For many Lexus enthusiasts, the notion of a Lexus LS – the flagship of the brand since its debut in 1989 – being anything other than a full size sedan is laughable. But in the face of a massive consumer shift to crossovers, could the sixth generation LS do the unthinkable?
The explosion of new luxury crossovers marks a consumer shift to utility vehicles, and many sedans have become victims of that trend, including Lexus’ own GS. Last year, light trucks and crossovers accounted for a whopping 76% of all vehicles sold in the United States. It’s become increasingly difficult to make the case for production cars, even at the high-end level of the Lexus LS.
The LS also sees competitive pressure from within its own lineup. With the seventh-generation ES sedan shifting to the full-size TNGA-K architecture, the vehicle now offers better or comparable rear seat legroom, headroom and comfort when compared to the big brother LS. The two cars are similar sizes and yet the ES costs half as much, though it does not match the LS’s attention to detail, build quality or option list.
And while the LX has long been the Lexus SUV flagship, its body-on-frame construction puts it in a different class compared to the new breed of flagship crossovers from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Tesla, and many others. When the LF-1 Limitless debuted at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, it appeared to fill the glaring hole in the Lexus lineup. Yet since its reveal two years, information and speculation on the LF-1 production model has been virtually non-existent — a strange turn of events given the model’s importance in the Lexus lineup.
Considering these facts, perhaps the case for a crossover LS doesn’t seem so crazy. Continuing with this theory, Lexus National Dealer Advisory Council chairman John Iacono made some interesting comments about the future of the LS in an interview with Automotive News:
Automotive News: How is Lexus working to attract younger buyers?
Iacono: RX is our bread and butter vehicle — you always want that RX to be what it is, because it pays the bills. And then everything else that we have that is getting upgraded, starting from the GX, to the LX, to the LS. Not too many people really understand where we’re going with the LS, which will be a true benchmark for the brand.
Is it really a sedan that tomorrow might be the flagship of our brand? Or will it be an ultimate SUV? I really think it’s going to be the latter of the two. Not as many people look at a sedan as being the ultimate vehicle that they look to aspire to drive.
Iacono makes it clear that something about the sixth generation LS will change. Could it be that the LS will transcend its historical position as a sedan and become a crossover? Iacono’s last point about fewer people aspiring to own sedans certainly leaves us scratching our heads in the context of an LS, as the flagship sedan has always been the crown jewel of Lexus.
Let’s revisit a few quotes from the LF-1 Limitless Concept press release. There are no qualms about this vehicle being positioned as a flagship in the Lexus lineup:
Now, the Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept introduces a new genre of luxury vehicle: the flagship crossover. Combining high performance with unrestrained luxury, the Lexus LF-1 Limitless is a showcase of technology, innovation and the latest evolution of design at Lexus.
“This is our vision for a new kind of flagship vehicle that embraces crossover capability without giving up the performance and luxury delivered by today’s top sedans,” said Kevin Hunter, president, CALTY Design Research. “The LF-1 Limitless concept incorporates imaginative technology while creating a strong emotional connection by improving the human experience for the driver and passengers.”
“There’s no doubt that luxury crossovers are an increasingly popular choice for luxury customers,” said Lexus General Manager Jeff Bracken. “This LF-1 Limitless concept illustrates what could happen if Lexus were to add a flagship crossover to our line-up. It’s a gorgeous execution and we’re anxious to see our customers’ and dealers’ response.”
It’s plausible that a next generation LS could live alongside a production version of the LF-1 Limitless, but is it actually realistic? Putting the LS name on a vehicle like the LF-1 Limitless would leave a few current owners scratching their heads, but for the broader market, it’s hard to imagine a more successful move for Lexus. The LS has long been Lexus’ most iconic model and applying that name to a vehicle they so badly need seems like the right move at the right time. Furthermore, the space and smoothness of a crossover – especially an ultra luxury, technology-laden model like the LF-1 Limitless – seems like a great evolution of the LS nameplate.
The question then becomes: would would it be called? The most logical one that comes to mind is “Lexus LS SportCross” hearkening back to Lexus’ last attempt at evolving a sedan into an in-between form. Let us know what you think in the Lexus Enthusiast forum.