Lexus LS: Fourth Generation

Driving the All-New 2018 Lexus LS 500

Lexus LS Splash Image

Lexus Enthusiast editor Kevin Watts traveled to San Francisco, California, last week to test drive the all-new 2018 Lexus LS 500 & LS 500h hybrid. This is his personal impressions of the car, a full technical overview was posted last week.

I want to start off with a story. If you’ve been following Lexus Enthusiast for any time, it’s a story you’ve probably heard before, but it plays a big part into how I feel about the new fifth-generation LS flagship.

Rewind the clock back to 1998. I’m living in Toronto, Ontario, and I start seeing this blacked-out sedan cruising around my neighborhood. I’ve always been into luxury cars, but life has many paths and it’s been a while since something grabbed my attention.

I finally figure out the brand and badge, and it’s a new one to me: The Lexus LS 400. Up until this point, the only Lexus I know is the LX, which was a key vehicle for anyone listening to The Notorious BIG in those days.

Anyways, that LS 400 represents a turning point in my life. When I finally saved enough money to buy my first car eight years later, I did something completely insane and bought a 1994 LS 400. Shortly after, I started this website, where I have been writing about Lexus vehicles nearly every day for a full decade.

This is all to say that I am not impartial about the new Lexus LS. There are things that I like and things that I don’t, but this is my all-time favorite car. Consider this a disclaimer for what follows.


With ten years since the introduction of the last LS sedan, it feels unfair to compare old to new. Put side-by-side, the fifth-generation is sharper in every way — the design, the driving experience, even the point and purpose. Gone is the balanced approach of the LS 460, of trying to be all things to all people. The new LS is a car unafraid to make its opinions loud and clear.

Straight away, its presence is undeniable. The LS 500 is massive and sculpted, with the heft and detail of a fine watch. A intricate interpretation of the spindle grille makes up most of the car face, filled with a mesh designed by a single person over the course of six months:

Lexus LS Front

The outward points of spindle grille carry through the curves of the body, dipping down to create a similar pattern in the rear — this is my favorite design detail, and is best illustrated with this short video:

Another exterior highlight is the katana blade trim that starts at the front wheels and continues through to the rear bumper:

Lexus LS Side

If I have one complaint, it’s the tail lights and the way they slope toward the license plate — it gives the rear a pinched look that makes the trunk bulge:

Lexus LS Rear


When it comes to performance, let’s get one thing out of the way right quick — I have a hard time understanding people’s obsession with V8 engines, or the lack thereof. The new twin-turbo 416-horsepower V6 in the LS 500 is an absolute monster, and represents a quantum leap over any existing Lexus engine.

On paper, it matches up against the competition’s V8 offerings in straight line performance. Behind the wheel, the only way you could decipher the number of cylinders would be looking in the owner’s manual. There’s no discernible turbo lag and torque is near instantaneous, bringing with it an endless wave of power. With this much available acceleration, the horsepower number almost seems irrelevant.

In my opinion, this is a great engine. Case closed.

Lexus LS Engine

On the flip side, the driving experience can vary significantly. The combinations are endless, with all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive and air suspensions and rear-steering — there wasn’t enough time in the day to try the LS in all its many iterations.

What I can say is this:

  • The LS 500 AWD is a rocket, firmly planted. It was the first car I drove, with the most variety in experience. Composed and isolating in rush hour traffic, strong and confident on the highway and in the curves. Exactly what you want in a full-size luxury sedan.
  • The LS 500 F SPORT, I don’t know, it was just crazy. Rear-wheel drive feels like such a luxury with my Canadian AWD sensibilities, and the effort of being a responsible adult weighed heavy in my time behind the wheel. In SPORT+ mode, the car compressed around me, and I had to fight to keep my speed down while powering through corners. A caged animal, just waiting to get into trouble.
  • After driving with the new twin-turbo V6 all day, the last vehicle of the day was an LS 500h equipped with the Executive package. The powertrain that works so well in the LC 500h didn’t have the same punch in the LS, and the multi-speed transmission felt a little jumpy. I believe it will take someone deeply invested in buying a hybrid to choose this over an LS 500.

Lexus LS Driving

Much has been made of the new safety systems, and for good reason. You are likely familiar with Lane Keep Assist and dynamic cruise control — these features are now standard across the Lexus lineup, and they’re very effective at reducing the mental burden of drivers.

