Lexus LS500

Debut: 2017
Maker: Toyota
Predecessor: LS460 (2006)

 Published on 9 Jan 2018
All rights reserved. 

From the dullest to the sharpest looking, can the new LS strike to the top of the segment?

You know what Lexus LS stands for: impeccable refinement, conservative style, civilized but slightly boring driving manner. These have been the genes of the LS since its birth in 1989. The redesign in 1994, 2001 and 2006 just served to reinforce this image. So far so good. Unexpectedly, Lexus suddenly dropped a bombshell on last year’s Detroit motor show. The new, 5th generation LS takes a U-turn on styling direction. Not only the conservative approach has been ditched, it has taken a bold step forward. In fact, I think it is easily the sharpest, sportiest looking limousine on the market – save Aston Martin Rapide and Lagonda, of course. Its nose is pin-point sharp, its bonnet is sportscar-low, its side profile is Tesla-sleek, and its massive “spindle grille” looks as hungry as Jaws. Standing next to the outgoing LS460, you cannot believe that they are father and son. Even by the standards of the 1980s Japanese motoring industry, its change is dramatic. Thanks to Akio Toyoda, the cowboy CEO of Toyota group who prefers sports cars and radical expression.

Is it too radical to the target audiences of luxury limousines? Well, probably, but this author always appreciates diversity. While taste is subjective, this car is undoubtedly refreshing to eyes, as it combines sexy body shape with elegant details. My only criticism is that its side looks remarkably close to that of Tesla Model S, in particular the window profile, which might raise doubts about originality. Understandably, the Tesla has been outselling all other F-segment cars in the US market. It is now a model for learning.

Weighing close to Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the sportscar look just don't tell the full story.

One victim of the expressive styling is aerodynamics. Its drag coefficient is increased from 0.26 to 0.28, though hybrid model is slightly better at 0.27.

The new LS is quite a lot larger than the old car. At 5235mm long and 3125mm in wheelbase, it is longer than even the long-wheelbase version of its predecessor. No wonder it is available in only one standard size this time around. It also gains 25mm in width, but the roof is lowered by 30mm. To realize the coupe-like appearance, Lexus worked hard on the mechanical side. The new GA-L (global architecture-luxury) platform, shared with LC coupe, emphasizes on low placement of engine and compact suspensions. This enables the bonnet to be lowered by 30mm compared with the old car, and the front fenders can be set remarkably close to the wheel arches and the 20-inch wheels. At the back, the boot lid is lowered by 40mm to help the sleek profile, although it reduces luggage space to only 480 liters. Hybrid model loses another 50 liters due to the additional battery.

By using a lot of high-strength steel, aluminum sheets (bonnet, boot lid, front fenders and doors) and cast aluminum (front and rear suspension towers), the monocoque body is said to be more than 90kg lighter than the old one. Somehow, manufacturer’s figures show that the whole car gains at least 200kg! The lightest rear-drive model now tips the scale at 2135 kg, while an all-wheel-drive, fully loaded hybrid model could reach well over 2.3 tons. It is significantly heavier than the rivalling Mercedes S-class, BMW 7-Series and Audi A8, actually closer to a Rolls-Royce Ghost or Bentley Flying Spur! The sportscar look just don't tell you the full story...

Learning the bad habit from German, LS500 is powered by not a 5-liter V8 but a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6...

Like the LC Coupe, its suspensions are multi-link setup all-around. Air suspension is optional, as is AWD system. F Sport package may add rear-wheel steering, active anti-roll bars and variable gear-ratio steering, but unlike its German rivals, the Lexus is not available with the latest road-scanning active suspension. Its semi-autonomous driving technology is also rather basic. We’d better call it adaptive cruise control. Self-parking? "Why don't you do it yourself?" Lexus asks.

