Fifth gen­er­a­tion still the value leader in lap of lux­ury

Texarkana Gazette - - AUTO - Bill Owney

With the all-new, fifth-gen­er­a­tion LS 500, Lexus de­cided to dance no more with the beauty that brought the com­pany to promi­nence.

In­stead, it put a few wrin­kles into the stately sedan that 30 years ago dis­proved Detroit’s con­ven­tional wis­dom that the Ja­panese could never build a big car and rock­eted Toy­ota’s lux­ury arm into world­wide promi­nence. The past few years, younger buy­ers have found staid Toy­otas more to their lik­ing with lower, wider, bet­ter-sprung vari­ants in the lineup. Lexus put a cou­ple of those touches into the new­est LS 500 and the crit­ics are not pleased.

“A mis­fire,” in­toned Con­sumer Re­ports.

“Lit­tle me­chan­i­cal char­ac­ter,” added Car and Driver.

“Not as spa­cious,”sum­ma­rized U.S. News and World Re­ports.

The big league

Oh, woe is the life of an auto writer. We must jump into cars such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Se­ries, Porsche Panam­era, Audi A8 and Lexus LS—each stun­ningly beau­ti­ful and metic­u­lously crafted—and pre­tend that we can dis­cern any real dif­fer­ence be­tween them.

Dif­fer­ences abound to be sure, but they do not glare out from a dark void. Rather, they are lo­cated with mag­ni­fy­ing classes, fer­reted out with fine-tooth combs, and de­fined by tiny nit-pick­ers. All go faster than most of us have ei­ther the skill or courage to at­tempt.

Here’s the lay of this land in a nut­shell. The Mercedes S-Class is the best re­garded and per­haps the most re­fined pro­duc­tion car on the planet and, un­like the new LS, is avail­able in a stretched ver­sion. On the other hand, the op­tion list is long and equipped sim­i­larly to a Lexus it costs $40,000 more.

The three other Ger­mans are sportier, par­tic­u­larly the Porsche and Audi, but they, too, start at $8,000 more and the dif­fer­ence be­comes greater as fea­tures are added.

The Jag? Sure, if you’re a cer­ti­fied me­chanic. If you think a lux­ury car should be re­li­able, the Lexus is your ride.

The real value leader in this seg­ment is the Ge­n­e­sis G90, start­ing at $64,986, but so far this year Hyundai has sold just less than 1,900 units, less than a third how many Lexus LS mod­els were bought in North Amer­ica.

In­ter­est­ing fac­toid from re­search. The leader in this seg­ment—by a long shot and for the sec­ond year in a row—is the Tesla Model S with nearly 19,000 U.S. sales through the end of Au­gust. That’s 36 per­cent of the mar­ket, nearly twice as great as the sec­ond-place Mercedes S-Class and three times larger than the Lexus LS 500, which is in third.

The big Tesla is also lead­ing the Euro­pean mar­ket, so maybe it’s time for some change, eh?

Where’s the V8?

Large en­gines are fad­ing into the rear-view mir­ror be­cause of a sim­ple engi­neer­ing truth: Smaller en­gines with higher com­pres­sion ra­tios are just as pow­er­ful and de­liver bet­ter fuel econ­omy be­cause they wring more en­ergy out of a gal­lon of gaso­line.

Stan­dard in the new LS 500 is a new di­rect-in­jected, twin-tur­bocharged DOHC 24-valve 4.4-L V-6. With a rel­a­tively long 100.0-mil­lime­ter stroke. Longer stroke means more torque, that pleas­ant force we feel at take­off and in low- to mid-speed pass­ing

This en­gine twist out a silky and seam­less 442 lb-ft from 1600 to 4800 rpm, a mas­sive bump from the old V-8’s 367 lb-ft, which was avail­able at a higher and more nar­row RPM range.

Horse­power, ac­cord­ing to our res­i­dent gear­head, is the gen­tle force one feels as the car fights wind on its way into triple-digit speeds. Again, the new mo­tor wins out, with 416 horses at the 6,000 rpm red­line, a bump of 30.

