New to Wheels Car of the Year?
Read the COTY 101.
THE LEGACY of late-’80s Japanese heroes, such as the COTY-conquering Mazda MX-5, Honda NSX and Lexus LS400, continues. But three decades on, is this fifth-generation LS sufficiently bold, progressive and luxurious to make the perception-changing original proud?
Longer and wider, yet lower and sleeker than ever before, the Lexus limo flagship returns in single-wheelbase guise, joining its LC coupe cousin in adopting the ‘GAL’ global longitudinal-drive ‘luxury’ version of the Toyota New Global Architecture. That means a switch to an all-new, far more rigid yet lighter aluminium/steel structure, offering a lower centre of gravity, better front/rear weight distribution and improved packaging.
With no V8s in sight, the 310kW LS500 introduces a fresh twin-turbo V6 and 10-speed auto to boost performance (0-100km/h in 5.0sec) yet slash consumption, while the 264kW LS500h pairs an atmo V6 and four-speed auto/CVT combo (true!) with an electric motor. Though 0.4s tardier to 100, it averages 6.6L/100km. In a 2.2-tonne limo.
The better-selling LS500 continues with the peerless refinement the series is renowned for, but lacks the gnarly exhaust growl of old. Such serenity might be an issue, as the twin-turbo V6 leaps off the line and into triple-digits almost imperceptibly; your chauffeur better have a clean licence handy. Sadly, Lexus couldn’t lend us the hybrid for scrutiny.
With multi-links at each corner and standard air suspension running on 20s, the Lexus’s ride also meets expectations, providing a cushy, rolly softness in Comfort, and planted, poised control in Sport+, revealing an unexpected bandwidth.
Unfortunately, the first corner brings a letdown. While measured and responsive, with pleasingly accurate handling and imperturbable roadholding, there’s zero steering feel, eroding the LS’s dynamic appeal. Even with our base F-Sport’s variable-gear-ratio helm, well-calibrated four-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars, feedback is limited.
READ NEXT: Lexus LC: 2018 Car of the Year review
Oh well. There’s always the gorgeous, distinctive interior – arguably Lexus’s best yet – with daring, flowing shapes, extensive, exquisite detailing, bank-vault build, and gadgets galore. It's spacious too, even with that lower roofline.
Needless to say, the cabin is a micro-climate of opulence and solitude from the outside world. And the $5K optional Sport Luxury ushers in a Shiatsu massage function and spot heaters, as part of the 22-way airliner-style rear recliners with ottomans. Rock-star spec!
Conversely, the multimedia graphics look dated, and some of the latest semi-autonomous tech isn’t available (yet). But the LS500h is $50K cheaper than the previous hybrid, as well as costing appreciably less than most rivals, spec-for-spec.
READ NEXT: 2018 Geneva Motor Show - Lexus UX confirmed
While 2019’s LS can’t boast the E-Class-eclipsing obsessive quality, cabin hush or kit of the silken V8-powered original, European manufacturers of full-sized luxury sedans need to sleep with their eyes wide open once more.