Flagship luxury limousine, the LS, is a stunningly good change of direction for Lexus
San Francisco, USA
Lexus is really serious about morphing from The Brand That Makes Your Dad’s Favourite Comfy Sedan into something much more exciting. It’s done cars like the LC grand touring sports coupe, the RC and high-performance RC F, amongst others. But nowhere is that more clear than here in the new, fifth-generation LS luxury limousine.
The LS is the car that made Lexus, and was the first model launched in 1989 with the brand’s debut. Ultra-refined, unshakeable and understated, you’d never call an LS eye candy.
But the morph from a boring three-box sedan shape to a coupe-like silhouette is one area that injects serious eyeball-excitement, especially given the car’s big limo scale, and it’s wider, lower and longer than the previous machine.
On that note, the LS runs on the GA-L platform debuted by the LC coupe, though it’s larger in all dimensions. There is no long-wheelbase model, as the standard car already has 35mm more between the wheels (3,125mm) than the previous LS 460 L, which had a wheelbase of 3,091mm.
There’s also that giant spindle grille, all crazed angles and the design team going balls-out Zorro with the L-motif. Combine the design language, the scale of the car and the sexier proportions and you have a sensational-looking sedan.
It’s a design that draws curious glances and questions from strangers. It’s probably the very first LS to do that without having a famous person inside it.
The interior is equally dramatic, the front fascia sees a huge, unbroken swooping lines that add a sense of movement, while the updated 12.3-inch Lexus Remote Touch interface is much easier to use with better haptic feedback, and a crisper display.
Nudge the door shut (soft-closing, of course) and that Lexus sense of being sealed away from the perturbations of the outside world is palpable, the better to enjoy the deep carpet and plush upholstery. There’s a myriad of special trim and colour options, such as the unique hand-pleated textile trim choice or the Kiriko glass inspired by Meiji Era glassware.
But while the new LS has dialled up cabin luxury, its uniqueness and dramatic flair in design and material choice, the space where it truly breaks with tradition is behind the wheel.
That it’s a smooth cruiser is no surprise at all. It’s even quieter than before, thanks to active noise cancelling (like the kind used in headphones) you’ll barely have to go above a whisper to chat with your seat-mate.
Like the LC, drive modes control the experience via a high-mount selector knob above the instrument panel. The first surprise was that switching to Sport didn’t degrade ride quality much, neither did Sport+.
The second surprise was the newfound agility of the LS: The excellent steering was matched by sharp turn-in and excellent pointa-bility, giving reams of driver confidence, so much so that it wasn’t about reigning in speed to avoiding the Endor-like coniferous trees, but pushing to see how much the LS could deliver.
The answer is: A lot. It says plenty that the LS could confidently be encouraged to squeal its tyres while snick-snacking neatly through a tree-lined chicane without ever feeling out of shape. Being that confident in tight confines, it felt that the car had more to give and could stay with the likes of an Audi S model, or BMW M Performance car.
On top of that, the 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo drivetrain develops and delivers its heavy torque punch very quickly. It makes 35hp more than the old LS 460’s V8, and a metric crap-tonne more torque, with the 10-speed auto claiming near dual-clutch shift times.
Lexus says iteration of GA-L used for the LS is the stiffest and strongest the brand has manufactured to date, and advancements in packaging and material technology allowed the engineers to shift almost the entire weight of the engine behind the front axle, something that can be seen when you open the car’s bonnet.
Effectively that means the LS is a FMR (front-midship, rear-wheel drive) car, which immediately explains the sensational handling of the new LS.
The caveats here are that the driving experience can or may vary wildly. Singapore will be getting all three engine choices (see the following review for the hybrid and 3.5-litre V6 models) although final details and pricing are still some way off due to the expected 2018 launch date.
There’s also an F Sport variant packing better brakes, dark alloy wheels, and that comes with an optional Performance Package that includes variable gear ratio steering (VGRS) and Active Rear Steering, though sadly we didn’t have the chance to test that setup.
If we had to complain, then the 20-inch wheels did make the ride a bit jiggly over the harshest surfaces in the countryside, attenuating the theme of serious refinement a little, but it’d be difficult to find a car that wouldn’t do the same.
The previous LS would do whatever you asked of it obligingly, but between that car and the new one, it’s like a butler that does only what he’s told versus one that pre-empts your wishes even if they’re eyebrow-raising. If the previous one was a Wodehouse-type Jeeves, then the new LS is Alfred to your Bruce Wayne – or Batman.
Lexus LS 500
Engine 3,444cc, 24v, V6, twin-turbo
Power 415hp at 6000rpm
Torque 600Nm at 1600-4800rpm
Gearbox 10-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 5.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 9.3L/100km
CO2 No Data
Agent Borneo Motors
Verdict: Stunning to look at, to drive, and to be driven in. The complete luxury limousine package, Japanese-style