New Lexus guns for the establishment and misses the mark
- Great looking, unmistakable design
- Details, quality, interior functionality
- Proudly Japanese in a world of German challengers
- Drivetrain isn't as impressive as we'd hoped
- A relative lack of options and tech
- Will it hold its value?
With the 2018 Lexus LS saloon, parent company Toyota is hoping that building a bold-looking, non-conformist option will be enough to attract buyers who don't want to buy the obvious luxury choices: BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 or Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The new flagship Lexus can afford to be truly divisive because Lexus UK only needs 100 people each year to buy it. Considering that 2,500 S-Classes are sold here annually, and around 2,000 each of the BMW 7 Series and Tesla Model S, that means the company doesn't have to work too hard at publicising it.
Despite this, the hybrid-only model range probably means that Lexus knows exactly who will be buying this car. If you’re a target buyer, chances are you’re the eco-CEO of your own firm in the tech or creative industries, and you're probably buying it both to drive yourself and be driven in.
Lexus LS – stand-out design in a conservative class
The LS is based on the same steel and aluminium platform as the LC coupe, but with additional length added in the centre. The LS saloon also inherits the LC's coupe profile and low-slung stance – a genuinely interesting proposition in this market sector.
The wheelbase is 35mm longer than the outgoing long-wheelbase LS, which results in plenty of interior space. There's some clever styling at the rear, which adds sportiness and dynamism. And this being a Lexus, the detailing is crazily complex but perfectly resolved.
The cabin is full of interesting materials, all exquisitely judged. Our test car’s doors were trimmed with cloth hand-pleated using origami techniques, and the door pulls were carved kiriko glass.
The Premier version includes an ‘ottoman’ function which motors the front passenger seat away and extends the rear seat behind to allow the occupant to stretch out. Without this, the LS's rear legroom is unimpressive – it's more Quattroporte than S-Class.
What's the 2018 Lexus LS like to drive?
You'd be right to expect class-leading levels of hush and poise for the Lexus LS. And that's where it disappoints; chassis refinement is good, if not class-leading. The ride is fine, if not quite as cloud-like as the best rivals.
The wheels have been designed with resonance chambers in the hollow spokes to cut tyre noise, and the 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio system listens for and actively cancels road noise.
Sadly, the 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 disappoints. It might have the new Lexus Multi-Stage hybrid system and a CVT transmission first seen in the LC coupe and retuned slightly for the saloon, but it's not muscular enough for the job in hand.
Lexus LS performance: hurt by a lack of cylinders
Acceleration is good on paper, with a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds, and claimed fuel consumption is a notable 39.8mpg. The powertrain's 360hp does seem to struggle with the 2,340kg it needs to pull along. Exiting a roundabout at the reasonable pace sends the revcounter to 3000rpm or beyond just to deliver the required torque.
That results in an unpleasant whine from under the bonnet that's not in keeping with this car's lofty price tag. The handling is aided by a stiff platform, and the optional air suspension provides reasonable body control and accurate steering. But the driveline always gives the impression that you’re asking it to do things it would rather not.
More torque lower down would probably solve both the refinement and the engagement issues, and make the LS a much better car to drive.
The Parkers Verdict
With great visual design and an original, beautifully made cabin this is a proper Lexus, but a hybrid drivetrain no longer counts for much when the main rivals will soon all offer plug-in options. In this case, different may not be enough, and the 100 cars a year Lexus hopes to sell no longer looks like a typo.
Is it good enough to tempt mainstream buyers out of their BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Audis? Not really. But as an alternative to a Jaguar XJ or Maserati Quattroporte, it does make a little more sense.