JAPAN’S most ambitious tilt yet at the upper-large luxury sedan segment has finally broken cover in Detroit, in the slinky shape of the 2018 Lexus LS.
New-from-the-ground-up in every way, the near 5.3-metre limousine will break away from the wilful boxiness that defined four generations of Toyota’s full-sized sedan flagship when Australian sales commence early next year.
However, while it sits some 15mm lower than before on standard 20-inch wheels, and introduces a six side-window silhouette to the series, the XF50 (as the upcoming LS is dubbed internally) lacks the striking visual punch of the LF-FC Concept first shown at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.
Never mind, though, because keen drivers might be in for a massive treat, since the newcomer dumps its 11 year-old XF40 predecessor’s three-decade-old N-platform for the GA-L (Global Architecture for Luxury vehicles) underpinnings that debuted in the closely related Lexus LC 500 uber luxo coupe exactly 12 months ago.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the XF50 will usurp 28 years of definitive V8 smoothness and muscle for a box-fresh 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6, delivering a heady 310kW of power and 600Nm of torque to the rear wheels via a class-first 10-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. This compares to the 285kW/493Nm outputs of the outgoing LS 460’s 4.6-litre V8/eight-speed combo, with lower consumption and reduced emissions being the expected upshot of the downsized powertrains.
The company states that a stronger cylinder block, revised engine mounts, and electric waste gates will help the V6TT move the refinement goal posts on, while ushering in a loftier level of performance interactivity, by way of the tight-ratio ten-speed auto’s dual-clutch transmission-rivalling ultra-fast shift times, backed up by a three-tiered driving mode – Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus.
Whether later versions will also adopt the LC 500’s 2UR-GSE 351kW/539Nm 5.0-litre V8 or the LC 500h’s 8GR-FXS 264kW-total system output 3.5-litre atmo V6 petrol/electric hybrid is unknown, but don’t bet against either move happening.
Longer (at 5235mm) and wider (1900mm) than before, the 2018 LS also departs from recent form by being offered in only a single wheelbase length of 3125mm, which is between 33mm and a whopping 158mm more than before depending on variant, significantly boosting rear-seat legroom.
Despite the dimensional growth, weight falls by over 90kg compared to before, partly thanks to far more high tensile steel sheet deployment and increased use of aluminium – including in the multi-link rear suspension set-up.
When combined with the lighter, lower, and more centrally-placed powertrain, as well as the significantly stiffer GA-L underpinnings that include bolstered engine-compartment bracing and more rigid aluminium suspension towers, the MY18 Lexus flagship promises to be the best handling and riding LS to date, as well as the quietest – an area the marque is renown for anyway.
Aiding dynamics are double ball joints on the upper and lower control arm front suspension system, for greater steering feel and discipline as well as reduced inertia and unwanted movements, while a more hushed cabin comes from new electronic anti-noise and traditional sound-suppression measures.
Also lending a hand are a number of advanced chassis control technologies. Falling underneath the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management umbrella, they strive for more effective harmonisation of engine, suspension, steering, and braking characteristics, for maximum control of longitudinal, lateral, and vertical motion, as well as yaw, roll and pitch elements – even on split-friction road surfaces featuring dry bitumen and black ice. That’s what Lexus says, anyway.
Further enhancing comfort is a more smartly packaged cabin with less sunroof intrusion for greater headroom, redesigned seating with less bulk to aid entry/egress while still providing decent support, and optional air suspension that actually raises the vehicle to a more agreeable hip height for occupants with restricted movement.
Finally, a big 12.3-inch touchscreen interface with latest multimedia, communication, audio, and navigation will be standard, a large colour head-up display will be made available, and a bevy of advanced driver-assist technologies will make the cut, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and auto high-beam systems.
Claimed to be inspired by the tradition of Omotenashi, the concept of Japanese hospitality, the LS promises to shake the premium establishment in a way that Lexus hasn’t been able to replicate since the seminal original did back in 1990 (winning that year’s Wheel’s COTY award in the process).
“Not only will the LS symbolise the Lexus brand, it will become the definitive new-generation luxury car embodying Japanese tradition and culture,” according to Lexus chief engineer, Toshio Asahi. “As such, this global pinnacle must go far beyond what the world expects from a luxury car.”
How much then? The existing LS 460 F Sport kicks off from a smidgen over $185,000 before on-road costs, topping out at nearly $250K, so don’t expect pricing to depart too dramatically from that, despite all the extra space and features that Japan’s Mercedes S-Class combatant is coming with.
Lexus won’t have the upper-luxury class to itself, with an all-new Audi A8 imminent and Jaguar’s next-gen XJ in the pipeline, while Hyundai prepares yet more versions of its burgeoning Genesis range to rock the establishment. Watch this space…
2018 Lexus LS specs
|Engine||3.5-litre direct-injection twin turbo V6|