certainly more vivacious than ever, with looks to kill and a well-appointed interior. But if it were my money at this price point, I just don’t think it’s as well rounded as the likes of the BMW 7-Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, even if they’re duller in a side-by-side styling comparison.
Where the all-new LS simply beats the best efforts from Lincoln and Cadillac, the company still has work to do if it wants to topple the big guns.
By Richard Posluszny