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Detroit show: All-new Lexus LS flagship limo revealed

Sign of the times: Lexus downsizes from a naturally aspirated 4.6-litre V8 to a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 with the fifth-generation LS limousine flagship.

Clean-sheet fifth-gen Lexus LS hits Australia early 2018, drops V8 for twin-turbo V6


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10 Jan 2017

LEXUS is aiming to re-establish itself as disruptor of the luxury limousine market with the clean-sheet, fifth-generation LS flagship revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit overnight – just as it did with the original’s Motown debut back in 1989.

Due to arrive in Australian showrooms early next year, the new LS will be produced in long-wheelbase form only, featuring a lower coupe-like silhouette with six flush-fitting side windows – the first time this has been seen on a Lexus – and an intricate new take on the brand’s bold ‘spindle’ grille design.

Significantly, the new LS500 drops the outgoing LS460 model’s 4.6-litre V8 engine in favour of a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 producing 310kW of power and 600Nm of torque, making it much more potent than the 285kW/493Nm bent-eight it replaces.

The rear wheels are driven through the world’s first 10-speed automatic transmission in a luxury sedan, the two additional ratios of which are expected to compliment the fuel efficiency benefits from the downsized engine, but Lexus does not say by how much.

Neither is there mention of a hybrid drivetrain option. The LS was previewed at the Tokyo show in late 2015 by the LF-FC concept that used hydrogen fuel-cell power and, despite the limited number of countries where this drivetrain makes sense, Lexus representatives at the time insisted it will become reality sooner than people are expecting.

Borrowing the LC500h coupe’s drivetrain is more likely for most markets, combining a 3.5-litre V6 with an electric motor fed by lithium-ion batteries.

In the LC, this drivetrain produces less power than the new twin-turbo V6 of the LS, so a performance hybrid using the force-fed engine could also be offered to replace the outgoing LS600h.

As expected, the LS is brimming with new comfort features but Lexus has apparently not moved the technological game forward in the same way as rivals such as the BMW 7 Series or adopted autonomous driving features as enthusiastically as Mercedes-Benz.

Instead, its media materials focus on how the Japanese Omotenashi philosophy of hospitality has been applied to “instill the new LS cabin with luxury that welcomes and envelops the occupants while treating the driver like a partner”.

Front seats with up to 28-way electric adjustment and the availability of Shiatsu massage, heating and cooling functions front and back, plus ottoman leg-rests and up to 48 degrees of rear-seat recline promise lavish levels of comfort.

The rear seats can also be raised by up to 24 degrees to help rear passengers exit the vehicle, while the entire car can be raised using the key fob to help entry and egress by overcoming its new, lower-slung stance – if optional air suspension is fitted.

Ambient interior lighting is inspired by Japanese lanterns and a combination of Shimamoku wood patterns, precise slicing and laser cutting methods go into the timber trim.

Back in the land of technology, the 12.3-inch multimedia screen interface is supplemented by a large head-up display and the whole system has been designed to work in a similar way to a smartphone, controlled through a touchpad in the centre console that provides handwriting recognition for navigation address and phone contact or number input.

The two-tier dashboard is coated in contrast-stitched leather with a handful of shortcut buttons and, like the LC coupe, the instrument panel is flanked by two stalk-style controls.

Lexus has worked on its hallmark cabin quietness for the new LS, with new noise suppression methods and an acoustically designed interior supplemented by noise cancellation technology through the audio system to eliminate certain frequencies generated by the engine. That said, Lexus has ensured the new turbo V6 emits a sporty bark when appropriate.

Even the wheels – all of which will be 20-inch items for the Australian market – have been designed with a hollow rim structure claimed to reduce tyre noise, which should enhance enjoyment of the optional 3D surround Mark Levinson audio system and its array of ceiling-mounted speakers.

The LS has grown 85mm in length to 5235mm, while its 3125mm wheelbase is 33mm longer than the previous long-wheelbase bodystyle and it is also 25mm wider at 1900mm.

At 1450mm, the new LS is 15mm lower than its predecessor, but headroom is said to have been maintained by using an externally sliding sunroof mechanism. Its bonnet and boot are also around 30mm and 40mm lower than before.

Despite all the growth and focus on comfort, Lexus claims to have improved the large barge’s dynamics, firstly by adopting the ultra-stiff GA-L platform that debuted on the LC coupe and helped achieve a 90kg weigh reduction over the outgoing LS along with a number of suspension system refinements.

Second is a suite of technologies called Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) that networks braking, steering, drivetrain and suspension to control body movement, which also has the side effect of improving comfort.

From a safety perspective there is adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and adaptive high beam.

Lexus LS chief engineer Toshio Asahi said the new model will “become the definitive new-generation luxury car embodying Japanese tradition and culture”.

“As such, this global pinnacle must go far beyond what the world expects from a luxury car,” he said. “We set previously unheard of targets and resolutely pushed ahead towards these ambitious goals.

“The customers who are going to want to own a Lexus flagship are already surrounded by luxury on a daily basis, people who have a sharp eye for authenticity to begin with. We wouldn’t turn their heads with a conventional premium product.”

With around 12 months to go before the new LS arrives on Australian shores, it is too early for pricing to be announced, but the switch to long-wheelbase – an option offered only as special order in Australia since 2012 – could result in significant hikes.

Current pricing ranges from $185,980 plus on-road costs for the LS460 F Sport to $245,140 for the LS600h Sports Luxury. For comparison, the BMW 7 Series starts at $217,500 and the Mercedes S-Class kicks off from $199,455.

Last year the Lexus LS managed achieved just 20 sales in Australia, compared with 312 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and 293 BMW 7 Series. It was also outsold by the Maserati Quattroporte (63), Audi A8 (56), Porsche Panamera (42) and Jaguar XJ (36).

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