2018 Lexus LS 500 First Test Review: Devil is In the Details


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The Lexus LS has been taking it to the German triumvirate since the days when Audi was best-known for something it would rather forget. The first LS 400 changed the luxury dynamic with its unimpeachable quality and refinement, but the LS family has never quite achieved the cachet of some of its competitors. The outgoing model was no exception to that, still following the same formula of quality first and design second. This new 2018 Lexus LS, though, hopes to break the streak and shock the Germans, Americans, and now Koreans the way it did back in ’89.

Read a special feature on the 1991 Lexus LS 400 (and 1991 Acura NSX) right here

The heftiest arrow in its quiver is its unapologetic design. The Lexus “Spindle Grille” and its accompanying flourishes have been extremely polarizing, but there’s no denying sales have risen since the design language was introduced. This latest iteration is one of the best, we think, though perhaps we’re just getting used to it at this point. It’s not as good as the LC coupe it shares a platform with, but it’s less bad than the rest of the lineup.

The polarizing design carries over to the interior, as well. Once as conservative as the exterior, the LS’ new seating gallery is unmistakably Lexus. The door panels, in particular, caught our eye with their visually stimulating curves, layers, and use of materials. Likewise, we found the stitched leather surrounding the individual gauges a fresh and appealing touch and the semihidden vents integrated into the horizontal trim a neat execution. We were far less enamored with the hotel hallway art on the passenger’s side of the dash and the two handle bars hanging off the instrument binnacle.

Those knobs, controlling driving mode and stability control, are a good jumping off point for a discussion of the electronics package. On the whole, it’s a suite of good ideas with questionable execution.

Our greatest ire rests, as always, with the infotainment system and its track-pad controller. Although we appreciate the large screen, it’s only become more layered with menus and harder to navigate. At the same time, ever more functions have been buried there for you to find. As but one example, the seat heating and cooling controls are now beneath two menus. Turning either on starts with pushing the button with the picture of a seat or swiping several times over to the seat controls menu and clicking the pad. Once the seat menu is up, you must swipe down several times to get to the heating and cooling controls and click on them. Then you can swipe over to the controls for the seat you want and swipe up or down several times to get the level of heating or cooling you want. This is madness. Lexus would prefer you simply set your preferences in the system to have the heater or cooler come on when you start the car at given external temperatures, assuming you want the exact same experience every time you get in the car.

What’s truly infuriating about the infotainment system, though, is that Lexus knows better. We know this because our test car was equipped with the Luxury Package, which includes power reclining executive rear seats controlled by a touchscreen integrated into the center armrest. This screen is as intuitively laid out and easy to use—the main screen up front isn’t. Why, Lexus?

Other examples of questionable technological implementation abound. The enormous head-up display (HUD) is a great party trick, but why is your speed, the most useful piece of information, shoved way off to the side while the lane keeping system gets center billing? Why does it stay over there out of your direct line of sight even when lane keeping is turned off? The HUD also displays a frontal cross traffic alert so you don’t pull out in front of a car crossing your path. It’s a nice idea if you’re pulling out of an alley, but when you’re sitting at a stoplight and it’s going off constantly and taking over the entire HUD with flashing yellow arrows, the only information you want is how to turn it off. Finally, we must ask why the dash beeps at you when the car is in reverse. This isn’t a commercial vehicle.

It’s certainly not all bad, though. We found the adaptive cruise control and lane keeping systems to work well and ease long drives. The rear seat control screen is, as noted, very well executed. Those seats themselves are very comfortable and offer a very serene chauffeur experience. The front passenger’s seat folds up and moves all the way against the dash to give the passenger behind an enormous amount of space to stretch out, and it doesn’t block the passenger door mirror in the process.

It’s less optimal for the person sitting behind the driver. Although the new LS is even longer than the old long-wheelbase model, there’s still a disappointing amount of rear legroom with the front seats in their normal location. While the captain of industry on the passenger’s side can get the front seat out of the way, the spouse or business partner or whomever on the driver’s side will find it surprisingly small for such a big luxury car.

