Back in 1989, the Lexus LS400 arrived at the Detroit auto show with a simple and determined mission: to totally shake up the luxury car market by offering impeccable quality and customer service, all in a refined sedan with serene driving dynamics. This year, Toyota’s luxury division unveils the new LS500, a car that carries those same Lexus values, but wraps them in a much bolder and brasher design than ever before.
You can’t talk about the LS500 and not start the conversation with the exterior. Longer, lower, and wider than the car it replaces, the LS500 rides on the same platform that’s used in the LC500 coupe. Aluminum and high-strength steel have helped trim curb-weight by approximately 200 pounds in models fitted with rear-wheel-drive. Expect all-wheel-drive to be optional, and obviously a bit heftier on the scales.
But it’s the front grille that is going to grab your attention right away, or have you running to a nearby BMW, Mercedes, or Audi dealership. Lexus has now brought its “spindle grille” treatment to the LS, and from our vantage point, the gaping front maw works better here than on other models. Maybe it’s all proportional — the larger models in the Lexus range look less awkward with this extreme design treatment. Or they all still look like catfish during feeding time. You make the call.
The LS500 certainly stands out in a market segment that isn’t usually known for daring exteriors — that’s for certain.
Under the hood is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 415 horsepower. Mated to this motor is a 10-speed automatic transmission, which is also shared with the LC500 coupe. Lexus estimates the LS500 will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds. That’s about equal to the LC500’s performance — proof that Lexus isn’t messing around when it comes to giving its top sedan some serious oomph.
This car also comes loaded with tech, including front seats that are heated, cooled, and have a massage function. Occupants in the rear are also given the royal treatment, thanks to this car’s copious legroom and seatbacks that recline more than 40 degrees backward. Lexus has done an excellent job creating a world class cabin. The look of the interior is more than equal to cars like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class.
A new head-up display (please Lexus, it’s not “heads-up”!) and 12.3-inch infotainment screen on the center console relay driving information in a crisp and clear format. Unfortunately, all this info is controlled by the same maddening fingertip-reading touchpad that’s found in the LC500 coupe. We’ve tried to be patient with this system, but try as we might, it’s simply a huge pain even with lots of patience and practice. We’re hoping that its hyperactive reactions have been refined for the LS500, though we’re not especially optimistic.
While Lexus didn’t mention whether self-driving functions will play a role in its new range-topping sedan, a pedestrian detection system will help you safely steer around and avoid people or obstacles that cross the car’s path. The LS has always scored top marks in terms of safety ratings, so expect the new model to carry that banner forward when it arrives in late-2017, for the 2018 model year.
In terms of pricing, well, times have changed since the first-generation LS first arrived back when George Bush (the first one) was president. The LS500 is expected to carry a starting price of $80,000 to $100,000, depending on options. That’s about triple what you’d have paid for your LS400 back in the day. Then again, Lexus is taking a brave step toward fixing the sights of the LS on the priciest sedans from German rivals.
A brave exterior is a good start, especially when it’s still wrapped around the all fine attributes that made Lexus such a revolutionary luxury brand when it first started out.