The Flagship

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2018 Lexus LS

The flagship sedan should be the pinnacle of all automobiles.

This was the case when Lexus introduced the LS 400 in 1989. Toyota showed that through a new brand, a new distribution channel, and a commitment to "perfection" from the drawing board to the service bay, they were able to get the flagship right on the first try.

The results were astounding. The LS outsold its European and American rivals. They also welcomed conquest customers – consumers who owned other brands the competed with Lexus and have traded in their vehicles for the LS. Then, they showed how to treat their customers right – they took over Acura's crown for customer satisfaction based on the J.D. Power survey.

Since then, the Europeans have fought back. In particular, the Germans. Each succeeding generation of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and Audi A8 have moved the bar in terms of luxury engaging in a game of "can you top this." Meanwhile, the Koreans began to play catch-up to…Lexus. The Hyundai Equus, Genesis G90, and Kia K900 are trying to woo flagship sedan owners with less expensive offerings, following the footsteps on Toyota's luxury car brand. Although, plenty of customers are puzzled to find these flagships being sold alongside mere mortal models selling for tens of thousands of dollars less.

While other manufacturers are either trying to pull away from or catch up to Lexus, the brand continues to offer one of the best experiences from maintaining consistent high quality of their LS sedans, along with the sales and post-sales experience. Meanwhile, the LS sedan continued to provide a consistent level of vehicle satisfaction without taking any risks in terms of advanced technology, engineering, and design. The LS held on to the belief that it could maintain its presence without being too flashy of edgy.

2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD

It was simply a very nice flagship sedan. Maybe the Lexus LS needed to step out of its shell and show us something…sexy.

They certainly achieved that in the 2018 Lexus LS – and more. Much more.

What did Lexus achieve exactly? Let's start with a new architecture that was shared with the #VOTY18 winner, the LC coupe. The new rear-drive architecture enabled Lexus to develop a LS that offered a sharper design, a lighter construction, new engineering points from the driveline to the suspension, and the license to create a bold new expression of the car that shook up the luxury car world some 29 years ago.

Starting with the design. It follows the latest brand conventions in terms of taking the spindle grille and creating a focal point for the entire body to flow rearward from. Unlike the LC, the spindle grille is massive, designed for the purpose of creating a presence that signals its arrival.

2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD

From there, you will find that the LS takes on a less formal shape than before. There are compelling lines that signal a more three-dimensional silhouette and a sweeping roofline. Never has a LS was offered with an additional glass pane on the C-pillar before. It all culminates with a decklid design that is tapered, three-dimensional, and framed by larger LED taillamps. The new LS is stunning to look at standing still or in motion. By taking a different design route than in prior LS generations, this new version now has a design that has a complete forward outlook.

That theme continues into a cabin that changes the way you look at a Lexus LS. The instrument panel alone is a piece of art that is highly functional and entertaining to the eye. The beltline consists of a series of chromed lines that flex across the fascia connecting key switchgear – the ignition button – and climate control vents fusing the cabin in compelling fashion. From there, all form and function flows. The panel above the beltline on the passenger side is a complete work of art that illuminates at night. The center stack compacts key controls, including the "stacked" volume and tuning knob along with climate control switches.

In front of the driver is an instrument binnacle that combines the design and technology of F Performance models with a layer of bespoke style. The center TFT screen packs a lot of information that is neatly presented from a center dial. This dial houses a tachometer, a digital speedometer, and every readout you need to keep yourself informed of the vehicle’s status. There are two side gauges that are framed by a leather divider – one for fuel, the other for coolant temperature. This tester came with a superb 24-inch wide head up display that keeps your eyes on the road while providing key information on the go.

2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD

As in the LC coupe, the shifter takes on a similar shift-by-wire format as previously seen in the CT 200h. The difference with the LS is the lever itself is a thick T-bar design that follows the dame logic as the slim controller in the LC. You do get a pair of paddles connected to the steering wheel to fine tune gear changes. The LS now has the latest steering wheel design from Lexus that integrates cruise control onto the spoke of the steering wheel, instead of a flappy button off to the lower right of the hub.

