2018 Lexus LS First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Lexus LS First Drive

Better in Almost Every Way. Almost.

There was a lot to like about the previous Lexus LS. It easily fulfilled the typical requirements for a flagship luxury sedan with its quiet cabin, smooth ride quality and well-crafted interior. Unfortunately, the previous LS also had dull driving dynamics, slow acceleration and a frustrating infotainment system. With the introduction of an all-new, fifth-generation LS 500 and LS 500h hybrid, many of those weaknesses have been addressed, breathing some much-needed life into the nameplate upon which Lexus built its reputation.

2018 Lexus LS

A New Look and Feel
The 2018 Lexus LS is marginally longer and wider than the previous LS. It's only available in one size; in comparison, its predecessor offered a standard-length and a long-wheelbase version. When it goes on sale in February 2018, there will be three distinct flavors: the LS 500, LS 500 F Sport and LS 500h hybrid. Under the hood of the LS 500 is a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 that produces 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque (that's 30 more hp than the previous LS 460's V8). A 10-speed automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels or, optionally, all four wheels. Lexus claims it will reach 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, an improvement of 1.5 seconds over its predecessor. Fuel economy estimates also climb a few mpg in combined driving: The rear-wheel-drive LS is estimated to deliver 23 mpg combined (19 city/29 highway); the all-wheel-drive variant, 21 mpg combined.

The LS 500 F Sport doesn't gain anything in the power department since its upgrades are focused on handling performance. It benefits from a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, stickier tires and some unique appearance flourishes. Inside, you get sport seats and the same racy instruments found in the LC 500 coupe.

More significant progress has been made with the hybrid LS 500h. It also uses a 3.5-liter V6, but without the turbos. Instead, it's paired with two electric motor-generators and a lithium-ion battery pack for a combined output of 354 hp. A complicated mashup of a continuously variable automatic and a traditional transmission with four gears operates much like the 10-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive is available as an option. Lexus expects the LS 500h to go from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and return 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway) for the rear-wheel-drive model. That's a fuel-efficiency gain of 40 percent over its predecessor, the LS 600h.

2018 Lexus LS

A Bit Overdressed
Compared to the preceding LS 460, as well as most other large luxury sedans, the new LS 500 rebels against the staid and understated styling convention. It's a bold and sporty interpretation that is anything but subtle. The face of the new LS seems as though it's pinched toward the center like a Snapchat filter with all the design elements converging on the oversized spindle grille. The intricate webbing in the grille further accentuates its contours and, along with the Z-shaped headlights, makes the front of the LS look overwrought.

The side view is far less busy, with a long hood, gracefully sloping roofline toward the rear where it blends with a short trunk. These proportions alone suggest a sporty intention that has been popularized by the so-called four-door coupes. A sharp character line below the windows disappears underneath bulging fender flares, reinforcing the notion of performance. Around the back, the pinched spindle motif is echoed in the convergence of elements in a more subtle manner. In relation to the rest of the LS, the rear fascia is far more conventional.

A Fatal Flaw
Inside, the LS has a new sleek and modern look, with styling that appears to be pulling and stretching the more upright center stack elements to the sides. The vents, controls and infotainment screen are well integrated into the horizontal dash, unlike the last LS that seems pieced together with random features. Materials used throughout the cabin are excellent, with no shortage of leather and pleasing stitching. On appearances alone, this new LS interior represents a big step forward, but there remains one feature that keeps it stubbornly anchored in a checkered past.

We don't say this lightly — the Lexus' infotainment system is dreadful. A trace pad controller replaces the mouselike Remote Touch feature that has plenty of problems of its own. We would have hoped the designers learned from the competition and implemented a dial or touchscreen controller. One of our primary complaints is with the difficulty in moving the on-screen indicator to a specific virtual button. We're continually drifting past the intended button, compounded by the motions of the car. When the car is stationary, it's only marginally easier. Besides the level of frustration, it's also dangerously distracting. Adjusting the sensitivity and other related settings does little to improve the situation. For more technologically inclined drivers, this could very well be a deal-breaker.

2018 Lexus LS

We've certainly had misgivings about some other infotainment systems, though not to these levels. Some other systems benefit from the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which add familiar interfaces and functions. Unfortunately, Lexus doesn't offer these systems as an option, and there's no indication it ever will.

Even if you somehow master the operation of the trace pad, the system itself lacks an intuitive layout and logical menu structure. If you want to turn on the seat heaters, there are a series of inputs that are akin to retasking the Hubble space telescope. The same holds true for the similar controls for the rear seat if you add the Executive option. Adjusting the rear seat requires an excessive amount of button pushes and menus, but at least it's a touchscreen, not a trace pad.

One Giant Leap Forward
One area where we witnessed a marked improvement was in the way the LS drives. With more power and more gears, acceleration is pleasantly brisk, even for the LS 500h hybrid. Responses to pedal pressure were sharp, yet easy to modulate for smooth driving. As quiet as the cabin is, Lexus decided to add simulated engine noises into the mix through the audio speakers. In the preproduction examples we drove, the tones of the embellished engine noises in Sport mode were far from believable and the volume was also too loud. For a luxury sedan like this, we'd prefer to go without the fake sounds altogether.

When it comes to handling, we were shocked in a good way. On a challenging canyon road, the LS felt like a much smaller car: light, nimble and very controllable as it approached its limit of adhesion. Body roll was prevalent in the normal drive mode, but switching to one of the Sport modes dialed a lot of it back for a flatter attitude through curves. It was, dare we say, fun.

2018 Lexus LS

Comfortably Safe
As well as the new LS tackles the curves, there is no appreciable loss in ride comfort. Ruts and bumps in the pavement were smoothed over with ease. If anything, the added athleticism improved the ride quality by removing some of the perceived floatiness over broader undulations.

Overall comfort is commendable, but not without some limitations. The seats are firmly padded but well shaped, much like Audi's construction. We didn't have particularly lengthy stints behind the wheel, so we can't speak to their long-distance comfort just yet. There was a noticeable lack of headroom, however, which is unusual for a luxury sedan in this class. The average sub-6-footer will be fine, but taller passengers in the front or rear may start feeling the effects of a low ceiling. With the Executive option, the right rear passenger will likely not complain since that seat reclines and an ottoman extends while the front seat folds forward. It's much like a seat in business class that doesn't fully fold flat and just as comfortable.

Occupants can also find some figurative comfort in the LS' available advanced safety features. Frontal collision mitigation with pedestrian detection is standard, along with adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and lane keeping assist. Opting for the Advanced package pads on items such as front cross-traffic alert, a road sign reader and a lane-trace assist system that helps to keep the car in the center of its lane. More revolutionary is an active steering assist system that will potentially steer around an obstacle. It requires adequate space within the traffic lane to maneuver (it will not cross over a marked line); otherwise, it defaults to automatic braking.

2018 Lexus LS

The Bottom Line
The all-new 2018 Lexus LS makes significant improvements as they relate to performance and efficiency. This is especially true with the LS 500h hybrid, which gets our recommendation in the lineup. The vast majority of drivers will not miss the slight difference in acceleration compared to the gasoline-only LS 500, but they'll definitely appreciate the improved mileage. If the heavily flawed infotainment system wasn't as intertwined with the car's numerous other systems, we might give the LS some more latitude, but that's not the case. Spend a lot of time with it during a test drive to determine for yourself if it's a deal-breaker.

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