Lexus Reboots its LS Flagship

Toyota’s luxury car division finally gets around to giving the long-ignored LS an extreme makeover.

One of the great mysteries of the automotive world – in addition to Mercedes’ crazy naming strategy – is the way Lexus has pretty much ignored its flagship LS for the past decade.

What has Lexus done in recent years to keep the LS fresh, innovative and relevant to fend newcomers like Tesla’s Model S, Hyundai’s new Genesis G90, or Volvo’s new S90?  Zip, zilch, nada.

It’s madness when you considered that back in the Nineties and Naughties, the LS was the standard-setter in the flagship luxury sector of the market.

For buyers who considered the S-Class Merc  and Audi A8 too Teutonic, and the BMW 7-Series too driver-focused, the LS was the standard in sublime luxury, quality, craftsmanship, and hushed refinement. It’s customer satisfaction ratings were always off the charts.

So, the LS has gone from a sales high of 42,806 cars in 1990 – its first year on the market in the U.S. – to last year’s rock-bottom low of 5,514, according to Carsalesbase.com.

But all that is about to change. Big time. Finally, Lexus has pulled the wraps off its all-new 2018 LS 500, a radical rethink of its flagship LS. It’ll land in showrooms towards the end of this year.

Longer, lower and wider than the car it replaces, it features an all-new chassis wrapped in a bold, coupe-like body.

Styling-wise there’s no tofu here. You’ll either love or hate that flashy, over-stylized ‘spindle’ grille that’s big enough to have come off a Peterbilt. Just hope no one backs into it in the parking lot – it’ll cost a fortune to replace.

And while the car’s coupe-like profile looks dramatic enough, especially in the way the line over the muscular fenders soars and dips like a rollercoaster, you could be forgiven for thinking side-on, you’re looking at an Infiniti Q70.

Yes, it’s a huge improvement compared to the current LS. But I think Lexus actually missed an opportunity here not to go even more radical and futuristic. They even stick with steel for the body rather than aluminum.

And when more and more luxury buyers are preferring big, tall-riding SUVs to traditional sedans, why make this new LS even lower to the ground and that bit tougher to get in and out of?

Even Lexus acknowledges this and suggests less supple owners should opt for the available air suspension that elevates the car slightly when getting in and out.

Thankfully Lexus interior designers have knocked one out of the ballpark with the cabin of this new LS. It’s spectacular. They claim it was inspired by the principles of Japanese omotenashi, or the act of providing detailed service that allows guests to relax and be pampered.

In the new LS, that means more rear-seat legroom than in any previous-generation LS, front and rear seats that will give you a Shiatsu massage, rear seats that can recline up to 48 degrees, and active noise control to cancel out annoying frequencies.

As for the acres of quilted leather, exquisite wood and satin metal, you do get the feeling of being in a super-luxe private jet. Techies, however, will love the optional 24-inch color heads-up display – the biggest available – that projects a myriad of information on to the windshield.

As is the current vogue, don’t expect V12, or even V8 power for this new LS. The only powertrain at launch will be an all-new 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 delivering 415-hp and 442 lb-ft or torque.

Mated to a new 10-speed automatic – a class first – it should be good enough to deliver zero-to-60mph sprints in 4.5 seconds. That’s a big step up from the current 386-hp V8-powered LS460 which does the 0-to-60 dash in 6.4 secs.

Lexus is also claiming big improvements in steering and handling to make the LS more of a driver’s car. We’ll see.

Certainly this all-new LS is one of the cars of 2017 I can’t wait to drive.

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