Old-school luxury meets new-age looks with the 2018 Lexus LS500.
The LS nameplate didn’t just kick off Toyota’s luxury car brand back in 1989, but it became the embodiment of Lexus: to be quiet and offer high quality. Every model it makes is beautifully built and refined, but such attributes and attention to detail lend themselves most closely to this particular breed of upper-large sedan nee limousine.
There is nothing to indicate that the new-generation LS500 should change any of that, but the landscape it exists in certainly has changed. Rivals such as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class now align their 5.0-metre-plus bodies with equally sizeable levels of infotainment innovation and active safety technology.
The question is, can this Lexus also align its sinewy and swoopy new styling with newly segment-challenging virtues?
Lexus now offers its upper-large sedan in four variations: $190,500 plus on-road costs F Sport or $195,500 (plus orc) Sports Luxury, each with a choice of 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol, or 3.5-litre non-turbo V6 power but with electric motors.
The Sports Luxury is tested here, which uniquely includes several rear-seat items including 22-way electrically adjustable outboard buckets with side-cushion airbags plus passenger-side massage and ottoman functions, twin 11.6-inch screens with DVD player, centre control screen, cooler box (not on hybrid) and electric sideblinds.
It further adds a heated steering wheel and four-zone climate control inside, while trading away mechanical items from the F Sport such as broader back tyres (245mm- versus 275mm-wide 20-inch runflats), larger brakes (357mm versus 400mm front and 335mm versus 359mm rear) plus variable-ratio/four-wheel steering.
And, finally, the new 3.5-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 is tested here, which sends 310kW of power and 600Nm of torque to the rear wheels via a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Compared with the same-price hybrid, which gets a 264kW system output, it’s quicker from standstill to 100km/h (5.0 seconds versus 5.4sec) but claims higher combined-cycle fuel usage – 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres versus 6.6L/100km.
Enter the LS500 and from any door the same consistently matched, rich leather presents as a fine start to the surroundings. Impressively, there isn’t a piece of hard plastic to be seen, while the thickly padded ‘floating’ doors armrests can be complemented by ($10K optional) cut-class panelling and pleated door trims that sadly weren’t fitted to our more traditionally specified, rosewood-trimmed test car.
It successfully melds those classic-limo trappings with a fresh edge, and the same is true for the expectedly lush seats that team with an unexpectedly small steering wheel and low seating – both of which suggest this is more sports coupe than sedan.
Similarly, as standard the full suite of reclining, heating, ventilating, massaging seats conjure images of employing a driver, moving to the countryside and commuting from the reclined rear ottoman to the city to work – or maybe that’s just me.
It’s an Uber Lux-approved five stars in the rear, with an enormous amount of rear legroom in this 5.3m-long sedan, especially with the front passenger seat pushed forward and the left-rear fully reclined.
While passengers can stretch out and score a massage, however, for the driver the integration of its infotainment system loses a significant number of those stars, with buttons that feel generic, graphics that look dated and complicated ergonomics.
Using a mouse cursor for the screen is fine at standstill, but not on the move and certainly not when there are many mind-boggling menus. Lexus gets around this by ‘blanking out’ most features at speed, even including scrolling through a phonebook. However, a harmonious interface, not slapping the driver’s hand, would be better.
Similarly, a blend of USB/HDMI/USB inputs are impressive, but the fact there’s a DVD player and Miracast (that mirrors an Android user’s phone to the screen) rather than a digital TV tuner or any iPhone integration is disappointing.
On the flipside the dashboard design looks as modern as the Mark Levinson audio system sounds high-end, even if these are ‘traditional’ limousine things. For ‘progressive’ aspects, an Audi A8 driven weeks earlier proves miles ahead.
Admittedly, that German rival asks $210,000 (plus orc) for its ‘base’ long-wheelbase version, and to match the Lexus’ equipment a buyer will need $18,500 for a rear massage/reclining package, $11,000 for a front leather dash/ventilated/massage seat function, and $6690 for rear seat entertainment. But even for $246,190 (plus orc), the Audi feels easily $50K ahead of this Japanese model to look at and engage with.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 3.5/5
Built on an all-new rear-wheel drive platform, the LS500 mostly makes good on its maker’s promises. The steering is fluent and friction-free, mating nicely with the small rim and combining to always help this upper-large sedan shrink around its driver.
Even on 20-inch runflat tyres, the suspension strikes such a brilliant balance between compliance and control that any of the other modes beyond Comfort (there’s also Normal, Sport and Sport+) simply do not matter. Whether around town, on the freeway or a winding country road, this new Lexus really does delight.
And perhaps surprisingly, through corners it feels a whole lot lighter than its hefty 2235kg kerb weight suggests. How hefty is that? Well the aforementioned new-gen A8 weighs 1995kg, while also being a match for steering and suspension excellence.
Dynamically the LS500 feels light and pointy, but also expectedly – this is a limousine after all – remote and hushed. Where that kerb weight does make its presence felt is in terms of performance.
Lexus claims a 5.0-second 0-100km/h, and once up and hurling that feels about right. In those well-primed situations, the 10-speed auto and crisp-sounding twin-turbo really do gel, yet unexpectedly in more mundane situations they don’t. When asking for quick-fire response from low- or medium-speed the auto seemingly takes a pause for breath, and the V6 takes a moment to wind up, feeling fractionally sluggish.
Also unexpected is a couple of refinement issues. For wind and road noise, the LS500 is superbly hushed and that’s great. Perhaps owing to the switch to runflat tyres, though, there can be some audible ‘bump thump’ across irregular surfaces, while the 3.5-litre sounds far too coarse on light throttle where it roars at 2500rpm. It isn’t entirely unpleasant; it just seems a tad ‘off’ for a model renowned for quietness.
Around town also saw up to 16.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the trip computer, only lowering to 14.9L/100km after freeway/country driving, and the calibration of the adaptive-automatic high-beam and lane-keep assistance functions didn’t prove nearly as seamless and fluent as an A8 (or Mercedes-Benz S-Class).
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety Features: 10 airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors with surround-view camera, collision warning alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitor and active lane-keep assistance.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km.
Servicing: Lexus Encore Privileges include free 12-month/15,000km service, access to service loan vehicles and wash and vacuum included.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The A8 L is especially the most tech-savvy in the segment, while the S-Class is the most lavish in terms of cabin appointments. Perhaps surprisingly, the LS500 might give the 7 Series the closest run in terms of steering and suspension…
- Audi A8 L
- BMW 7 Series
- Mercedes-Benz S-Class
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In many ways the new-gen LS is a fantastic upper-large sedan. The fact that it can cosset rear occupants both in terms of seating flexibility and suspension comfort, but also allow its driver to enjoy the great chassis and steering proves an alluring blend.
The fact also that virtually everything is standard, and Lexus’ inherent craftsmanship and quality is very clearly on display, means that an owner will likely enjoy this option in the long run as well. Compared with its rivals, the LS500 is really well priced, too.
Where this particular model grade falls down is in the detail. A better infotainment system is sorely overdue, with the switchgear and graphics to go with it. But this new LS500 could also be lighter and more efficient, while tyre thrum and light-throttle noise should be lower, and the lane-keep assistance smoother.
They are only a few little things, but for $200K they add up. Even so, Lexus can add significant driver appeal to its ‘traditional’ virtues of comfort and quality here, and that deserves praise. For more ‘progressive’ aspects, though, an update may be required.
- Interested in buying Lexus LS500? Visit our Lexus showroom for more information.