The Lexus Safety System +A in the new LS is at a completely different level, like a protective bubble that surrounds the car. It never shows itself unless necessary, and in downtown San Francisco, those sensors and radars are very necessary. I avoided curbs, dodged cyclists, had the full experience of augmented braking while making a left turn. The LS felt like a partner, though just like any relationship, there’s a learning curve.

(In particular, I was a fan of the Lane Trace Assist, which locks you into your lane and keeps you there. This technology is a big leap forward.)


During his presentation, LS Chief Designer Koichi Suga showed a photo of this giant armchair, citing it as the inspiration for the seating:

Lexus LS Interior Seating

This was a central concept for the cabin, with arm rests that circle every seat comfortably:

Lexus LS Interior Concept

Let me just say, it works. The seats in the LS are wild — 28-way power adjustable, massage options in the front and back. Honestly, the pneumatic pressure massage in the driver’s seat touched me in ways I would never allow a human to replicate.

Material design is another strong point, with every surface luxurious and soft to the touch. The Kiriko glass and pleated fabric interior is textbook Lexus with its handmade story and attention to detail, but every interior combination had just the right amount of texture.

Lexus LS Interior

Where the LS cabin falls short is the Remote Touch controller and the Lexus infotainment system. This is the one area where Lexus should have embraced significant change, perhaps by adopting Apple Carplay or Android Auto. Instead, there is now an obvious black mark on an otherwise stellar interior. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. Honestly, the rest of the car deserves better.

Lexus LS Interior


When I heard the starting price of around $75,000 USD for the new LS, I was shocked. Like mouth gaping open, stunned with disbelief. For some context, this undercuts the outgoing long-wheelbase LS 460L by nearly $4,000 despite having more standard equipment and features. The equivalent BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class can cost upwards to $25,000 more in the USA.

But the luxury market can get weird at times, and I’ve seen people arguing that this “value” pricing means Lexus has abandoned the top-tier flagship market.

I see it a different way — when the original LS 400 was introduced in 1989, it was positioned as a S-Class competitor but was priced like an E-Class. This was wildly successful, and the LS 400 kickstarted a transformation of what consumers expect from a luxury car.

Will this strategy work in 2018? It’s a tough call, but I don’t see how you could fault Lexus for trying something different.


My biggest takeaway from driving the new LS 500 & LS 500h? Lexus is done trying to match up inch-by-inch with its competitors.

Think of all the ways Lexus has gone against the grain with their new flagship — a V6 instead of a V8, a price well below expectations, a design that you either love or hate, assisted-driving instead of self-driving technology.

Having strong opinions is never safe, but Lexus has embraced their outsider status and are unafraid to stand apart from the crowd. The new 2018 LS is a singular experience, and I don’t believe Lexus would have it any other way.

Comments
Great writeup, krew, and well worth the wait!
Excellent report, thanks for posting it.
My problem with the V6 and the turbochargers is that every time (when comparing another vehicle’s new 6-cylinder engine to its old, naturally-aspirated V8 engine),...
Someone says: "There is no lag."
I: "Yes, there is."
One says: "It is nearly undetectable."
I: "Yes, it is." (It is all relative when compared to the overall power of the engine, and that initial moment of hesitance just does not feel right. Even using the onboard computer to artificially create a flat torque curve does not solve the problem.)
One says: “It is more powerful and uses less fuel.”
I: “That is because it is newer, and more fuel is still needed to mix with the additional oxygen forced into the engine.” (I would prefer cylinder deactivation.)

Maybe Lexus actually did something magical to a smaller and turbocharged engine, but I am doubtful because I have heard that before from everyone (including Lexus).

A turbocharged V6 is noisy when a naturally-aspirated V8 is not. It is muffled when a naturally-aspirated V8 is not. Essentially, it does not have the characteristics that make people lust after a naturally-aspirated V8.

Then again, I tend to hear and feel more than the average buyer. Heck, I am one of the few who thinks the IS, GS, outgoing LS, and RX are too sporty (that is euphemism for "the ride is a bit rough"). I understand that Lexus needs to make what sells to exist as a company, but I wish Lexus would create its own version of the new Toyota Century [and an amazing, thoroughly-redesigned LX on a body-on-frame chassis)!
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Gecko
We've all been telling you this for months - @Carmaker1 and others have laid out the design timelines and production decisions in previous threads.
My point is I'm not buying it. Goes against everything they've done over 30 years, particularly over the last 4-5 redesigns.

