The flagship Lexus LS has always provided a fairly conservative take on large luxury sedans, amongst a field of already safe-bets. Now though, the all-new generation LS range isn’t prepared to blend into the background anymore with its boldest styling yet.
Another of the LS range’s constants is also disappearing with this new generation, which for the first time since 1989 sees the new model introduced without a V8 engine. A new turbocharged V6 will do the heavy-lifting instead - or a hybrid V6 option for the tech-savvy and enviro-conscious.
At the global launch of the new LS in California, TMR took to the wheel of the new limo to see how this bold new approach squares off against long-standing competitors.
Vehicle Style: Prestige upper-large sedan
Price: From $190,000 (estimated) plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 310kW/600Nm 3.5-litre 6cyl turbo petrol, 264kW/350Nm 3.5-litre 6cyl petrol-electric hybrid | 10sp automatic, CVT automatic
Australia isn’t scheduled to see the new LS range until April 2018 and when it does buyers will have a choice of two engines and two trim levels.
Both the plush Sports Luxury and more sportily-trimmed F-Sport will be available to local buyers, who will be able to choose between Lexus’ new twin turbo V6, or the same complex multi-stage V6 hybrid powertrain from the LC500h coupe.
The choice between long and short wheelbase variants has disappeared too, but the new model ensures no one misses out with a 5235mm nose-to-tail length eclipsing even the previous long wheelbase version.
There’s been no official word on pricing yet, but Lexus is expected to stick close to the current price range which starts at just under $186,000 before on-road costs and stretches to the $220,000 mark, giving the LS a fighting chance against the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class which both now start at a point closer to the $200k mark.
Lexus prides itself on craftsmanship, paying particular attention to the kinds of painstaking work that have characterised Japanese fine arts for centuries. As a result the interior of the LS is available with intricate cut-wood veneers, in either high-tech laser cut or delicate handcrafted patterns.
Similarly Lexus is just as pedantic about the leather used in the interior, boasting that only the top one percent of North American sourced hides can make it into an LS. The leather uses a new dying process to make it 30 percent softer than existing semi-aniline leather too.
Alongside the traditional elements, the new LS also boasts up-to-the-minute interior tech including a high resolution instrument panel with virtual gauges, plus a massive central control screen.
The driver also gets a huge amount of customisable info via a huge new heads-up display, that almost negates the need to glance at the other interior displays.
Australian specification is yet to be confirmed, but buyers will be able to pick from four interior colour schemes for the Sports Luxury and a three for the F-Sport. Other headline features include 28-way adjustable front seats with massage function and ‘spot-heating’ rear seats that can selectively warm specific zones without causing pampered occupants any kind of discomfort.
The rear seat pampering also extends to a function accessed via the rear seat touchscreen that allows the rear seat to be reclined up to 45 degrees and pushes the front passenger seat towards the dash giving about a metre of legroom and creating an optimum environment to enjoy the crystal-clear 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
For all of the exquisite details, the interior is still quite busy in appearance, and Lexus has retained its touchpad infotainment controller, which is easier to use that the previous mouse-style controller, but still proves difficult to use in a moving vehicle.
ON THE ROAD
If its firepower you’re after, fear not. While Lexus has replaced the previous naturally-aspirated 4.6-litre V8 with a smaller 3.5-litre V6 the addition of twin turbochargers sees the new engine outgun its predecessor.
Driveability is enhanced thanks to more torque available earlier in the rev range, with the peak 600Nm figure on-tap from 1600 to 4800rpm, compared to the previous V8’s 493Nm at 4100rpm.
Peak power is rated at 310kW (the V8 managed 285kW), but by far the most impressive feature is the near-silence with which the new V6 operates, helped out by the car’s double glazed windows, triple sealed doors and heavy duty soundproofing. Like the LC500 coupe the new LS also makes use of Lexus’ 10-speed automatic transmission.
Also like the LC, the LS is built upon a new Lexus-specific platform, called GA-L. Key detail changes see the engine moved further back in the chassis for better handling balance with improvements in structural rigidity improving steering response and body control.
Underpinning that ride response is adaptive air suspension and, on certain variants, an active stabiliser, rear-wheel steering and a choice of seven drive modes. This makes it surprisingly nimble on twisty roads, with excellent turn-in and enough give in the stability control to allow you to gently hang the tail out.
Where the turbo V6 makes noteworthy gains over the engine it replaces, the petrol-electric hybrid LS500h isn’t as impressive. Once again the naturally-aspirated V6, electric motor system, and multi-stage 10-speed CVT auto come from the LC - but the system is pipped by the previous V8 hybrid setup when it comes to outputs.
While there’s no shame in the system’s 264kW peak power, it's the anemic 350Nm of torque that struggles to get the big LS moving, coupled with indecisive reactions from the complex CVT auto (essential two transmission housed one inside the other).
Push the throttle to the floor for a more connected response and the hybrid system whirrs like a juice bar during the post-gym peak. Fleet operators might appreciate the fuel saving over the long term, but the turbo six is the clear pick of the two available engines.
The fine details that Lexus has excruciated over may be the points that sway buyers out of German limos, particularly as Lexus seems set to offer a higher grade of standard fittings compared to the pay-as-you-go options pricing favoured by its competitors.
From a broader perspective, the LS may not look as technologically advanced owing to a lack of sophisticated automated driving technologies, the likes of which defined the recently announced Audi A8. Even self-parking technology has been stripped from this generation LS, but Lexus suggest buyers rarely used it anyway.
For all of that there’s little doubt that the new Lexus LS is a seismic shift from its conservative predecessors. The car itself is hardly devoid of technology, it just presents itself in different ways - and could be arguably more palatable to traditional luxury-limo consumers.
Time will tell if Lexus’ blend of bold exterior looks and exquisite interior detailing are a recipe for success in the tough-to-crack high-end luxury sector.
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