JapaneseRoad Tests

2018 Lexus LS500 Roadtest Review (RWD, AWD, 500h, F Sport)

Three tasty flavors – no waiting!

When the first of the Lexus LS400 vehicles burst upon the scene in 1990, it heralded a major shift in the automotive landscape for American consumers. Toyota, thought previously as simply a maker of low-cost economy vehicles was breaking into very different territory. Soon to follow was Honda with the Acura line and Nissan with Infiniti. But Lexus, the new luxury division of Toyota, was the first and, in my opinion, did it the best.

The new 1991 Lexus LS400 was unlike anything of its type. It was big yet powered by a small (by comparison to other luxury cars of the time) 4.0-liter V8 engine. With soft textures inside, it set a new standard for these luxury vehicles. I was lucky enough to borrow one in Miami for a drive to Key West with the family six months after they first burst upon the landscape. I was truly impressed with not only the quality and luxury but the smoothness of the engine. As is very common today, the engine powering the 400LS was barely perceptible when running and by the absence of sound, extremely notable.

Today Lexus is all grown up. Some 28 years later Lexus is resetting the standard for luxury with their newest sedan, the LS500,  – the best in a long line of great cars. The new LS500 comes in a variety of flavors from the “standard” LS500 (starting at $75,000), to the F-Sport (base price of $81,000) to the industry requisite LS500H hybrid (starting at $79,510). Each form is impressive beyond words – but I will try my best to give a fair overview of these fine automobiles.

2018 Lexus LS500 3/4

Luxurious Throughout

While the technology to get the LS500 down the road is impressive enough with this 416hp twin-turbocharged 5.0-liter V6 engine and 10-speed automatic transmission, it is the interior that sets this LS500 apart from the competition. In true Japanese carmaker style, the soft and hard textures of the interior will certainly appeal to consumers of these vehicles. Described as “Takumi” craftsmanship, due to the use of Takumi artisans enlisted to design and build the interior, the blend of soft leathers and requisite carved Art Wood Trim. For the uneducated, Art Wood Herringbone is used to decorate high-quality musical instruments. The blend of these natural woods, leathers, and stainless steel present an amazingly unique interior that is the height of luxury and style.

2018 Lexus LS 500 Interior

Having experienced a wide array of Lexus vehicles means I am more familiar than most in the operation and placement of the controls. One of the most frustrating for first timers is the touchpad that is at the heart of the “infotainment” system. Mounted at the base of the console, it is much like the touchpad on many notebook computers but it is a skill that requires more than a test drive to master. If you can take the time to become familiar you will grow to love it.  And if playing with technological gizmos is entertaining to you, you can dive into mastering the 28-way seat or perhaps even drive the vehicle – there is a lot to do and enjoy here.

2018 Lexus LS 500 Panel

Technology abounds

From the high tech 5.0-liter V6 engine (a first for the LS and 30 more ponies than the previous version) and 10-speed transmission, this car is spectacular to drive. The power is smooth but not neck breaking perhaps because this is the largest Lexus ever sold in America with a 123-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 206.1-inches. One inch wider and one inch lower than the last LS – did we say it was big?

2018 Lexus LS 500 Engine

While I could go into the details of the spec sheet, what was most notable, having driven 1000’s of cars in the last 30 years, this is the most “accommodating” vehicle I’ve driven in years. With a wealth of drive assist aids, the car makes anyone a better driver with a list of collision avoidance tools all designed to keep you safe. From the Safety Connect system that calls 911 if you are in an accident and unable to call (with GPS tracking of your location) to Pedestrian and Cross Traffic Alerts whereby you are not only informed of danger but the vehicle will stop you from incidents.

Then there is the fun stuff it does like the unique air conditioning vent management. This being a high-end luxury vehicle, the A/C vents are well placed and even on hot California days, the interior cools down quickly without blowing out the “do.” Both cooling and heating the seat surfaces is not an issue and if you are traveling alone, the passenger side vents close to focus the cooling on you (this is the first car we have witnessed do this). All of the climate controls are simple to understand, the readouts clear and concise.

2018 Lexus LS 500 Shifter

What we found particularly impressive and helpful was the lane keep assist (LKA) combined with the spectacular adaptive cruise control. While neither of these technologies was a first for us, the seamless operation of both is noteworthy. On one occasion heading home from a 200-mile drive back to LA at 1 am in the morning, both of these technologies were tested and passed with flying colors. Combine this with a guardian angel behind the IP that asked me if I was tired and needed to take a break at 2:30 am. She was absolutely correct and we took her suggestion to heart. Do you see what I mean by friendly?

If there is a downside to the LS500 its that not everyone will be able to experience its luxury and technology. Even so, the price is not out of whack, Mercedes, and BMW offering cars that are far more expensive. But that’s why Lexus has been so successful – something I spotted back in 1990 and I see as a formula for success for the foreseeable future.

2018 Lexus LS 500 Rear