He said one thing, before the redesign, and Lexus did something else. He never said Lexus would make half the concept now, then complete the promise later. And there is no good reason for Lexus to do things that way, all of the sudden.

Especially with the LS, they wouldn't be that scatterbrained about a design direction. I guess there is only one way to find out who is right....
BD
:expressionless::expressionless:
GuoxJason
I am glad that you enjoyed the RWD car. AWD obsession is like the obsession over smaller engines with turbochargers. Everything looks great on paper, but in the real world, nothing beats RWD with a naturally-aspirated V8, V10, V12, etc.
I strongly prefer the AWD version of the outgoing LS, and not just by a little bit. I'm looking forward to sampling the 5LS.
thanks @krew for the article, really nice... i wonder hows safety tech compared to competition from real life experience, as well as old safety sense?
mikeavelli
I also just can't understand why the graphics are so, just old, compared to the Germans. You jump into a Lexus from a new German car and the NAV and graphics seem like ten steps back. They really need to focus on making it more modern.
Now This I agree with. There is reason to complain about the graphics. I'm not understanding at this day and age, why they still look like they did 8 years ago.
RichieRich
Now This I agree with. There is reason to complain about the graphics. I'm not understanding at this day and age, why they still look like they did 8 years ago.
they look a lot better now, but they were dated then and new one is dated now compared to competition.
R
  • R
    RAL
  • October 7, 2017
Thanks Kevin. I appreciate a review that only someone with your background and depth of feeling could write. I agree with you ... I think the 1989 pricing strategy is Lexus genius, especially now.
C
Great writeup Kevin. Love the caged animal analogy.

I want a V8 in a sports/GT car (LC) because I value an exhilarating engine/exhaust note, but a large luxury sedan (LS) my #1 priority is NVH/power/response. If this new TTV6/10-speed is indeed better than the prior V8/8-speed as many have written up, then it's a win for me. What Lexus did here with the LC and LS is truly brilliant.

Agree with the pricing strategy as it surely is intended to mitigate the new value-driven competition (Genesis) and the general downward spiral for sales in sedans. What is interesting to note is the LS undercuts the LC by $17K USD in the US, whereas in Canada today's LS starts already at 95K, expected to go close up to the LC currently at 102K.
RAL
I think the 1989 pricing strategy is Lexus genius, especially now.
Agree!
spwolf
thanks @krew for the article, really nice... i wonder hows safety tech compared to competition from real life experience, as well as old safety sense?
I can only really compare it to the Safety System + in my IS 300, and I would say the tech in the LS is much more confident. It was a bit disorienting at first for the car to have such a strong opinion on when to brake, but I'm sure it's something that would become second nature in short order.

Also, the Lane Trace Assist along with the Dynamic Radar Cruise is about as close to autonomy as I feel comfortable with at this time. I think Lexus made the smart play not overplaying their hand with this self-driving business.

According to Lexus executives (and I don't know if this 100% true) consumers don't really want autonomous cars. I would think the only people interested in the tech are the same people buying Teslas.
krew
I can only really compare it to the Safety System + in my IS 300, and I would say the tech in the LS is much more confident. It was a bit disorienting at first for the car to have such a strong opinion on when to brake, but I'm sure it's something that would become second nature in short order.

Also, the Lane Trace Assist along with the Dynamic Radar Cruise is about as close to autonomy as I feel comfortable with at this time. I think Lexus made the smart play not overplaying their hand with this self-driving business.

According to Lexus executives (and I don't know if this 100% true) consumers don't really want autonomous cars. I would think the only people interested in the tech are the same people buying Teslas.


Indeed, it is basically same with EVs, where "unwanted" Prius Prime gets #1 on global sales list of all plugins, despite being looked down upon by all the press and ethusiasts as having too little range, and Toyota publicly saying that EVs are not the solution, yet... and then we have it #1 globally in short order, despite not starting sales in Europe yet!

I have various friends with BMW and MB radar cruise controls and nobody turns them... ever. So I am not sure that people who dont turn radar cruise control on, would ever turn on some kind of autonomous drive.

