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The 2018 Lexus LS 500 is totally new and uses Toyota's new GA-L rear-drive architecture. (Bill Visnic)

What we're driving: 2018 Lexus LS500

The Lexus flagship’s design may not appeal universally, but it’s hard to argue the addition of the F SPORT package’s extra bodywork tweaks impart a more assertive presence that also seems to bring better flow to this car’s shape. You may not care for every design element, but as a whole, the LS500 with the F SPORT styling makes an impressive statement.

I was dubious when this new-generation 2018 LS—on the freshly-launched GA-L rear-drive platform—dispensed with V8 power in favor of a twin-turbocharged V6 of just 3.5 liters. This is the first-ever LS to forego a V8, but damned if the all-new V35A-FTS isn’t sufficiently bombastic to all but make you forget the sweet V8s of Lexi past. There might be a smidge of lag in the first ten feet from standstill, but otherwise this twin-turbo setup just plain pumps in whatever demand situation you present. In case you might doubt Lexus’ 442-lb·ft (599-N·m) max-torque claim, in-gear torque delivery can border on violent—particularly if you’ve appropriately twisted the neat F SPORT Tootsie-Roll drive-mode knob cleverly located on the high-right quadrant of the instrument shroud—and three-figure speeds blitz the gorgeous, monstrous 24-in. (607-mm) optional ($1,220!) head-up display with startling frequency.

For those who think any Lexus, but particularly the big sedan, is the default “soft” choice in the segment, the 416 hp generated by the LS500’s 3.5-L V6 handily whips the 362 hp from the 3L twin-turbo V6 Mercedes-Benz installs in the S-Class and isn’t that far in arrears of the 463 horses Mercedes extracts from the S-Class’ turbocharged 4.0-L V8. Much the same for comparison with the BMW 7-Series, which delivers a meagre 320 hp from its six-cylinder option and 445 hp from its V8. Lexus’ new 3.5-L V6 is the only propulsion (other than the hybrid variant) for the LS sedan and apparently by design splits the difference between competitors’ V6 and V8 engines.

Lexus and transmission supplier Aisin still have some fettling to do, though, with the new 10-speed automatic that supports the LS500’s thrusty V6. Shifts certainly are buttery enough and the wide ratio spread allows Lexus to deliver a tasty 30-mpg highway fuel-economy rating. But as with this sedan’s LC500 coupe counterpart, the transmission is reluctant to reach deeply for lower gears and appears confused by other throttle inputs that seemingly run counter to foundation algorithms.

The F SPORT package on our test car included the variable-ratio steering and the active rear-axle steering and stabilizer that’s available separately for the LS lineup—and combined with the optional adaptive pneumatic suspension, the LS’s ride and handling are sublime. Forget the crashiness of most sport-tuned German sedans, while the softness you might assume for the Lexus large car actually is a taut-but-compliant state of tune that makes the LS500 wieldy and responsive despite its footprint and plump 4750-lb (2155-kg) mass in rear-drive configuration.

Of course the new LS has the Herculean build quality that’s become a Lexus watchword and the opulence of the cabin’s bill of materials is unquestionable. But Lexus needs throw in the towel on its Remote Touch computer mouse-style driver interface, which despite years’ worth of refinement and tweaking is too fussy and imprecise to use effectively while driving. Remote Touch is the only genuine grenade that can be lobbed at the LS500’s driver experience, but it’s a serious one.

The brand’s F SPORT treatment over the years has been executed with arguable degrees of effectiveness and value, but for the LS500, even if it is roaringly priced at $9,700, it’s little short of transformative. The new-generation LS500 was always going to be a certain kind of engineering achievement. But the F SPORT option hikes up the dynamic and appearance quotient to complete the 2018 LS as totally formidable flagship statement.

2018 Lexus LS500

Base price:       $81,000
As tested:         $101,675
Highs:               Heavy-horsepower turbo V6; locomotive-grade cruising; impregnable quality
Lows:                10-speed automatic can feel disinterested; Remote Touchpad HMI just isn’t cutting it 
Takeaway:       With F SPORT package, formidable in every sense         Continue reading »