Car reviews - Lexus - LS - 500 Sports Luxury
Value for money, lively twin-turbo V6, superb craftsmanship of cabin materials, rear-seat experience, road presence
Room for improvement
Fiddly touch pad infotainment controller, lazy lane-keeping aid, cargo space not up with its rivals
The new LS500 Sports Luxury puts Lexus right back in contention with Benz, BMW
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5 Jul 2018
LEXUS shook up the premium segment in the late 1980s with its first model, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class-rivalling LS sedan.
Almost 30 years later, the Toyota-owned luxury car-maker has launched its fifth-generation LS and it has priced the big four-door to take on the usual German and British offerings.
The LS comes packed with luxury features and offers loads of road presence, but has it moved the game forward like the original did?
Price and equipment
Lexus has kept its pricing structure simple for the new-generation LS, offering both the V6 petrol-powered LS500 and petrol-electric hybrid at exactly the same price.
For the sporty looking F Sport, that means $190,500 excluding on-road costs, while the more luxurious Sports Luxury is $195,500. We spent a week with the LS500 Sports Luxury.
The entire LS range undercuts the starting price all of its major rivals, including the BMW 7 Series ($229,900), Jaguar XJ ($210,120), Porsche Panamera ($214,900) and Maserati Quattroporte ($209,990), but the Sports Luxury matches the base Mercedes-Benz S350d ($195,900).
Audi has just announced pricing for its forthcoming new-gen A8 which will start at $192,000 for the 50 TDI.
Lexus has always been strong on value for money and that has not changed with the new LS.
The Sports Luxury comes standard with four-zone climate control with rear cooler, 22-way power rear seats with ottoman leg rests and seven massage programs, as well as two 11.6-inch entertainment screens for rear-seat passengers who can stretch out in lay-back seats that offer 86mm more legroom than the previous model.
The luxury treats are not just for the rear-seat passengers though. The front seats have 28-way electric adjustment, the completely digital dash features a 12.3-inch multimedia screen (the largest head-up display in the segment) and a Mark Levinson audio system is fitted with 23 speakers.
The front and rear leather seats are heated, while the front seats also offer ventilation.
What is pleasing is that, unlike its European competitors, Lexus offers very few options for the LS, instead it has a standard features list that is far too lengthy to detail here.
One of the very few options is the ‘Kiriko’ cut glass ornamentation and hand-pleated trim in different colours that adds $9880 to the cost of the Sports Luxury.
Luxury touches, high-quality premium materials and the latest tech are expected in a flagship sedan and the Lexus has it in spades.
The Toyota-owned car-maker has finally started to not only embrace, but celebrate its Japanese heritage, which has made for a much more interesting cabin than the uninspiring model it replaces.
Fans of minimalist design should probably look elsewhere. There’s a lot going on on the dash, without being too cluttered. It is a modern and interesting design, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
The various controls come to hand easily, and despite the sheer number of gadgets, for the most part, everything is easy to use.
The 12.3-inch central infotainment screen is huge and clear but the touch pad you must use to navigate the system lets the whole experience down.
Lexus has been trying for years to perfect its controller, changing from a fiddly tracker knob to the touch pad. It’s not quite there yet. Surely a controller knob similar to a BMW, Audi or even a Mazda is far easier to use?
The similar touch pad controller in Mitsubishi’s Eclipse Cross SUV works better than the one in the $160,000 more expensive Lexus LS.
It’s really the only major gripe in what is an otherwise beautifully executed cabin, including the lovely three-spoke leather heated steering wheel that comes nicely to hand.
Actually, the only other minor complaint is the manual sunroof shade. Surely a power shade is appropriate for a circa-$200k car.
The LS has intricate Origami design details on the doors, as well as a cool ‘floating’ armrest, and rich looking brown Alcantara inserts on the doors.
Elsewhere in the LS Sports Luxury is caramel leather trim with contrast stitching and darker brown hues on the dash and console plastics. The front seats are plush and supremely comfortable, but not quite as sumptuous as the seats in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Thick high-end carpet covers the floor and the boot, which at 480 litres is off the pace of the S-Class (500-530L) and the BMW 7 Series (500L), but more than fine for day to day use.
Unsurprisingly, there is acres of leg and headroom up front and it doesn’t take much to find the perfect driving position, thanks to the 28-way power adjustable front seats. Even the front headrests in the Sports Luxury are powered and have a memory function.
Storage up front is more than adequate but the front centre storage compartment is wide yet shallow.
Manufacturers put equal focus on the rear passenger compartment as they do on the driver and front passenger area with these big limos, so it is always a treat to spend time playing with the various luxuries and toys in the back.
Like the front, there is leg and shoulder room for days in the rear of the LS, although the roofline means that if you are well over six foot tall, it may feel a little cramped.
As well as expected touches – rear and side air vents, roof mirrors, centre storage and cupholders – the LS has individual audio settings for each rear seat and you can control the front audio from the rear, just in case the driver’s choice of Michael Buble causes grief.
