Lexus didn’t pull any punches with the all-new 2018 LS 500. It feels more like a world-class luxury car than any other Lexus I’ve tested and seems to be aimed squarely at its Bavarian rivals. Its exterior is gorgeous, its interior is sumptuous, its twin turbo heart beats out 416 horsepower and it has an extravagant price tag. Does all this add up to the best Lexus yet?
This LS 500 was equipped with leather trimmed heated and cooled seats that can massage passengers into a jelly-like state of relaxation. A compulsory Lexus analog clock set in the beautifully designed dash shares space with a high resolution 12.3 inch display. To the right of that, there’s a lovely backlit cut acrylic panel in front only serves to look pretty. Dark wood accents are distributed in moderation through the cabin.
It had the available 2,400 watt 23 speaker Mark Levinson sound system. That’s a huge amount of speakers that ensure there’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s safe too. Stashed about the cabin are 10 airbags. And the whole space can be flooded with natural light at the touch of a button thanks to the panoramic glass roof.
Nestled in the console, is Lexus’ trackpad infotainment interface. It’s nearly impossible to use while driving. The seven inch touch screen interface in the back seat armrest is much more user friendly. It controls everything from AC to chair massage. It also controls the stereo and seat position. It’s proof that Lexus can come up with a reasonable interface. Fingers crossed, this technology will make its way to the front seats in upcoming models.
A list of every bell and whistle in this ride would make for a rather long and dry review, allow me to highlight just a few favorites. The rear side windows have power sun shades; one of which unfurls like the headsail of a yacht. Adjustable airline-style headrests give the massage seats a first class feel. The armrests are designed to appear as though they’re floating in front of the door panels. They’re backlit by LEDs to enhance the illusion. The LS 500 projects the best looking heads up displays I’ve ever encountered onto the windshield in front of the driver. The passenger side front seat folds out of the way so the seat behind it can lay nearly flat for La-Z-Boy levels of comfort.
Front seat passengers are treated to power seat buckles that leap up into position so they’re always at hand. They even light up so they’re easy to find even after dark. After buckling up, the shoulder strap gives you get a little reassuring hug, and after shifting to drive it hugs you again.
If you’re thinking “that’s all so unnecessary,” well, you’re right. But simply meeting the needs of passengers is not what luxury cars are about. They’re about exceeding expectations, anticipating desires and maybe even surprising us with something we didn’t even know we wanted.
The LS’s body work has the sophisticated look of a luxury car, but it doesn’t scream “look at me.” 19 inch wheels wrapped in run-flat tires come standard, but our test vehicle had the optional 20 inch forged alloys. The spindle shape of the grille is repeated on the trunk and again in the instrument cluster on the dash. The design is restrained, and for such a big car it doesn’t look chunky. The ample hood, sweeping roofline and tidy trunk make for a pleasantly proportional profile.
A pair of turbochargers and variable valve timing helps the 3.5 liter V6 make 416 horsepower. That’s backed up by a slick-shifting 10 speed transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. The LS makes good use of the power too, lay the gas pedal flat and the big sedan hustles from 0 to 60 mph in about five and a half seconds. It sounds good while doing it too.
When in comfort mode, the car has a floaty ride like an old Cadillac but without the tendency to wallow in the corners. The suspension is more firm in sport and sport plus modes. The electronically assisted steering has a satisfyingly heavy resistance. Like the weight of an antique Katana rather than a modern reproduction you’d buy from a late night TV ad.
The ride is so quiet that amorous occupants can whisper sweet nothings to one another at 75 mph without missing a word. At night, the headlights peek around corners as you turn the wheel. Air ride springs raise the car when it’s parked to allow for easier entry and exit. Then they lower the car again for a svelte low slug appearance when the car is in motion.
Due to the high deck lid, it is tough to see out of the back window while backing up There’s also a chime that dings endlessly while the car is in reverse. However, loads of sensors and multiple video feeds alert drivers to their surroundings and the chime can probably be turned off somehow.
The LS 500 is gratifying to drive, but not in the same ways as a sports car. While there’s plenty of power on tap, this car doesn’t burst violently off the line. It takes off with haste and the speedometer eagerly climbs toward triple digits, but it always feels poised not wily. It’s soothing to drive and you atually feel better when you get out than when you got in.
So, who would buy this car? It’s for the guy who has made it, and enjoys the finer things, but doesn’t need to shout about it while enjoying them. He wants the luxury, not necessarily the attention. The LS 500 marks a level of luxury I’ve never experienced in any other Lexus product. It feels first class in every respect.
A base model LS 500 costs $75,000. This car, with these options, will set you back $107,090. For perspective, you could buy the base model and a new Dodge Durango for the same money. A big chunk of the option cost comes from the $17,000 executive package. That’s a whole lot of money, but it feels genuinely different than any other Lexus I’ve tested. And relative to flying first class every day, this car is a pretty good value.