We drove an all-new $116,000 Lexus LS 500 to see if it can still strike fear into the hearts of Mercedes-Benz and BMW — here's the verdict

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderBusiness Insider’s 2018 Lexus LS500 test car.
  • The Lexus LS 500 is all-new for 2018.
  • For Lexus, the LS is its flagship sedan and a reminder of its meteoric rise to become a tier one luxury auto brand alongside Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
  • The 2018 LS 500 is powered by a 416 horsepower, 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine.
  • According to Lexus, the LS 500 can hit 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 136 mph.
  • We were impressed by the new LS 500’s eye-catching looks, swanky interior treatment, high-quality materials, and smooth powertrain. We were less than enamoured with the Lexus Enform infotainment system and an unexpectedly harsh ride.
  • The 2018 Lexus LS 500 starts at $US75,000 while our loaded all-wheel-drive test car cost $US115,520.

Lexus is one of the great automotive success stories in recent automotive history. Launched in 1989, Toyota‘s premium marque, almost immediately turned the luxury auto market on its head.

Lexus delivered industry-leading refinement, luxury, technology, and customer service with Toyota’s bulletproof reliability at a mere fraction of the price of its established rivals.

The brand not only made consumers stand up and take notice, it also forced US and European luxury brands to step up their game amid a period of malaise in the luxury market.

In many respects, Lexus and its “Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” is the reason why the modern luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, and even the Cadillac CT6 are so freaking amazing.

Leading the charge for Lexus was its groundbreaking flagship LS400 sedan. (There was also an entry-level Toyota Camry-based ES 250.) The LS pampered its occupants supreme luxury and refinement. The original LS was so smooth that a glass of water left sitting on its engine would be left completely undisturbed even as the driver revved the motor. It’s a party trick Lexus proudly demonstrated in a now iconic commercial.

Lexus delivery all of this at significantly lower price point than the competition.

To put things into perspective, a brand new Lexus LS400 costs a mere $US35,000 in 1989 while a base BMW 7 Series of the time carried a starting price of $US54,000.

Over the years, Lexus has firmly established itself as one of the world’s tier one luxury brands alongside the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW both in terms of sales prowess and prestige.

For 2018, Lexus introduced the fifth generation LS sedan, this time dubbed the LS500. It’s the first all-new iteration of LS flagship sedan is more than a decade.

In August, Business Insider had the chance to spend a week with a 2018 Lexus LS500 decked out in a Manganese Lustre paint job. As part of our test, we even took the LS on a 500-mile road trip between New York and Washington D.C.

The 2018 Lexus LS500 starts at $US75,000 while our all-wheel-drive test car started at $US78,220. With an impressive lineup of optional extras, our test car came to us at an as-tested price of $US115,520.

Let’s take a closer look at the new five generation Lexus LS 500 sedan:


The Lexus LS 400 took the luxury auto market by storm when it debuted back in 1989.

Lexus

The LS impressed with its luxury, style, and refinement.

Lexus

The smoothness and the performance of the LS 400’s 250 horsepower V8 was remarkable.

Lexus

In its day, the LS took the fight to the W126 Mercedes-Benz S-Class followed by …

Mercedes-Benz

….The W140 S-Class.

Mercedes-Benz

It also took on the likes of the BMW 7 Series, …

BMW

…The Audi V8, Jaguar XJ, Lincoln Town Car, and the Cadillac Fleetwood.

Audi

A second generation LS debuted in 1995 followed by…

Lexus

…A third generation model in 2001.

Lexus

In 2007, Lexus rolled out its fourth generation LS. It would be the last all-new variant of the LS for more than a decade.

Lexus

That is…until the arrival of our 2018 fifth generation Lexus LS 500.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Today, the LS still goes toe to toe with the Mercedes-Benz S Class, …

Mercedes-Benz

…The BMW 7-Series, …


…The Audi A8,…

Audi

… Jaguar XJ, and…

Jaguar Land Rover

…Cadillac CT6.

Hollis Johnson

There are also new challengers in the picture like the Porsche Panamera,…

Hollis Johnson

… The Maserati Quattroporte VI, and…

Maserati

… Even the Genesis G90 from Hyundai’s new luxury brand.


Fortunately, the new LS has it covered.

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Aesthetically, the LS 500’s new low-slung look coupled with its edgy lines make for a modern, yet eye-pleasing large sedan.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Its heavily raked roofline helps the LS cut a coupe-like silhouette.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

This is a look that’s in vogue these days.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Up front, Lexus’s once-controversial spindle grille has aged remarkably well. In fact, the grille has looked better and better with each passing iteration.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

On the LS, it looks terrific. Paired with the distinctive triple-projector LED headlamp, the front end sets the tone for the rest of the car.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

In the back, the raked roofline is joined by “L” shaped LED taillights, a subtle integrated decklid spoiler, and dual exhausts.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Inside, the LS was nothing short of magnificent. It’s filled with intricately crafted design accents; plush, high-quality materials; and enough tech to satiate any smartphone junky.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Look at this door panel! Check out how glass, leather, plastic, metal, and fabric come together in one place.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

A wide shot of the door shows the hand pleated fabric trim and Kiriko glass door inserts. Some may call it over designed, but I think it truly sets the LS apart.