Still, it’s far from a bad place to spend a ride. The leather is sumptuous and the environment supremely quiet and relaxing. The Mark Levinson stereo is as velvety on the ears as anything coming out of Germany, and the car’s build quality is as impeccable as always. Our only suggestion on the luxury front would be to opt for the smaller 19-inch wheels rather than the 20s our car is rolling on. The heavier shoes with skinny run-flat tires undo some of the optional air suspension’s hard work rolling hard over road imperfections and introducing an unwarranted brittleness to the ride quality.

The new LS otherwise drives and rides as effortlessly as you’d expect from a flagship luxury sedan. Large road deformities are dispatched easily, and yet the car handles as well as you’d expect of one this size. It’s tighter and more responsive than the outgoing car but with no obvious sacrifice to ride quality. We would prefer more responsive throttle and brake pedals, but their softness suits the car and doesn’t hurt measurable performance.

Indeed, the new LS very much keeps the promise of a quicker and yet more efficient car, thanks to its new 3.4-liter twin-turbo V-6 and 10-speed automatic. The downsized mill returns a potent 416 hp and 442 lb-ft to the old, naturally aspirated 4.6-liter V-8’s 386 hp and 367 lb-ft while improving fuel economy from 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway to 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.

The new powertrain similarly outperforms on a test track, needing 5.3 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop, down from 5.6 seconds for the V-8. Stopping from that speed has likewise been reduced from 119 feet to 109-113 in the three cars we tested. Although drag racing is hardly a luxury sedan’s MO, those curious will be happy to learn the LS’ quarter-mile time has dropped from 14.1 seconds to 13.7, and trap speed has increased from 101.5 mph to 103.0. Some of this is attributable to our test car being equipped with all-wheel drive and the last V-8 LS 460 we tested utilizing rear-wheel drive, namely the initial launch, but not all. When we tested a rear-drive 2018 LS 500, that car completed the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 102.8 mph.

Improvements to the handling are also more than subjective—the new LS out-grips the old car, too. Skidpad grip has increased from 0.82 average g to 0.85-0.86 among the three LS cars we tested, and figure-eight performance has improved from 27.2 seconds at 0.68 average g to 25.7 seconds at 0.73 average g (the rear-drive model was good for a 26.3-second time at 0.71 average g). The all-wheel drive helps some, but it’s prone to understeer at the limit and must be managed for a quick lap.

At the end, we return the new LS encouraged by its big leap forward in luxury and equally frustrated by its shortcomings. The car is a huge step forward from its conservative, long in the tooth predecessor. It’s properly equipped to take on the world’s best luxury sedans. At the same time, though, it’s let down by technology that’s more stressful than helpful and a comparative dearth of space. We like the new LS almost as much as we like what it has the potential to be, and we hope this time there will be continual improvement to get it there.

2018 Lexus LS 500 2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD 2018 Lexus LS 500 F Sport (AWD)
BASE PRICE TBD $85,000 (est) TBD
PRICE AS TESTED TBD $103,000 (est) TBD
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 3.4L/416-hp/442-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 3.4L/416-hp/442-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 3.4L/416-hp/442-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic 10-speed automatic 10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,914 lb (52/48%) 5,103 lb (54/46%) 4,774 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 123.0 in 123.0 in 123.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 206.1 x 74.8 x 57.1 in 206.1 x 74.8 x 57.5 in 206.1 x 74.8 x 57.9 in
0-60 MPH 5.3 sec 5.3 sec 5.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 13.8 sec @ 102.8 mph 13.7 sec @ 103.0 mph 13.6 sec @ 103.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 110 ft 113 ft 109 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.86 g (avg) 0.85 g (avg) 0.86 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.3 sec @ 0.71 g (avg) 25.7 sec @ 0.73 g (avg) 25.7 sec @ 0.73 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 18.8/32.6/23.2 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 19/29/23 mpg (mfr est) 18/27/21 mpg 18/27/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177/116 kW-hrs/100 miles 187/125 kW-hrs/100 miles 187/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.86 lb/mile 0.92 lb/mile 0.92 lb/mile

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