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2018 Lexus LS First Drive: Not My Father's LS

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 9/26/2017 Motor Trend Staff
2018-Lexus-LS-500-front-three-quarter-04.jpg 2018 Lexus LS First Drive: Not My Father's LS

After more than a decade of driving two Lexus LS sedans, my father switched brands in the late 2000s despite his trouble-free ownership experience. After he left the brand for something new, the LS became a snoozy yet dependable value-alternative to the class-leading Mercedes-Benz S-Class. With the ambitiously redesigned 2018 Lexus LS, that's no longer the case. When it goes on sale in February 2018, can the new 2018 LS surprise and delight buyers who are new to the brand without alienating loyal Lexus buyers?

The bolder 2018 Lexus LS tries harder to earn its flagship-sedan title with unique interior details, better dynamics, more interior space, and improved proportions that visually distinguish it from the brand's smaller sedans. Now offered in one long-wheelbase size, the car includes LS 500 (V-6) and LS 500h (V-6 hybrid) models, both with standard rear-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive. Don't discount the 2018 LS 500 just because it's powered by a six-cylinder engine—this twin-turbo V-6 easily outpowers the outgoing V-8, with 416 hp at 6,000 rpm and 442 lb-ft of torque from 1,600-4,800 rpm. Acceleration from 0-60 mph comes in a manufacturer-estimated 4.6 seconds for the LS 500 or 5.1-5.2 seconds with the LS 500h hybrid. The LS 500's 10-speed automatic transmission is responsive after a slight delay, with smooth but not imperceptible shifts. The LS 500h is also responsive, though the hybrid powertrain—which produces a combined-system 354 hp—whines quietly in its sport modes.

About those sport modes—all Lexus LS cars have multiple driving modes that are easily activated by twisting a small stalk just above the instrument cluster. Even without twisting over to the eco mode, the quicker 2018 LS is also more efficient than the 2017 LS 460, with the 2018 LS 500 anticipated to receive fuel economy ratings of 19/29 mpg city/highway with rear-wheel drive and 18/27 mpg with all-wheel drive. Not surprisingly, the LS 500h is also more efficient than its eight-cylinder predecessor, with 25/33 mpg in rear-drive form and 23/31 mpg with all-wheel drive.

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Lexus has started to engineer cars that have a pulse, and the new LS fits with that focus. The 2018 LS feels more connected to the road than before, but it's not overconnected. Although Mercedes-Benz has not one but two sporty AMG variants, there's a reason Audi doesn't build an RS 8 and BMW doesn't make an M8. Full-size luxury sedan customers generally prioritize comfort and quietness over sportiness. The LS delivers on comfort and quietness, though one tester we drove with 20-inch wheels (19s and 20s are available) had some tire noise. If you insist on a sportier driving experience, Lexus offers the LS 500 F Sport, which noticeably changes the driving experience compared to the non-F-Sport model most buyers will choose. The F Sport variant transmits more through the suspension and has some steering feel as well as sharper turn-in, but you never forget you're behind the wheel of a 206.1-inch sedan. The brakes are much better than those of the last-gen LS F Sport, which were overly sensitive. Also, the standard LS feels softer but still drives well. I found the suspension to be a bit floaty, but if I drove a 2018 LS, I'd simply tailor the custom setting of the multimode driving system to how I want it to respond.

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Inside, there's more rear-seat legroom than before, but the S-Class and BMW 7 Series have the Lexus beat in this measurement. Despite that, if you're coming from a previous-gen LS or GS, the rear-seat space in the 2018 LS might impress those who refuse to look beyond the Lexus dealership. The interior in the new LS will especially impress if you splurge for the Executive Interior package that will likely balloon the car's MSRP—the LS 500 will start around $75,000, but full pricing won't be announced until closer to the car's February 2018 on-sale date. The Executive Interior package adds exquisite interior details that some will find over-the-top but, crucially, cannot be found in any other car in its class. The door panels are filled with handmade fabric origami-inspired pleats that, in a way, are a 3-D elevation of the quilting design trend we've seen across the automotive landscape. The Kiriko-cut glass pieces on the door panels shine brightly (too much for some) and instantly create an impression, keeping consistent with Lexus' polarizing exterior designs. Unfortunately, the package is only available with a black interior in the U.S. and not with the beautiful burgundy of a non-U.S.-spec car I drove at the launch event. If style is especially important in your flagship sedan purchase, the regular LS models have a more attractive grille than the F Sport model's darker trim with different detailing. The headlights are oddly shaped, but the spindle grille is a highlight. Lexus isn't shy about that grille—take a look at the cover of a 2018 Lexus LS brochure:

As Lexus' flagship sedan, the 2018 LS also offers a rear-seat package that your millionaire clients should find very comfortable. They probably won't know that the seat behind the front passenger can be reclined up to 48 degrees (a best-in-class figure, Lexus claims), but they might get a kick out of watching the front seat move toward the dash and fold up, providing more than enough room to stretch out. One very minor inconvenience with this package—if you get an Executive-package car and actually plan on using the front passenger seat, that passenger might end up stepping on the extended-length seat track as they get into the car.

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The 2018 LS also offers front and rear massaging seats, a cool multicamera parking system, a full package of advanced active safety tech (including a feature that can provide a bit of steering assistance if it detects the car is about to hit a pedestrian), and the biggest head-up display projection (24-by-6 inches) any automaker has ever offered yet. No matter how many options you get on the 2018 LS, there's no way around the touchpad that controls the 12.3-inch infotainment system. You'll figure out Lexus' improved system if you give it a chance, but it's still not as intuitive as what's available from some of the competition. What would really improve the system is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. As long as you're in an area with cell phone service, these features can make various actions incredibly easy, from voice-commanding navigation to a restaurant whose name and city you know but not the actual address to hearing or responding to text messages. With Lexus Enform, the automaker offers similar functionality I didn't have a chance to test including one-shot address entry ("navigate to 123 Main Street, Anytown, California") and local business search ("take me to Paradise Piano Bar"). The Dynamic Points of Interest Search feature is complimentary for three years and available as a paid subscription after that.

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Despite that feature omission, the 2018 LS provides a much-improved overall experience compared to its predecessor. The new car is more interesting, quicker, more efficient, and more spacious for rear-seat passengers than the outgoing model. Unlike the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, there's no 12-cylinder model to solidify top-tier luxury-brand status, but the Lexus still has its own appeal.

Value remains part of that appeal. With an anticipated base price of around $75,000, the 2018 LS will be priced many thousands of dollars below the base models of the 7 Series and A8, and more than $10,000 below the new six-cylinder 2018 S450. None of the its competitors—except the less expensive Kia K900, Genesis G90, and Cadillac CT6—have more than 400 hp for around $75,000, and we look forward to testing an LS for ourselves.

2018 Lexus LS 500 F Sport front three quarter in motion 02© Motor Trend Staff 2018 Lexus LS 500 F Sport front three quarter in motion 02

The LS helped build the Lexus brand nearly 30 years ago and offered owners one of the most important luxuries of all—peace of mind. The Lexus brand and the LS model specifically have mastered long-term quality surveys for years, and we hope the same will be true over time for the new model, which is built on a new platform, filled with new technologies, and powered by a new engine. Lexus is now one of the most popular brands overall in the U.S., but the LS model remains an underdog when compared in sales to a few German competitors. The 2018 LS isn't as big inside as the competition, nor is its infotainment system going to win many awards, but the car has more spirit than the nameplate has had in a while. For the sake of loyal Lexus buyers watching the brand's evolution, we hope that a trouble-free ownership experience relative to its competitors is still part of the overall package for this admirably reinvigorated LS.

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