But public perception is as it is and who knows.
spwolf
I have various friends with BMW and MB radar cruise controls and nobody turns them... ever. So I am not sure that people who dont turn radar cruise control on, would ever turn on some kind of autonomous drive.
Radar cruise can be very jarring -- the system in my IS is great, and the LS is even better. LS actually feels natural the way it applies the brakes.
Recently bought a Volvo XC60, and as much as I regret every penny spent on it, I have to say the dynamic radar cruise control on that vehicle works really well. Saved a lot of energy on a 3,000 mile road trip.
ssun30
Recently bought a Volvo XC60, and as much as I regret every penny spent on it, I have to say the dynamic radar cruise control on that vehicle works really well. Saved a lot of energy on a 3,000 mile road trip.
i agree, it is a must have for me for next purchase (luckily around here almost all Toyotas have it), but when I talked to my friends who have it in their cars, I noticed that nobody ever uses it - they all tried it, are young guys that know about technology, but dont like using it.
ssun30
Recently bought a Volvo XC60, and as much as I regret every penny spent on it, I have to say the dynamic radar cruise control on that vehicle works really well. Saved a lot of energy on a 3,000 mile road trip.
I am looking forward to completing engine break in on my new NX200t and will then to finally have a chance to see what dynamic cruise control is all about.
Hey guys - lets get this back on track to the LS 500, please. Thanks!
C
krew
Radar cruise can be very jarring -- the system in my IS is great, and the LS is even better. LS actually feels natural the way it applies the brakes.
I'm not too fond of the DRRC in today's current Lexus lineup as it never seems to keep up to the car in after an initial slow down and acceleration. It leaves a gap for a car to move in front of me from another lane and the DRCC then suddenly will brake to maintain the distance when a human would normally not apply the brakes and just allow for a (temporary) closer distance.

Sounds like the next LS (finally) has a smoother more "human-like" control/response! :)
corradoMR2
I'm not too fond of the DRRC in today's current Lexus lineup as it never seems to keep up to the car in after an initial slow down and acceleration. It leaves a gap for a car to move in front of me from another lane and the DRCC then suddenly will brake to maintain the distance when a human would normally not apply the brakes and just allow for a (temporary) closer distance.

Sounds like the next LS (finally) has a smoother more "human-like" control/response! :)
i wonder the difference between base and top systems in LS... will there be difference in DRRC performance too?
krew
Here is my technical overview of the 2018 LS -- I'm saving my personal impressions for later in the week, as a full tech breakdown can be really useful in reading the more opinionated reviews on other sites.

Post up any reviews you read, I'll be putting together a mega-post with the best of the best later on today.

Enjoy the day, only happens once with a new model!

I like how everyone is getting to "review" "drive" and "check-out" the new LS....all except the techs who have to fix the damn thing. We don't know anything about the new releases anymore. Cant even get trained on new products until they're released to public, so we're always in catch-up/defense mode. :-(
Ian Schmidt
The LF-FC was designed *after* this LS. It is the concept for the *next* LS, not this one. You *will* see a production car with those cues, but it'll be in 2021 or so probably.

And as a long-time LS owner I'm getting a little salty about people advocating that Lexus price me out of the car. Lexus just does not have the brand image that Mercedes and BMW have and making the car more expensive for no reason isn't gonna help.
Gecko
My assumption is that the ~2021 LS refresh will end up looking quite a bit like the LF-FC... for all the reasons you mentioned above. Lexus has been doing this with several models, where the production car is a bit more conservative vs. the concept, and then come time for a refresh, we get deja vu.
Gecko
We've all been telling you this for months - @Carmaker1 and others have laid out the design timelines and production decisions in previous threads.
Oh God, thank you! : unamused: It is because as long it's "my word", he will not consider it as valid. With my field experience and being an excellent student of the automotive industry like a number of us are, I learned a long time ago the processes for developing such model lines and what is feasible or plausible.

While I was off on the start date and overall duration for the 200B programme, I was dead right on the design being set back in 2014. Even back in July 2014, I knew they already had a final design under wraps and didn't even know back then this car wouldn't arrive until end of 2017 for JDM and Q1 2018 for export markets. I expected late 2016, as projected in mid-2016.

Toshio Asahi himself, finally confirmed my correctly estimated beliefs back in January. For instance, Toshio Asahi stated that the 200B programme from early work to projected conclusion of development, was over 5 years. He point blank stated, it took 2 YEARS to design the car and then 3 years to engineer the chosen FINAL body shape.

