The flagship Lexus has always been the sensible purchase. It was less money than its competitors, more reliable and usually held its value better. However, "dull" would be an apt description for its many generations. That changes with the 2018 Lexus LS 500 and LS 500h Hybrid. The new LS is compelling to view on the outside and truly special to behold inside. Its driving experience is considerably more involving — shockingly so relative past LS generations — whether you opt for the powerful new turbocharged V6 or the advanced 354-horsepower hybrid powertrain shared with the LC 500h sports car. In total, you’re more likely to lust after this LS rather than view it as "sensible."
The thing is, though, the LS hasn’t lost its sensibility. It’s still considerably less expensive than German flagship sedans, and there’s no reason to believe it’ll cease being a smarter long-term purchase. It’s also extremely comfortable despite dialing up the fun-to-drive factor, while those powerful engines are also quite fuel efficient. There’s also an awful lot to be said for its impeccably crafted and uniquely designed cabin.
Unfortunately, there’s even more to be said for its infuriating Remote Touch electronics interface. We recommend giving it a thorough test, because we could easily see it being a deal breaker. The touchscreen and knob-screen systems of rivals are less distracting and easier to use. Rivals also offer more powerful engine upgrades, but we don’t think that’s as big of a concern. Really, if you can get along with the tech, the LS can easily steal your heart … and satisfy your head.
What’s New for 2018?
The Lexus LS was completely redesigned for 2018.
What We Like
Impeccably crafted and uniquely designed cabin; efficient engine choices; F Sport is shockingly rewarding to drive; more powerful and less expensive than competitors
What We Don’t
Infuriating tech interface; no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; no higher-performance engine options
The LS 500 models are powered by a 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 engine that produces 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. This is considerably more than the base engines of competitors, though less than their more powerful performance upgrades (usually V8 engines). A 10-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive are standard, but all-wheel drive (AWD) is optional. Lexus says it will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in a rapid 4.6 seconds. Estimated fuel economy is 19 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, which is excellent for a large, powerful luxury sedan. AWD lowers those figures to 18 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined.
The LS 500h has a new hybrid powertrain consisting of a 3.5-liter V6 engine, a pair of electric motors, a lithium-ion battery pack and a unique transmission that essentially combines a 4-speed automatic and electronically controlled continuously variable automatic (e-CVT). Total system output is 354 hp. It’ll hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. Its fuel economy estimates are 25 mpg city, 33 mpg hwy and 28 mpg combined or 23 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined with AWD.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Lexus LS is available as the LS 500 ($75,000) and the LS 500h hybrid ($79,510). Both are available with the option of all-wheel drive (AWD).
Standard equipment on every LS includes 19-inch wheels, an adaptive suspension, automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers, auto door closer, hands-free power trunk lid, auto-dimming mirrors, parking sensors and automatic reverse braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning system, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control, proximity entry, push-button start and a sunroof.
Inside, you get dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated 16-way power seats, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, a power rear sunshade, the Remote Touch infotainment system (12.3-in display, touchpad center console control), 4G LTE Wi-Fi, integrated navigation, USB ports, a 12-speaker sound system with HD and satellite radio, a CD player and a media player interface.
The F Sport ($81,000) is LS 500 only. It gets special styling, suspension tuning, 20-in wheels and interior trim elements, plus 28-way sport seats and sport gauges. The Performance package adds to that variable gear ratio steering, active rear steering and active stabilizers.
The Interior Upgrade package adds quilted semi-aniline leather upholstery and interior trim, a 28-way power driver seat with massage, power front seatbelt buckles, Ultrasuede headliner and heated rear seats. The Luxury package adds all of that plus the matching 28-way power passenger seat, 18-way power-reclining rear seats with memory functions and knee airbags, 4-zone automatic climate control, power rear side sunshades and a 7-in touchscreen controller. The Executive package adds all of the above plus airplane-style "butterfly" headrests, heating and massaging added to the back seat and a power ottoman on the right-rear side. Special "Kiriko" glass trim can further be added to the Executive package.
Stand-alone options include a panoramic sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, an adaptive air suspension, a surround-view parking camera, a head-up display and a 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
Every LS comes includes front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags, a rearview camera, automatic reverse braking, blind spot monitoring, a rear cross-traffic warning system, lane-keep assist and forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking. Also included is Lexus Enform Safety connect, which includes automatic crash notification, an emergency response button and a stolen vehicle locator.
The optional Lexus Safety System+ adds enhanced adaptive cruise control with additional steering assist, enhanced forward-collision prevention, front cross-traffic warning and pedestrian warning. Rear seat knee airbags are included with the Luxury package.
The LS has not been crash tested by a third party.
Behind the Wheel
"Wow, this is a Lexus LS?" Forever smooth, quiet and comfortable, but never exciting, the new LS 500 in F Sport guise is genuinely and pleasantly surprising. Its turbocharged V6 is not only powerful, but along with its exhaust tuning in Sport or Sport+ driving modes, it sounds absolutely terrific. The new steering is also excellent, transmitting sensations from the road to your hands to a degree that’s not just impressive for a Lexus LS, but for the segment in total. The LS F Sport is legitimately one of the most engaging flagship sedans to drive now (we didn’t even try it with the available Performance package, though we can’t imagine it would really be necessary).The dropoff to the regular, non F Sport version shouldn’t be that drastic, either, though additional comfort and isolation should be expected.
We haven’t add a chance to sample the LS 500h, but this powertrain in the LC 500h proves to behave quite similarly to other Lexus/Toyota hybrids when driven around town. The engine shuts off and re-engages at similar times, with a brief span of electric-only propulsion joined thereafter by the engine. It’s a more seamless melding, and the system’s advanced transmission eliminates the typical drone associated with Toyota hybrids. When driven aggressively, that transmission also helps the 500h powertrain behave more like a traditional, non-hybrid engine, which definitely is good for ratcheting up driver engagement.
Of course, a flagship sedan like the LS should be good at driver pampering, and this latest-and-greatest Lexus definitely does that. The cabin is beautifully crafted and uniquely designed with special little details everywhere you look. It’s also jam-packed with features, as expected, while the front and rear seats adjust in a multitude of indulgent ways. Too bad so many of those features are controlled by the distracting and infuriating Remote Touch interface, which requires too much dexterity and attention. It also locks out far too many functions when on the move, as if admitting its fundamental flaws, and can’t be had with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class — It’s more expensive than the LS, but that will be a common thread here. Nevertheless, the S-Class has long been the benchmark in this segment, and that’s no different today. A powerhouse of technology and engineering.
2018 BMW 7 Series — The 7 Series used to be the undisputed engaging-to-drive flagship sedan, but honestly, it’s become more comfort-focused with this latest generation. Actually, it’s a bit more like the LS used to be, while the LS has added more verve.
2018 Audi A8 — This is the current-generation A8 (not the all-new one coming for 2019), but it still offers impressive interior quality, better tech than the Lexus and a surprisingly dynamic driving experience. Its conservative styling makes the LS seem almost otherworldly.
Used Mercedes-Benz S-Class — The initial depreciation hit on a Mercedes S-Class is enormous, so if you’re attracted to it but scoff at paying so much, a used or certified pre-owned version could be a smart purchase.
You definitely don’t "need" anything beyond the base trim level, which is exceptionally well-equipped. The F Sport package would be good to consider if you’re seeking the most involving driving experience, while one of the three interior upgrade packages will be good if you plan on pampering guests (or being pampered yourself) in the backseat.