It is technically a five seater, but there’s little point in using the middle seat unless you absolutely have to. You can option a cooler box between the two outboard rear seat backrests but it reduces the cargo capacity in the boot by 40 litres.
The Sports Luxury has 22-way power rear seats with passenger-side ottoman and seven massage programs, and we thought it best to test a number of the massage settings just to make sure they worked well.
Luckily, they do. And it is not just your back that gets attention. Some settings even massage your bum. Clearly it is an over the top luxury feature, but it is a welcome addition to the extensive standard features list on the LS.
Engine and transmission
The LS and its closely related LC coupe are now underpinned by the new Lexus Global Architecture Luxury platform which has brought a level of refinement that the previous LS could not match.
Lexus has ditched the V8 for the new-gen LS and it is now offered with either a V6 petrol-electric hybrid delivering a combined system output of 264kW in the LS500h, or a petrol 3.5-litre turbocharged V6 that pumps out 310kW/600Nm, which is beefier than the outgoing LS’ 285kW/493Nm naturally aspirated 4.6-litre V8.
The new powertrain is a winner, and it is responsive – dashing off the mark for a 0-100km/h in 5.0 seconds.
It never feels brutally quick – nor does it need to in this segment – but the linear power and torque delivery gives a feeling of precision, and anyone lamenting the loss of the V8 needn’t worry. This engine is a cracker.
It is perfectly matched with Lexus’ new 10-speed automatic transmission – which the company says is a first in a premium passenger car. The transmission is smooth and shifts up and down exactly when it should and never holds gears for longer than it should.
If the overall performance is not to your liking, then you can choose from Eco, Normal, Sport S or Sport S+ modes from the Drive Mode Select knob on the top of the instrument cowl.
Sport mode pumps noise into the cabin, adding a bit of aural drama, and it ups the throttle response for a bit of extra oomph.
While the official combined fuel use figure for the LS500 is 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres, we recorded 14.9L/100km after a week of city and semi-rural driving that was often done enthusiastically.
Ride and handling
The new-gen LS is 5235mm long, 1900mm wide and 1450mm tall, and it is longer (+25mm), wider (+25mm) and lower (-15mm) than the previous long-wheelbase version. And in the metal, it looks like a big beast.
Despite its size though, the LS500 doesn’t feel like a massive car on the road.
It does feel a bit lardy when it is punted into a corner – let’s not forget the LS500 Sports Luxury has a kerb weight of between 2235-2290kg – but it is much more nimble than you’d expect.
Its size does of course make it a challenge to park in city carparks and those inexplicably tiny street carpark spaces, but thankfully the various parking aids mean it’s not a terrifying experience.
All of the requisite active safety features are offered in the LS and for the most part they work as they should, but the lane keeping aid was super slow to respond and would only pull it back when the car was well outside of its intended lane. That function may require some more refinement.
The ride in the LS is smooth and the big sedan soaks up bumps and ruts with ease.
The cabin is super quiet, but it is not quite as hushed as the interiors of the BMW and the Benz.
Lexus has engineered the LS to be dynamically capable, and while it is never going to tackle bends like a hot hatch, it is an enjoyable and comfortable car to drive.
Safety and servicing
The LS is yet to be tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, but it is offered as standard in Sports Luxury guise with Lexus Safety System+, which is a suite of active safety features that uses a windscreen-mounted camera and a grille-mounted millimetre-wave radar to monitor the road ahead for potential hazards and collision risks.
The system features a Pre-Collision System that detects vehicles and pedestrians, all-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist with lane departure warning and a sway warning function, and adaptive high-beam lighting system.
Lexus offers a four-year/100,000km warranty and when you buy a vehicle, you automatically become a member of the Lexus Encore Privileges Program that provides access to exclusive benefits.
Lexus provides a loan car during your vehicle’s service, or you can elect to have the car collected and dropped off to your home and office.
Lexus shifted the goalposts 30 years ago and it made its rivals step up and improve their own luxury offerings. While the new-gen LS is not quite as revolutionary as that original model, it is probably the most dramatic change in the model’s history.
The LS is unquestionably the best value offering in the segment, which is proven by that seriously impressive standard features list and its price point.
The engineering improvements that include the new platform and the excellent V6 turbo engine and 10-speed auto transmission combination have also elevated the LS beyond also-ran status that the last few generations were relegated to.
Like the original LS, it is once again a genuine contender and on equal footing with the likes of the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class (we haven’t driven the new-gen Audi A8 at the time of writing so can’t yet comment on it).
Don’t dismiss the LS500 Sports Luxury as a second-tier luxury offering. If you have the cash to splash on a luxury limo, the big Japanese sedan should be on your shopping list.
Mercedes-Benz S450 L from $227,500 plus on-road costs
The Benz arguably does the best job out of any of its rivals in offering a plush, sumptuous cabin and soft and floaty ride. Recently updated with the latest safety and infotainment tech. A classic big limo.
BMW 740i from $229,900 plus on-road costs
The most dynamically capable offering among the more traditional sedans at this price point, the 7 Series is due for a mid-life refresh soon, but it is still a strong offering.
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