At this point, the car in reality has been delayed even more at Toyoda's request. That 3 years to engineer for production from design completion, is now more like 42ish months (since design switched to engineering), plus roughly 6 years of total research and development.

Despite that, I disliked the fact he was chosen as chief engineer, having only worked on current the XV60 ES from 2007 to 2012. More than likely, his duties even overlapped early on. The XV60 did not complete development before the end of 2011. Why wasn't the chief engineer of the LFA on this car? I digress.

Anyway, Asahi-san's January interview with Ward's Auto highlights my point. Two, as for the LF-FC. They took the 5LS and did an avantgarde take on the car, during the second half of 2014. The photograph of the silver dinoc-coated clay LF-FC, was dated on December 9, 2014.

The first sketches were dated 3 months earlier in September 2014. The technical aspects of the LF-FC required a bit more significant engineering than most TMC concept cars developed by advanced design personnel, but not as much time needed as the LF-LC.

Simply put, people started talking about this car as early as July 2014, because they had seen it, meaning Toyota had finally gotten to a point where they had something tangible to show them. In the form of clay or fibreglass models in fullscale. Plus that of actual master model builds or prototypes. All this transpired by the time a photo of the LF-FC mockup was taken at their Tokyo Studios.

Even by December 2014, Japanese mag Kodansha aka Best Car delivered an inferior, yet unusually accurate blue colour rendering of the 5LS. Why? Because someone with eyes on the inside, gave them info.

So I will admit, some of my speculations were wrong. But what do you expect? I don't work for Lexus, let alone TMC. Even secondhand or third-pary info, isn't always enough. The real concept for the LS, is closer to the 2012 sketch in my avatar. Both the LF-FC and LS were developed from that. With the LS requiring more than double the lead time of the LF-FC, it had to come first or be delayed significantly.

What I cannot understand though, is why is it that anyone, would think that a captain of industry, such as this LS, should be easy last minute work to revise in record time?

Even without the necessary background info on the 200B, how can you gripe and expect them change up a final design to reflect a subsequently designed concept? Also, why would you expect Toyota to be so transparent with development methods and timelines? That is competitive information, which they'd not so easily hope to make too obvious. Asahi even mentioning that, was a gem for me, and atypical of Toyota to disclose.

I first saw this car 11 months ago, here in the UK in the form of the LS 500h. I had known for sure that would be a V6 hybrid, because of the LC 500h powertrain. What I didn't know about, was the LS 500. My initial reaction was thankfully more than lukewarm, but I got past that with the idea that the LS 500 I had yet to see would eclipse the V8 competition with the 2UR-GSE from LC.

Some Lexus people I asked about the 500, said it would have a V8 and 1 senior person, cynically suggested I wait some 6 weeks to find out (he knew otherwise). The remaining majority had no clue and said nothing. The potential for tech aspects and revolutionary firsts, is what kept me interested as the LS500h I only saw and nothing more until NAIAS. I signed a NDA, not to describe that LS500h.

Last January, I was so disappointed that the nomenclature was muddled how it was and the last of Japanese rumours weren't lies. The LS 500 was indeed the heralded TTV6, I had hoped would sit below a 2UR offering as LS350t or LS400t.

I feel let down by this car in some ways, where there are many features its competitors have by comparison and in some cases, even in lower models. I just hope Lexus has greater plans for it in the short term, thwt don't solely rely on the F or fuel cell variants.
By the way, I am convinced that the LS FC Concept is what will debut at Tokyo. It is shameless tacky how Japanese magazines, are now putting out lies in the manner that they are. Where the hell did they get the idea to drop such a bombshell about the LS F at Tokyo , which has no truth to it?

Same way they mentioned a new Mazda RX coupe, a new Z, and Supra reveal.

Toyota only has 9 debuts, so people better hope Lexus and Daihatsu are not part of that tally.
Carmaker1
By the way, I am convinced that the LS FC Concept is what will debut at Tokyo. It is shameless tacky how Japanese magazines, are now putting out lies in the manner that they are. Where the hell did they get the idea to drop such a bombshell about the LS F at Tokyo , which has no truth to it?

Same way they mentioned a new Mazda RX coupe, a new Z, and Supra reveal.

Toyota only has 9 debuts, so people better hope Lexus and Daihatsu are not part of that tally.
Even though I wanted to see the supposed supra at Tokyo, I think you have a point.

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