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  • First Drive: 2018 Lexus LS 500 and LS 500h

    Posted on September 26th, 2017 ninarussin

    High luxury sedan becomes more personal

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    The original LS sedan launched the Lexus brand in the US in 1989: since then the flagship has set technological and aesthetic standards for the rest of the automaker’s line-up.

    But while other models such as the GS, IS and most recently the new LC became sportier, more emotive cars, the LS remained conservative, appealing to owners who purchased those vehicles as chauffer cars as well as those who drove them. The new LS 500 and LS 500h that roll out later this year are sportier, more personal sedans.

    Taking their cue from Akio Toyoda’s promise to reinstall passion in the brand, engineers focused on two new V-6 engines as part of a new global luxury platform. The twin-turbo V-6 that replaces the naturally-aspirated V-8 on the gasoline powered model develops 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, while the hybrid shares the same new direct injection V-6 as the new LC 500h.

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    Engineers moved the front wheels forward and engine back to create a front-mid-ship layout for better front-to-rear weight balance. An all-new ten-speed automatic transmission enhances fuel economy with large overdrive gears for steady-state cruising.

    The sedan body has a slightly longer wheelbase, adding rear hip and legroom, but also sits lower to the ground for better high-speed performance.

    The F-Sport model is available with a performance package that adds bigger brakes and enhanced steering dynamics.

    Although Lexus has yet to announce pricing, it expects the base model to start at about $75,000, with the average transaction price for the LS 500 averaging $80,000 or less.

    Test drive in northern California

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    At a recent media event in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the newest LS 500 and LS 500h on city streets as well as rural roads running north through Marin County.

    Both sedans are considerably lighter and more agile than the current models, thanks to the more compact V-6 engine, a lighter and more compact lithium-ion battery pack on the hybrid, increased use of high strength steel and aluminum on all models.

    The new twin-turbo V-6 engine uses a technology called high-speed combustion to improve the tumble flow into the combustion chamber, making reducing the amount of unburnt fuel going out the exhaust while making the engine more powerful.

    Close ratio gears on the new ten-speed automatic transmission make it easier for the driver to keep the revs up while cornering. Formula 1-style shift paddles on the steering wheel allow the driver to control gears manually. Our rear-wheel drive LS test car had a solid launch feel off the line with precise but not overly harsh shifting.

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    Controls for the drive mode select system have moved from the center console to the steering wheel where they are easier to reach. Sport and Sport + modes now have a more aggressive exhaust note that driving enthusiasts should appreciate.

    A new full-color heads-up display gives the driver essential information such as vehicle speed and speed limits without taking his eyes off the road.

    The LS is a very large sedan: bigger than most of the cars we shared space with on San Francisco’s narrow, hilly city streets. It is quite wide, not a problem in the desert Southwest where I live, but something that could present a challenge for residents of the eastern seaboard.

    A new variable assist steering system reduces the sedan’s turning radius at low speeds to help drivers squeeze into narrow parking spaces. On the highway, the LS has solid on-center response, as one would expect from a high-luxury sedan with sport focus.

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    The vehicle automatically lowers at high speeds to reduce aerodynamic drag. Although the LS maintains the quiet interior the brand is known for, it isn’t quite as tomb-like as earlier models: something this writer appreciates.

    A variety of 19 and 20-inch wheels with run flat tires- standard on all models- give the sedan a fat footprint for better control at high speeds. Four-piston brakes up front and two-piston brakes in the rear stop the sedan in firm, linear fashion.

    The hybrid has a different personality than the gasoline car, partly because the battery pack gives it a different front-to-rear weight balance. The hybrid employs two electric motors, one of which drives the rear axle, giving the all-wheel drive sedan exceptional low-end acceleration.

    High luxury interior

    Lexus LS 500 Interior

    Lexus LS 500 Interior

    Given a limited amount of time, my driving partner and I barely scratched the surface of the 2018 models infotainment systems. Among the highlights: a 12.3-inch touchscreen with second-generation remote touchpad; Mark Levinson 7.1-channel surround sound system with 23 speakers, Lexus Enform with dynamic navigation and voice recognition, Wi Fi that accepts up to five devices and wireless Qi phone charging.

    On the ride-back into the city we were treated to a chauffeur experience so we could test out the massaging and reclining rear seats. If you want a car that doubles as a mobile spa, the newest LS certainly qualifies.

    Rear seat occupants can choose from five massage programs, and have their own set of climate controls. Ottoman reclining seats have 22 position adjustments. Being driven anywhere is a rather odd experience for a journalist who chose her profession to spend time behind the wheel, but I must say I enjoyed leaving the driving and dealing with San Francisco’s choking rush-hour traffic to someone else.

    With its dramatic new aerodynamic styling that features the Lexus spindle grille front and center to its enhanced driving dynamics, the newest LS sedans should appeal to younger buyers who are cross-shopping European models.

    Like: The new generation of LS sedans are more stylish, driver focused and fuel-efficient than the models they replace, while maintaining the high-luxury amenities the model is known for.

    Dislike: The sedan’s width and increased length make it difficult to maneuver on narrow city streets.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Lexus
    Model: LS 500, LS 500h
    Year: 2018
    Base price: N/A
    As tested: N/A
    Horsepower: 416 HP @ 6000 rpm (LS 500); 295 HP @ 6600 rpm (LS 500h), 354 total system HP
    Torque: 442 lbs.-ft. @ 1600 rpm (LS 500)
    Zero-to-sixty: 4.6-seconds (LS 500); 5.1-seconds (LS 500h)
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 19/29 mpg city/highway (RWD LS 500); 25/33 mpg city/highway (RWD LS 500h)

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