Lexus says a rear-wheel drive LS can get from zero to 60 in 4.6 sec­onds and zero to 100 in 11. This is a 5,000-lb car. Think about that. Top speed is elec­tron­i­cally lim­ited to 136 mph. If you feel the need to go faster than that, don’t tell your in­sur­ance agent.

Mated to a new, 10-speed trans­mis­sion, the new Lexus LS gets an es­ti­mated 19 mpg city, 29 high­way and 23 com­bined. Sub­tract a cou­ple off each for all-wheel drive.

The line on an avail­able hy­brid is 28/25/33.

Muted driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

Though it takes off like a scalded cat and has a mildly pleas­ant ex­haust note, the LS 500 ‘s driv­ing im­pres­sions are those of un­der­stated ex­cel­lence.

Our tester started at $81,400 and came with an adap­tive vari­able sus­pen­sion ($1,700). A $9,700 F-Sport pack­age came with a laun­dry list of in­te­rior and ex­te­rior trim en­hance­ments and added vari­able ra­tio steer­ing, ac­tive rear steer­ing and an ac­tive rear sway bar.

Toss in a mind-bog­gling, 23-speaker, 2,400-watt Mark Levin­son sur­round sound pack­age, and she topped out at $95,935, de­liv­ered.

With all that, the big Lexus drove like a big quiet lux­ury car, al­beit with han­dling lim­its that were well above av­er­age and felt nicely com­posed on a late-night, triple-digit run through the river bot­toms.

What? You didn’t think we had to know?

What a cabin

What sets this car apart how­ever is the in­tri­cate at­ten­tion to de­tail in ma­te­rial se­lec­tion and world-class crafts­man­ship found in its in­te­rior.

“Wow,” sum­ma­rized the ed­i­to­rial judges from Ward­sAuto, who se­lected it as one of the 10 best in­te­ri­ors of 2018.

The judges praised the LS 500’s “art­fully pat­terned ‘di­ag­o­nal-L’ per­fo­rated seats, stun­ning hand-pleated door trim and, de­pend­ing on the grade, Water­ford­crys­tal-like Kiriko cut-glass or pat­terned wood trim.” Af­ter test­ing an LS 500 F Sport for nearly a week, the judges lauded the sedan’s “great titanium-look metal bezels and gen­er­ous amounts of suede-like Alcantara and semi-ani­line black leather dressed up with edgy geo­met­ric pat­terns.” Ju­rors also praised the com­plex­ity and beauty of the cock­pit and its var­i­ous fea­tures. “The sweep­ing chrome strips on the in­stru­ment panel and float­ing door arm­rests, ac­cented by am­bi­ent light­ing, look like works of art,” said Ward­sAuto Se­nior Ed­i­tor Drew Win­ter.

Though I agree with ev­ery word of that, I must take ex­cep­tion to Wards’ praise for the LS 500’s er­gonomics. For some gawd-aw­ful rea­son, Lexus in­sisted on stick­ing with an in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem that is ac­cessed by a squir­relly track­pad, from which it is hard to set­tle on a spe­cific screen icon even when the car is mov­ing.

To turn on the car’s heated and cooled seats, for ex­am­ple, one must drill down through two menu screens and then at­tempt to set­tle on a set­ting, which the car re­ally doesn’t want to do. Try do­ing that at 80 mph.

Thank heav­ens the Lexus LS se­ries comes with ev­ery driver as­sist feature avail­able in to­day’s semi­au­tonomous ve­hi­cles. It will keep it­self in its own lane and pre­vent you from rear-end­ing that semi you didn’t see be­cause your tootsie was a touch too toasty.

Be­cause the new LS is lower and wider than be­fore, rear egress is a lit­tle tighter. Be­cause it no longer builds a stretched ver­sion, there is less legroom. Still, rear pas­sen­gers ride in the lap of lux­ury with plenty of USB ports, and heated and cooled seats that re­cline and have ex­tend­able leg sup­port

Bot­tom line: Lexus doesn’t need to build the LS. It makes tons of money from SUVs and more af­ford­able sedans, but as long as it does, this re­mains the value leader.

Photo cour­tesy of Lexus

■ The 2018 Lexus LS 500 is shown.

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