In 1989, Toyota changed the game significantly with the introduction of their Lexus luxury brand.
It spawned with two models, the Camry-based ES 250 and the flagship LS 400, and in three decades has spawned into a full lineup of legitimate luxury vehicles. Lexus has earned an unparalleled reputation for reliability and luxury, often considered a conservative but solid choice in nearly every segment. The LS flagship has always been a phenomenal car, and my own 1999 LS 400 daily driver is still one of the most comfortable and rock-solid cars around today – even with over 200,000km on the odometer.
2018 marks the introduction of the fifth-generation LS, and it has a tough act to follow. The outgoing LS 460 is likely one of the best examples yet, with all-wheel-drive available and a naturally aspirated V8. Our editor Jerry Vo has a 2009 example and it’s a joy to drive. With all of the seat time we get in various models of the LS, our first test in the latest iteration had a lot of suspense built up to it. The 2018 Lexus LS 500h AWD is a deviation from many LS traditions, but has launched in the Canadian market with a bang.
From a design standpoint, the LS 500h ditches the conservative styling of a traditional three-box sedan for a futuristic and imposing design. Right now it looks fresh, sexy and even imposing, traits that have never applied to the LS sedan before. Only one wheelbase is available, and at 206.1”, it’s less than an inch shorter than the Mercedes-Benz S 560 (reviewed here). It doesn’t look as classic as an S-Class or a 7-series, but the LS 500h garnered attention everywhere it went during our time with it, and all of these comments were positive.
The interior is very obviously “new Lexus”, but it’s a thing of beauty. In fact, the LS’ interior is more visually appealing than the Audi A8 and BMW 7-series (reviewed here), with incredible quality and only the finest materials everywhere. This is not the boring beige Lexus your father drove, and the cabin may actually be a little bit much for the conservative buyers that the brand typically attracts. Our Executive Package test vehicle had semi-aniline leather everywhere and some of the most comfortable seats in the segment. Materials everywhere are stunning, with brushed aluminum, wood, and soft leather anywhere your hands may wander.
It’s a bit excessive – even moreso than the Rolls-Royce Phantom we recently sampled. Everything is mostly tasteful, but there are some touches that are less desirable. For instance, the LS 500h is a hybrid, and hence gets a slightly touched-up version of the shifter in the Toyota Prius. The 12.3” infotainment screen is gigantic, but it’s controlled via the latest version of Lexus’ touchpad-based Remote Touch Interface. It’s clunky and difficult to use, to say the least. It also doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity.
Moving past that, the technology built into the new LS 500h is plentiful. The four-seat configuration in the Executive Package test car includes heat, ventilation, and a massage feature for all of the seats. The rear seats are also power-adjustable and the four-zone climate/entertainment can be controlled via a tablet in the rear center console. Up front, the 23-speaker 2,400W Mark Levinson Reference audio system (when set up properly) is one of the best automotive sound systems available today – it’s right up there with the Volvo Bowers & Wilkins application.
Perhaps the biggest change to the fifth-generation LS is the absence of a naturally aspirated V8. The standard gasoline LS 500 gets a twin-turbocharged V6, but things are a bit different in this test vehicle. This 5,220-pound hybrid sedan gets a 3.5L V6, codenamed 8GR-FXS. It has been paired with lithium-ion batteries and electric motors and called “Multi-Stage Hybrid”. It puts out a combined 354 horsepower, identical to the LC 500h (reviewed here). This engine just feels notably more sluggish than the V8-powered LS 460 it replaces, even after taking into account that this is the hybrid model.
Granted, you don’t buy a Lexus flagship hybrid for speed, and the LS 500h delivers power in the most elegant way possible. A CVT transmission with two electric motors works in conjunction with a four-speed automatic to produce ten stepped ratios. When driving around effortlessly, something the LS 500h does exceptionally well, the transmission’s work goes unnoticed. What we really miss here is the luxurious and substantial engine and exhaust note of the V8. We know Lexus can do it, too, with the phenomenal LC 500 (reviewed here) grand touring coupé.
Even without the drama and classic nature of a V8, the LS 500h finds a way to carry on about its daily business with composure and the utmost comfort. Ride quality is absolutely perfect, with German luxury levels of smoothness and comfort. The engine transitions from electric to gasoline imperceptibly, with response when summoned. “Sport” and “Sport+” drive modes pep things up nicely, and even simulate a synthetic engine note of a larger engine.
Something that really impresses with the new LS is the fact that it can actually handle with a remarkable amount of confidence and poise. Using the awkwardly placed “ears” above the instrument cluster to select sportier drive modes will add some weight to the steering that actually responds with excellent feel. The massive sedan has no issues maintaining spectacular body control courtesy of the air suspension and maintaining stability in the corners. As such, this is by far the best-handling LS sedan Lexus has ever produced.
We observed over 12L/100km on the last V8-powered LS we tested, though the eight-speed automatic in the outgoing car could keep highway mileage below the 9L/100km mark. The Multi-Stage Hybrid system works best in the city, and our test took place over 1,000km of mixed driving. The resulting average came in at 8.7L/100km with absolutely no effort to optimize fuel economy. This setup requires premium 91-octane fuel, as with everything else in the flagship sedan segment.
The base price of the LS 500h is $100,500, and in Canada you are forced to opt for the $37,155 Executive Package that brings the sticker to $137,655. The Executive Package is a literal “everything” group, adding everything from 28-way powered front seats, Mark Levinson audio, rear seat ottomans, massage, 20” forged aluminum wheels, an air suspension, and much more. One thing to note is that the Lexus LS used to be a value proposition at 75-80% of the cost of an S-Class. The long-wheelbase S 560 4MATIC we tested in the spring was fairly loaded, had a turbocharged V8, and came in right around the $140,000 mark.
The 2018 Lexus LS 500h AWD has a lot going for it, and if history proves anything, will almost certainly be more reliable in the long run than a BMW 740Le (reviewed here). Lexus and Toyota’s hybrid systems are known to be some of the most robust in the world both for operating costs as well as long-term durability. The new model changes the game for the LS name, and is sure to excite buyers looking for some added style in their luxury flagship. It doesn’t come without its limitations, but the LS 500h does impress and as a flagship is certain to pave the road for upcoming Lexus models in numerous aspects.