2018 Lexus LS: Lexus takes boring out of the luxury sedan [First Look]

2018 Lexus LS 500h (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

To me, the Lexus LS has always fallen into the category of “fine.” The previous generations have been generally attractive, and the ride and handling have always been comfortable if a bit mushy.

Some people might have even called the LS “boring” -- a fact that did not escape the attention of Toshio Asahi, chief engineer for the all-new 2018 LS.

“When I started working on development, I heard things like ‘Lexus’ are boring to drive,’” Asahi said during a press briefing. “I wanted to eliminate that kind of talk, so I had many heated discussions with the engineers.”

The result is a vehicle that actually has pizzazz.

And that’s despite the fact the LS lineup no longer has a V-8.

Nope. It’s equipped with a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 instead. Of course, I should point out the all-new V-6 has 36 more horsepower than the outgoing V-8. With 416 horses and 442 pound-feet of torque under the hood, the LS 500 has plenty of power to move.

However, this is a “turbocharged” engine, which means it is subject to some of the downsides of a turbo – namely turbo lag.

We discovered trying to go from a complete stop to fast enough to merge with highway traffic created a slight delay, which nearly got us rear-ended by a vehicle that wasn’t paying attention.

Passing acceleration was much more easily achieved once the vehicle was already in motion.

The 2018 LS sits lower than the previous generation, and that, combined with the additional horsepower, gives the driver a greater connection to the road. The handling is also sportier than it has been previously – which is saying something for a vehicle that’s 206.1 inches long.

My driving partner and I noticed the LS is a little large for tight spaces, though the around-view monitor goes a long way toward helping you see to maneuver. It also has a really nice turning radius, which is another help.

Once you get the LS on the highway, however, it drives like a much smaller vehicle, exhibiting nimble grace as you weave through traffic.

While the ride and handling have significantly improved in this fifth generation LS, the interior is where it really shines. In fact, it makes words like “meticulous” and “exquisite” immediately pop into my mind. From the stitching on the dash inserts to the intricately cut and designed wood accents, the interior is painstakingly assembled.

The Executive Package includes an extra special touch with features inspired by traditional Japanese aesthetics. The available pleated upholstery can only be done by hand and is folded like origami. And while the glass ornamentation isn’t hand-cut, it is inspired by Kiriko glassware with input from a Kiriko master.

In addition to a sharp design – inside and out – the new LS has a lot of cool tech, much of it centered around safety.

The Lexus Safety System + is now standard across the lineup, and will include things such as lane keep assist, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and intelligent high beams. The LSS + Advanced Package adds lane trace assist, front cross traffic alert and road sign assist.

I played around with the new lane trace assist on the highway, and it’s designed to keep you centered in the lane. It does a good job of keeping you straight without aggressively tugging against your hands like some other systems. It’s meant for you to keep your hands on the wheel, and if you take them off for more than 15 seconds, you’ll get an alert.

One of the neat world-first technologies on the LS is the pre-collision system with active steering avoidance. That means if the car detects that you can’t stop in time to avoid a collision, it will try to help you steer around it if the coast is clear.

Another interesting feature is Access Mode. When turned on, the car will lower as you walk up to it so that it’s easier to get in. It will also lower when you’re getting ready to exit.

Other available tech features of note include: a 24-inch head up display, a Mark Levinson 23-speaker surround sound system and rear seat massagers.

But with all that new stuff, I hate to tell the tech geeks out there: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will not be included.

In addition to the straight up LS 500, the 2018 LS comes in two additional trims: a sporty LS 500 F Sport and an efficient LS 500h. The F Sport will have the same engine as the regular LS 500, but it gets a stiffer suspension, F Sport badging, exclusive 20-inch wheels, larger brakes and a specially designed spindle grille.

The LS 500h is equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 as well, but it’s the same engine as the LC 500h – not the LS 500. It has two electric motors with a total system output of 354 horsepower.

My pick of the bunch would actually be the LS 500h. In addition to fuel economy ratings that top 30 mpg on the highway in both the rear- and all-wheel-drive models, it doesn’t have the same from-a-stop-acceleration issue that the gasoline model has. With the help of electric motors and some instantaneous torque, it feels a lot faster – even though it isn’t.

The 0-to-60-mph time for the hybrid is 5.1 seconds as opposed to the LS 500’s time of 4.6 seconds.

Official pricing for the LS hasn’t been announced, but Lexus executives said that it would be “around” $75K. We would estimate the hybrid version to be priced about $10K to $15K above the LS 500.

Expect to see the all-new 2018 LS in dealers in February 2018. Just don’t expect it to be boring.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Lexus covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.

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