Fifth generation still the value leader in lap of luxury
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.
■ The 2018 Lexus LS 500 is shown.