the luxury sedan is a complete departure from its predecessor in nearly every respect, but not all the changes are welcome
The fifth-generation Lexus LS has a point to prove. Not least of which is the increasingly stiff competition from its rivals. The current Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the best one in recent memory. Ditto the BMW 7 Series (the 6 Series GT is no slouch, too), and there’s a new Audi A8 on the way that boasts a boatload of autonomous driving tech.
Adding to that is how its predecessor was in production for a decade, from 2007 to 2017. This, of course, is ridiculously long by modern standards, when many carmakers work on a five-year product life cycle.
Yes, the fourth-generation Lexus LS was refreshed twice along the way, but no amount of cosmetic tweaks will save an aging chassis and systems. Just ask users of London and New York’s subway systems, they would know this all too well.
But where its predecessor was traditional in the extreme – a template set by the first-generation Lexus LS in 1989 – the new car is somewhat less conservative. Oh, what am I saying, the new Lexus LS pretty much takes a flamethrower to that rulebook.
Its cab-rearward profile, flowing roofline and notchback rear is about as atypical as a flagship limousine can get, with the new Lexus LS looking rather like a four-door GT. A deliberate move, says its lead designer Koichi Suga, intended to appeal to new, younger buyers, “improve the emotional appeal… and move in a more radical direction”.
And this “radical direction” is also reflected in the way the Lexus LS behaves under cornering. Where previous Lexus LS models handled like boats, the new Lexus LS is possessed of almost sports car levels of poise, complemented by its precise helm. Its air suspension does an impressive job of controlling roll, no mean feat since the car weighs in the neighbourhood of 2.2-tonnes.
In a lot of ways, you’d be forgiven thinking you’re in Lexus’ GT, the LC, such is its levels of agility, mile-munching prowess and oversized digital tachometer taking pride of place in its instrument cluster.
Just above this, on the sides of the instrument cluster’s cowl, are a pair of ears that control the traction control and driving modes. That’s within the driver’s line of sight, and coupled with the compact instrument cluster walled off from infotainment screen, the Lexus LS really does give the impression it’s a driver-focused GT.
Success, then. The new Lexus LS is a near-complete departure from the old one, but unfortunately, it’s had to make some compromises getting there. Chief among which is its famously pillowy ride quality.
In a GT, niggles like a slightly lumpen ride are forgivable. In a flagship four-door, excellent though its driver-centric characteristics may be, not so much. That could also be attributable to its stiff-sidewalled run-flat tyres, but the level of aural and tactile intrusion over expansion joints simply isn’t acceptable in its class.
Ditto for its transmission. Kudos to Lexus for bringing the world’s first 10-speed automatic to market, but with its implementation in the Lexus LS, you do wonder if it’s ready for primetime yet. It performs its shifts virtually imperceptibly most of the time and there’s very little slush, but it’s all too easy to catch it out. Its kickdown is ponderous, it has a tendency to hunt and the driveline shunt it exhibits in the first four gears is infuriating.
On the bright side, the interior of the Lexus LS is stunning. So stunning, in fact, it might just distract you from its flaws. The finishing is exquisite, as you might expect, but the way it’s executed is also worthy of mention. Some will no doubt say it’s over-styled, but pay them no mind, they’re just jealous you have something that will give Bentley or Rolls-Royce a serious run for their money.
Like the cars from the above ultra-luxury carmakers, the Lexus LS is chock full of tiny, but immaculately crafted details. Marvel at the razor-sharp motif on the mesh of the speaker grilles, or the way even an insignificant cubby hole on the right of the steering wheel soundlessly glides open and shuts with a beautifully damped click.
But in spite of that interior quality, bold design and best-in-class handling, I can’t help but think it really isn’t enough to offset its mediocre comfort. At any rate, due credit to Lexus for being brave enough to move its flagship car in a completely different direction and succeeding, for the most part.
Whether or not you, as in the person looking to buy a new barge to replace the one you currently own, appreciate those changes or not, however, is entirely subjective.