LEXUS LS 500 WILL PAM­PER YOU SILLY

Mas­sag­ing seats of­fer spa-level treat­ment in top-of-the-line car

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Marco della Cava

Lexus, you brought out the Richie Rich in me with the shi­atsu seats and origami-in­spired door pan­els.

While the first re­design of Lexus’ top-of-the-line sedan, the LS 500, in a decade fea­tures a host of chas­sis and tech­no­log­i­cal tweaks, the level of sybaritic lux­ury avail­able to oc­cu­pants of this flag­ship ve­hi­cle is out­ra­geous enough to cause the lumpen pro­le­tariat to storm the bar­ri­cades.

What’s in­trigu­ing is that out­ra­geous lev­els of pas­sen­ger pam­per­ing also are the rage with a num­ber of Chi­nese-backed au­to­mo­tive ven­tures that have yet to sell a car. Lu­cid, NIO and Fara­day Fu­ture all have dis­played pro­to­types that seem like pri­vate jets on wheels.

Lexus is of­fer­ing jet-travel ameni­ties on four wheels now.

While the styling of this large peo­ple mover is ques­tion­able — the 2018 LS’ de­sign­ers clearly had an aver­sion to sim­ple sheet-metal curves — its ex­e­cu­tion is fault­less and leans heav­ily on the Ja­panese cus­tom of hospi­tal­ity, or omote­nashi.

Let’s get right to the glitz packed into this pricey car, which ar­rives in Fe­bru­ary tot­ing a tag that will start around the cur­rent model’s $75,000 base price and rise quickly from there.

While a num­ber of com­pa­nies rang­ing from Ford to MercedesBenz of­fer some form of mas­sag­ing seats, Lexus felt com­pelled to take things up to Four Sea­sons spa lev­els.

All four LS seats of­fer a large ar­ray of pneu­matic blad­ders that in­flate and de­flate to repli­cate Ja­panese shi­atsu mas­sage tech­niques. But one push of a touch­screen but­ton will send the right rear pas­sen­ger — pre­sum­ably the suc­cess­ful owner of this chauf­feured be­he­moth — into such a state of re­clined bliss that deeply tinted win­dows are a must.

In a si­lent me­chan­i­cal bal­let, the front pas­sen­ger seat starts to fold for­ward as your own leather­wrapped throne elon­gates and sprouts what Lexus calls an ot­toman, gen­tly sup­port­ing you in a po­si­tion con­ducive to pass­ing out cold.

Faux fin­gers firmly knead your back, but­tocks and thighs. Spot heaters repli­cate a hot stone mas­sage. Turn on the Mark Levin­son 23-speaker, 2,400-watt 3D Sur­round Sound sys­tem — there are even speak­ers in the roof — and drowsi­ness comes on fast.

Dur­ing a re­cent event to show­case the new LS held at Ge­orge Lu­cas’ Sky­walker Ranch in Marin County just north of San Fran­cisco, Lexus en­gi­neers waxed tech­ni­cal as I re­clined. I asked re­peated prob­ing ques­tions, all just an ex­cuse for me to doze longer.

Lux­u­ri­ous touches also find them­selves into the LS’ door pan­els, where buy­ers can opt for her­ring­bonepat­terned wood or some-

thing else de­cid­edly Ja­panese: hand-folded fab­ric re­sem­bling in­tri­cate origami pat­terns set next to Kiriko cut-glass in­serts. This stuff makes bling look bor­ing.

As men­tioned be­fore, the ex­te­rior of the new LS also isn’t for ev­ery­one. Fans of sub­tlety won’t cot­ton to the ar­ray of in­ter­sect­ing pan­els and planes or the dizzy­ing ef­fect of the mesh front grille. But what’s un­der the body­work does im­press.

It starts with size. The car is

1.3-inches longer and 0.6-inch lower than its pre­de­ces­sor. Un­der the hood, a new twin-turbo V-6 en­gine — mated to Lexus’ in­no­va­tive 10-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion — pro­duces 416 horse­power that’s good for a sprint to 60 mph in 4.6 sec­onds. A new hy­brid ver­sion will gen­er­ate 354 horse­power be­tween the

V-6 gas en­gine and elec­tric mo­tors.

But what these num­bers do not con­vey is how well Lexus en­gi­neers man­aged to make a lux­ury car with a 123-inch wheel­base drive like a more sport­ing mid­size sedan.

On the un­du­lat­ing and wind­ing roads of western Marin County, the LS not only main­tained its com­po­sure when pushed hard, but it even en­cour­aged re­peated use of its pad­dle shifters. Steer­ing was taut and com­mu­nica­tive, brak­ing was re­spon­sive.

From the driver’s per­spec­tive, LS ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics in­stilled con­fi­dence that bor­dered on fun, typ­i­cally not the norm when pilot­ing land yachts.

Once back at the ranch that Star Wars built, there were more de­briefs on other high-tech fea­tures of the LS.

This in­cluded an im­pres­sive demo of the 3D Levin­son sys­tem that made it sound like a he­li­copter was hov­er­ing just out­side the rear-seat sun­roof and an end­less litany of Lexus En­form in­fo­tain­ment fea­tures rang­ing from in­car Wi-Fi to over-the-air, car-todealer health checks.

These days, hav­ing a ton of tech toys in a car isn’t news. It’s par for the race-to-au­ton­omy course. That’s why as long as hu­mans are do­ing the driv­ing, the proof of a great car re­ally re­mains in the front-left seat — be­hind the wheel.

By those stan­dards, Lexus can take pride in de­vel­op­ing an LS that still is wor­thy of both road and pos­si­bly even track.

While that re­clin­ing back right pas­sen­ger seat may whis­per, “Let’s ride,” this re­vamped LS shouts, “Let’s drive.”

Lexus en­gi­neers man­aged to make a lux­ury car with a 123-inch wheel­base drive like a more sport­ing mid­size sedan.

JAMES HALFACRE

PHO­TOS BY JAMES HALFACRE

De­spite its larger size, the new Lexus LS 500 fea­tures a lower stance and other plat­form tweaks.

The re­designed Lexus LS 500 fea­tures swoop­ing de­sign touches that aren’t to ev­ery­one’s lik­ing, in­clud­ing a front grille that seems cav­ernous for this front end.

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