In the middle of the instrument panel is a recessed 12.3-inch infotainment screen. This is a current setup seen on newer Lexus models, with split screens and integral navigation functionality. Audio options are there from satellite radio, USB/Bluetooth connectivity, and apps fed from the Enform app. This system in the LS is now fed from a large track pad in the center console. Mark Levinson provided 23 speakers from a 2,400-watt system. The sound is well-balanced and befitting of a flagship sedan.

Seating is a two-part story. Up front are well-bolstered seats that are slathered with durable semi-aniline leather. The driver side gets a 28-way adjustment with a massage function that is controlled by switches on the side of the seat cushion or on the infotainment screen. This also includes cooling and heating for the driver's and passenger's seat. You can also get the same adjustments for the front passenger.

2019 Lexus LS 500 AWD

In the back, my tester received 18-way power seats for both outboard positions. They are controlled by a 7-inch screen that sits in the center armrest between them. And, yes, they both recline. You can fold back the armrest for a center passenger in the rear, but I bet you won't. Plus, you get a set of shades that envelop the entire rear compartment – all power operated, of course. The rear seat setup is the stuff dreams are made of.

Trunk space is quite large, measuring at 16.95 cubic feet. There is a but of a step-over when loading and unloading if roller bags. Yet, it will do the trick for three people heading to the airport for a week away across the oceans somewhere in a first-class suite – large suitcases and boarding bags, included.

You probably have seen a theme here about the new LS. When a vehicle goes through a revolution of change, expect nothing left from prior editions to remind you what it continues to do. However, the change from a naturally-aspirated V8 to a twin-turbocharged V6 was initially met with resistance. Once you start up the new LS 500 and take it for a drive, you will forget what is actually powering your flagship.

2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD

Simply put, the 416 horsepower 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 feels like a V8. If you consider that it has 442 pound-feet of torque to motivate this 4,707-pound luxury car, then you do notice the lack of turbo lag or any hesitation from the new 10-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive system to send power down to the road. In all, it simply drives like a flagship sedan and offers smooth and effortless operation.

The flip side of this effortless driveline is fuel economy. I turned an average of 18.7 MPG. For better fuel economy and less emissions, customers also have the choice of the Multistage Hybrid drive system for the LS 500h.

The new LS is a very large automobile in a modern world. With its 123-inch wheelbase, it exhibits a ride quality that is effortless and extremely smooth. It also helps to have the available Adaptive Variable Air Suspension on board, which offers automatic levelling. It is a nice option to tick off the order sheet. Even with its size, it is highly maneuverable and exhibits superb handling. There is nominal evidence of roll or lean through the curves. Of course, you can tighten up the dampers by putting it into Sport S+ – a setting usually reserved for the LS 500 F Sport. I like the fact that you can get a dialed up feel in the mainstream LS 500 model.

2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD

Steering feel is on the soft side in Normal mode, which is fine since it is very stable on-center. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a little weight added to the steering feel when the drive mode is switched to Sport S+. For some, this may a bit much for a luxury sedan, but it is there when you need it. One thing that you have to watch is the turning radius. Again, its long wheelbase is not ideal for very tight maneuvers. It is a solid system, nonetheless. The braking system is actually quite good, exhibiting solid stops in normal and panic situations.

To become one of the few to own the new Lexus LS, you will have to fork over at least $75,200. That is really not bad when you consider how much its competition start their pricing off at. My LS 500 tester came with a dizzying array of additional packages, including the reclining rear seats. The total price of this tester came to $103,635.

The first question you probably have right now is whether that price justifies the Lexus LS. The reality of the flagship sedan is that you cannot get one equipped without a certain level of luxury and technology. Consider that any of its European rivals (each of which shall remain nameless) will go for an average above $100,000 when equipped comparably to this LS 500 tester. Each one – the Lexus included – offers a level of pedigree and cache that enables its customers to indulge themselves in something that is special and well-crafted.

2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD

The story of this latest Lexus LS is one of arrival. The arrival of a stylishly bold and absolutely luxurious flagship sedan that will make any customer forget their loyalty and acquire one. If this sounds like you, you have made the right choice. The new Lexus LS not only broke its own mold, it may have disturbed the luxury car universe with its bold design and forward-thinking approach.

In other words, Lexus now has a very desirable flagship sedan that should be considered above any of the others.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America

All Photos by Randy Stern

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