Test Drive: 2018 Lexus LS 500
Car companies produce top-of-the-line flagship models to showcase their most advanced designs and technologies. For Lexus, that has been the LS line, a series of powerful, sophisticated, quiet and conservatively-styled fullsize luxury sedans.
But Lexus has broken that mold for 2018. The all new LS 500 is strikingly bold, with sleek exterior lines, a huge front spindle grill and an impessive 123-inch wheelbase. The interior is also radically reimagined, with organic shapes replacing the earlier geometric lines. And the previous V8 has been replaced with a twin turbocharged V6 that is not only more powerful but delivers better fuel economy.
Lexus is the luxury divison of Toyota. Some reviewers were puzzled when Japanese manufacturers first launched such brands to compete against American and German luxury car lines. They include Acura, which is owned by Honda, and Infiniti, which is owned by Nissan. The earliest models were good but hardly earthshaking. They all got better over the years — and the 2018 Lexus LS 500 is now poised to surpass the older competitors on many levels.
The eye-popping appearance is the most obvious one. But our test LS 500 drove remarkably well, especially for such a large car. The turbo V6 generated smooth power that was efficiently delivered through the standard 10-speed automatic transmission. Driving modes include Eco, Normal, Comfort, Custom, Sport S and Sport S Plus. For once, each felt different from the rest, with Comfort producing the after ride and Sport S Plus the strongest performance. And although the throttle response was damped in Eco for the best mileage, it did not feel sluggish.
On the road, the LS 500 floated over broken pavement, thanks to the Air Suspension system that replaces conventional springs and shocks. Even in the Sport S Plus mode, the ride was never too harsh.
The wide, swoopy dash is worth noting because it is different from those found in any other luxiry car. Accented with etched wood and surounded by stitched leather, the one in our car was a work of art. Not so sweet was the touchpad control for the 12.3-inch display screen. We weren't able to completely master it in a week of week of day-to-day driving. Perhaps it would become more natrual with more practice, however.
But that's a relative small complaint, given how well everything else on our 2108 LS 500 performed.
A F-Sport version with a firmer suspension is available for those who want even more responsive handling, but most drivers should be satisfied with the range in our test version. All-wheel-drive is also an option we would recommend for the Pacific Northwest. And a hybrid version delivers both performance and remarkable mileage for such a large car.
Lexus has been working hard to upgrade all of its vehicles in recent years with impressive results. The flagship LS 500 feels like it has jumped two generations in a single year to take a place near the top of the fullsize performance luxury class.
2018 Lexus LS 500
Base price: $75,000
Price as tested: $82,000 (est.)
Style: Fullsize sedan
Engine: Turbocharged 3.5 V6 (416 hp, 442 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 10-speed manual with Eco, Sport and Manual modes
EPA fuel economy: 19/23
Length: 206.1 inches
Weight: 4,707 pounds
Final assembly: Tahara, Japan