I recently drove the all-new 2018 Lexus LS 500, which is the fifth generation version of Lexus’s famous LS luxury sedan. By now, everyone knows the Lexus LS, as it’s one of the most famous luxury cars of our time — but the latest one is the best LS yet, for a wide range of reasons.
I drove this LS courtesy of Lexus of Seattle, which provided me with not just a new LS, but probably the most expensive new LS in the country — a hybrid-powered LS 500h with the optional "Executive Package," which costs around $24,000 and features glass trim (rather than boring ol’ wood) and hand-folded cloth in the door panels. The entire car cost around $120,000, which makes it the most expensive Lexus ever, aside from the LFA.
One interesting thing about the new LS is that it no longer offers V8 power. Instead, the new model boasts a twin-turbocharged V6 with 414 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, or (as in the one I drove) a hybrid V6 with 354 hp and a truly amazing fuel economy rating of 25 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway — better than a V6 Toyota Camry. Not surprisingly, you don’t really miss the V8; the LS 500h has more than enough power, and I suspect the LS 500 feels downright quick. But such is the world of the full-size luxury sedan that you can no longer count on getting a V8 under the hood.
But the powertrain doesn’t matter much, as the car certainly has sufficient power for most customers. Instead, it’s likely most shoppers will be more interested in the rest of the car. And I’m happy to report the latest LS is one of the most impressive luxury sedans I’ve ever piloted, boasting a truly serene driving experience, ultra-soft, comfortable seats and a surprising total lack of noise from the outside. Tire noise, wind noise, noise from other cars … it’s all eliminated in the LS. It’s just peaceful.
It’s also high-tech. The latest LS features go above and beyond the norm with a few cool features like a heads-up display that alerts you to another vehicle approaching from the side when you’re sitting at an intersection — a tremendously helpful feature at a stop sign, for instance, where it may be hard to see approaching traffic. There’s also the rear seat touchscreen, which controls a myriad of functions, including the seats themselves — and there’s no other way to control the rear seats, with traditional buttons now fully replaced by the touchscreen. Of course, the LS also offers the latest semi-autonomous driving tech, along with the usual compliment of safety features like blind spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, forward-collision braking and more.
In terms of athleticism, the LS isn’t, really. It’s fast, as I mentioned before, but steering remains light and the car remains hushed. This is a nice car to floor it down the highway on-ramp and then settle into a nice long drive, but it’s not one you’ll want to shove through back roads with any frenzied pace. This won’t surprise anyone who’s ever spent any time in prior LS models, as it’s really just an evolution of those; it’s still probably the single full-size luxury sedan that places the highest emphasis on luxury rather than sport, unlike its European competitors.
Styling is, of course, subjective, but I happen to love the new LS. I’ve now seen a few of them on the road, and I truly think it’s a gorgeous, well-proportioned design, with Lexus’s controversial grille fitting perfectly into the rest of the lines. It’s a bit fussy, in terms of angles and edges, but so is everything now, and the LS seems to do it better than most. This is Japanese car design at its finest. But regardless of your feelings on the exterior, you simply have no other choice but to appreciate the interior: It’s truly beautiful, with only the best materials and design, front and back. I truly believe it’s the best full-size luxury sedan interior, even including the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And I don’t mean the best for the money, but rather the best overall.
So Lexus has built a great car. The question, unfortunately, is: Does anyone care? The dealership where I reviewed this car, Lexus of Seattle, told me their business is now 80 percent SUVs, and Lexus is in a good position here, with four different crossovers (NX, RX, GX, LX) and another (UX) on the way. But do luxury sedans still have a place in this world?
My guess is, in all honesty, they don’t. Back in the early 2000s, Lexus had no trouble selling 25,000 to 35,000 LS units a year; these days, Lexus hasn’t cracked 10,000 units since 2013. The same sort of numbers are true across the board, regardless of brand, as more shoppers seem to move toward SUVs — and it’s now to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if there was no sixth-generation Lexus LS to replace this one. But if you’re part of that increasingly small group who’s interested in an excellent full-size luxury sedan, the LS is among the most excellent — and it deserves a prominent spot on your shopping list. Find a Lexus LS for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.
MORE FROM OVERSTEER: