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2018 Lexus LS 500: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Russ Heaps September 2017

When quizzed by Lexus staff about how we liked the redesigned 2018 Lexus LS 500, as we pulled into our lunch stop at the Skywalker Ranch during a first drive of the sedan at the national media introduction in the San Francisco Bay area, many of us tossed out the usual superlatives: excellent, outstanding, awesome and so forth. Granted, not particularly poignant for professional automotive journalists, our comments were, however, not surprising.

What is there to say about a luxury sled that managed to turn the large-luxury-sedan segment on its ear nearly three decades ago? This is the fifth generation of the Lexus brand LS flagship that hasn't surprised us since 1989, when it stunned the segment as the LS 400 balanced a pyramid of filled champagne glasses on its hood at full throttle on a dynometer. Great googly-moogly! At the time, that was really something.

In 1988, the original Lexus tagline was: "The relentless pursuit of perfection." Although at times over the years the LS suffered some criticism from the performance crowd for being too comfy and luxurious (that is to say, not German enough), each succeeding LS has simply raised the bar on luxury, technology and passenger pampering. After successive generations of the LS managing to raise that bar a little higher, we expected the 2018 edition to do the same. It does; and that's, well, excellent.

Who's on First?

When the LS 500 arrives in showrooms in February 2018, it will be in three forms: LS 500, LS 500h and LS FSPORT. All will be rear-wheel drive with a 123-inch wheelbase. There won't be regular- and long-wheelbase versions. The LS 500 and LS 500h will offer all-wheel drive. Lexus has yet to announce pricing, but we were told in San Francisco to expect the buy-in to be in the area of $75,000 for the LS 500.

Perception Is Reality....or Not

Must a full-size luxury flagship sedan offer a V8? Lexus is betting no. Although some of its dealers are pearl clutching over the LS 500 no-V8 approach, Lexus is convinced the market will respond favorably to eliminating the V8 in favor of a twin-turbo V6 that delivers better performance and fuel economy than the current V8. After driving it, we side with Lexus.

Lexus developed an all-new 3.5-liter V6 twin-turbocharged engine to propel the LS 500, as well as an all-new 10-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission to hustle engine output to the wheels. Engine production is impressive at 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of peak torque. Compare that to last year's V8 with 386 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque. Capable of sprinting from a dead stop to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds (by the Lexus stopwatch), the LS 500 has a top speed of 136 mph.

We were impressed by the total absence of turbo lag. Engine response is immediate and enthusiastic. Thanks primarily to a nearly flat peak-torque curve beginning at 1,600 revs and running up to 4,800 rpm, the power just keeps on coming.

Lexus-estimated fuel economy is also downright impressive at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway for the RWD car. Adding AWD dampens fuel efficiency to 18 mpg city/27 mpg hwy.

Greening It Up

Delivering even better fuel economy, the LS 500 Hybrid (LS 500h in Lexus nomenclature) uses the same hybrid system found in the LC 500h Coupe. Employing a 3.5-liter V6 and two electric motors funded by an all-new smaller, lighter and more efficient lithium-ion battery, this hybrid system produces a combined 354 hp.

Lexus mated the CVT used in the LS 500h to what it calls an all-new 4-speed automatic gear set. The end result is the sensation of gears shifting when using paddle shifters to move up and down through the gear range in manual mode. According to Lexus measurements, getting from 0 to 60 can be as quick as 5.1 seconds.

Because Lexus has yet to announce prices, we don't know what the premium will be for the hybrid over the regular LS 500, but opting for the LC Hybrid rather than the LC adds about $4,500 to the bottom line. Whatever the extra outlay to get the LS Hybrid, the fuel-economy improvement is significant. The mileage is 25 mpg city/33 mpg hwy for RWD. It drops to 23 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with AWD.

Holding the Line

The third member of the LS hat trick is the FSPORT. Much of the FSPORT grade has to do with appearance, such as its own version of the spindle-mesh grille. Other enhancements include special rocker moldings, seating surfaces and Naguri aluminum accents inside.

FSPORT isn't only about appearances. It gets bigger brakes in the form of 15.7-in iron spiral-fin rotors up front and, in the rear, 14.1-in ones. 6-piston grabbers in front and 4-piston ones in back close on high-friction pads. Lexus also sport tunes the FSPORT's chassis for more dynamic handling. Special 20-in alloy wheels and rubber are also part of the package. All LS versions ride on run-flat tires.

Nuts and Bolts

LS is the first car Lexus has built on its all-new GA-L luxury platform. Its swooping coupe-like roofline streamlines a sedan that is longer, wider and lower than the last-gen LS. Over all, the LS is more than half an inch lower; while the hood is 1.2 in lower and the trunk lid 1.6 in lower than the outgoing LS.

The exterior lines are sharp. Careful study of the fore and aft views reveals similar shapes front and rear. Although computer-created, the intricate spindle-mesh grille design required hundreds of hours of hand-adjusting the individual surfaces over a 6-month period. There are 5,000 distinct surfaces in the LS grille and more than 7,000 in the FSPORT grille. None of this makes the LS perform better, but does offer some insight into the Lexus attention to detail.

Ones and Zeros

It is almost as though Lexus is offering the LS as proof that today's vehicles are really just computers with wheels. There are so many computerized systems at play that there is simply no way to list them all here, let alone explain them. Pedestrian Alert, for instance, not only recognizes the presence of a pedestrian, but, if the pedestrian is moving, it also determines exactly where the pedestrian will be when the LS reaches them. If the driver doesn't react quickly enough to audible and visual warnings, and automatic braking alone won't avoid colliding with the pedestrian, the LS Active Steering plots a safe course around the person. Then there is front cross-traffic alert and Lane Trace Assist that helps the driver follow the line of the vehicle ahead by tracing its path. And the list goes on and on.

Wrapping It Up

So, what should we have replied when Lexus types asked how we liked the 2018 Lexus LS 500, when it was exactly what we expected? And, what we expected was quality, technology, luxury and a top-tier experience in general -- just more of it all than in the outgoing LS. I think a more-than-acceptable response was: excellent.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2018 Lexus LS 500: First Drive Review - Autotrader