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In front of the driver is a stylish heated leather and wood steering wheel complete with paddle shifts and infotainment controls. There’s also a massive 24-inch colour heads-up display.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Beyond that is a configurable digital instrument cluster that draws inspiration from the enchanting LC coupe.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Next to the instrument cluster is the drive mode selector whose look and placement is taken directly from the LFA supercar. I preferred eco or comfort for highway cruising and sport for city driving.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The front dash is dominated by a 12.3-inch widescreen infotainment display running the latest version of the Lexus Enform system.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Even though Lexus has worked hard to improve the system, infotainment is still Toyota and Lexus’s Achilles heel. It’s certainly a lot prettier than it once was, but it’s still too unintuitive to use while its input system is just stupid. More on this later.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

However, the rest of the LS 500’s tech suite is incredibly impressive. This includes a Wifi connectivity, adaptive headlamps, 16-way massaging climate-controlled front seats, and a 23-speaker, 2,400-watt Mark Levinson sound system.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The LS 500’s adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist programs worked magnificently during our road trip. In fact, it proved to be more consistent and reliable than the Tesla Autopilot system on the Model X we drove a couple of months ago.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Our test car came equipped with a $US23,000 Executive Package that includes many of the interiors intricate design details, but also a more plush rear cabin.

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Including reclining rear seats.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The spacious rear cabin boasts 38.9 inches of legroom and 36.4 inches of headroom.

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Even though the optional panoramic glass roof caused us to lose 0.4 inches of rear headroom, it was well worth it.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Overall, cabin ergonomics are solid. Most of the controls are easily sorted out and within arms reach. Everything is pretty much where they should be.

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There’s a good mix of infotainment-base features and physical shortcut buttons. However, the experience is thrown off by two things. The touchpad and the shifter.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

In recent years, Lexus has struggled to come up with an effective input method for its infotainment systems. The puck proved to be a bit tedious to use so in 2015, they rolled out this touchpad system. Well, it hasn’t worked. It’s still way too imprecise. The touchpad is a chore to use when the car is at a standstill and nearly impossible for the driver to use at speed without neglecting the road. This coupled with the Enform infotainment system’s maze of menus and submenus and you end up with a truly messy experience.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

And then there’s the shifter. Off all the shifter setups to which Lexus had access, they decided to go with the one from the Toyota Prius. Instead of a traditional PRND set up, you have to tug left and then down to put the car into drive. Going from drive to reverse requires several bumps of the toggle. I accidentally wound up in neutral several times.

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As a large sedan, the LS boasts a sizable trunk out back.

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Pop open the trunk and you’ll find just under 17 cubic feet of cargo room.

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Under the hood, the Lexus LS 500 is powered by a 416 horsepower, 3.5-litre, twin-turbocharged V6.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

This the first LS to be fitted with a V6 instead of the traditional naturally aspirated V8. Fortunately, the turbo six proved to be smooth and gutsy under hard acceleration. It’s fitted to a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The transmission proved up to the task with quick and smooth shifts.


The LS is also available as a hybrid. It’s powered by a 3.5 litre, Atkinson cycle V6 paired with the brand’s new Multi Stage Hybrid System that debuted on the LC 500h coupe last year. Together, the system produces 354 horsepower.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Our test car came equipped with a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that can send up to 69% of the power to the rear wheels under dry conditions. The system can route up 48% of the power to the front wheels when things get slippery. Our LS also came with an electronic limited slip differential.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

According to Lexus, the rear-wheel-drive LS can do 0-60 mph in just 4.6 seconds and reach an electronically limited top speed of 136 mph. We didn’t do metered testing, but our all-wheel-drive tester felt equally as quick. The hybrid is just a tad slower with a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

So, what’s it like to drive?

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The Lexus LS 500 driving experience can best be described as stately and elegant. This is not a car that is to be rushed. The twin-turbo V6 delivered solid power and the adjustable air suspension kept the 5,000-pound sedan under control in the corners, but LS is by no means a sports sedan.

For the most part, the big LS is most comfortable as a boulevard cruiser.

Although steering and transmission programming does become much more aggressive and lively in sport mode.

The cabin was not quite Rolls-Royce quiet, but it also wasn’t terribly far off. Our only complaint was the ride. The LS 500’s suspension proved to be rather poor at soaking up bumps and small potholes, a surprising development for a posh sedan of its stature. There were multiple instances during our time with the LS where a bump in the road would cause the entire car to shudder.


Our verdict.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

In 1989, the Lexus LS shocked the world with its luxury, refinement, tech, and performance. Now, the LS surprises again. This time for slightly different reasons.

No one questions whether Lexus can do luxury and refinement. But the brand has been criticised for being a bit dull and inoffensive over the years. In reaction, Lexus had pushed to become to more modern and aggressive in its design. However, early attempts at this came off as a bit forced, like a middle-aged dad trying to use slang. And you can definitely see this in early forms of the spindle grille.

Over the past year or two, the look and feel Lexus’s new design language has really come together. And the new LS really the capstone for this process.

The new LS 500 proves that Lexus can still deliver a luxurious, refined, high-performance luxury sedan but wrapped in edgy and dramatic design.

The first LS caught the luxury market off guard. Thanks to Lexus, the ante has been raised significantly in the years since.

With the 2018 Lexus LS 500, the folks at Toyota’s luxury division proves they still have the magic touch.

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