The powertrain is a mixed bag. Learning the bad habit from German, LS500 is powered by not a 5-liter V8 but a brand new 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 called V35A-FTS. With 88.5mm bore and 100mm stroke, this engine is tuned for torque, which peaks at 442 lbft from 1600 to 4800 rpm. Maximum output is relatively modest at 416 horsepower. It is not quite as powerful as the V8-powered BMW 750i, while the 6-cylinder Mercedes S500 is not hampered by as much weight. Lexus claims the car good for 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds, but in the real world it feels like more than 5 seconds. Fortunately, the V6 keeps the typical smoothness and quietness of Lexus. The 10-speed automatic transmission, shared with LC, normally shifts smoothly, but downshifts could feel harsher in a hurry.

Meanwhile, LS500h shares the hybrid powertrain with LC500h, which combines a naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V6 and 2 motor/generators for a total output of 354 hp. The so-called Multi-Stage Hybrid system mates a planetary CVT with a 4-speed automatic to enable 10 artificial ratios. Driving leisurely, the powertrain combo feels smooth and refined. More enthusiastically, it struggles with lots of revs and noises as it lacks torque to cope with the immense weight. Lexus claims 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, which is again optimistic. Both performance and refinement disappoint, while fuel economy no match for its diesel rivals.

Want a true V8 to rival Mercedes S560, BMW 750i or Audi A8 4.0TFSI? Sorry, it is not on the product plan. I suspect will never be.

Lexus should have learned from Tesla for its infotainment system...

The chassis is another mixed bag. Lexus lovers will be shocked with its firmness, especially with the F Sport package. On smooth roads the LS rides comfortably and quietly, just like any cars in this class, but its air suspension and 20-inch low-profile tires are unsettled with sharp bumps more so than its main rivals, even in Comfort mode. Speed bumps and sharp-edged, high-frequency bumps are dealt with pain. Tire, suspension and wind noises are also a bit more than expected for a Lexus. This is the first time the Lexus flagship loses the ride refinement game to the German Trio (S-class, 7-Series and A8). What a shame!

On the flipside of a stiffer ride should be a sportier handling. This is partly true. The F Sport’s steering is noticeably weightier and more direct than the Lexus of old. It makes the car feels immediately sportier. There is some information available from the rim, too, although not to be confused with a sports car’s. Thanks to the new steering, the turn-in is sharper as well. Body control seems to be pretty good. However, push the car harder in tighter corners will reveal all its 2.3 tons of weight and 5.2 meters of length. It doesn’t shrink around you like an XJ, 7-Series, A8 or even an S-class. Blame that weight.

Maybe it should recoup some points from the cabin? At the first glance, yes. The interior design is really refreshing, being radical and different from the class norm. It has a curvy and flowing dashboard, tastefully styled door panels and exquisite finishing. The LFA-style instrument is unique and sporty. Attention to details is evident on the hand-cut glass accents, art wood accents and pleated fabric trims on the doors, which reflect traditional Japanese craftsmanship. On the downside, some small switchgears are made of cheap plastic, an oversight won’t happen on Mercedes and Audi.

Despite the longer wheelbase, the cabin feels tighter than before.

The bigger issue is space. Despite the longer wheelbase, the cabin feels tighter than before. Rear legroom is sufficient for tall guys but not as excessive as others in the class. Rear headroom is compromised by the lower roof. Although Lexus deliberately has the sunroof shortened, rear headroom is still marginal for a 6ft 3in passenger. On the plus side, the massaging seats are comfortable. Executive package adds a reclining rear seat, and the front passenger seat can slide and flip forward to free up the legroom behind. The Mark Levinson sound system is great, as always.

Sadly, Lexus’ infotainment system is sub-standard. While the 12.3-inch recessed TFT screen provides clear and crisped image, the operating system is troublesome, taking too many sub-menus, swipes and taps to navigate to the desired functions, even functions as basic as switching on and off the heated seats! The touchpad on transmission tunnel that controls the system is also difficult to use in move. Instead of exterior, Lexus should have learned from Tesla in this respect.

As seen, the new LS is substantially deviated from its established formula. It looks as striking as the old car boring. It tries to be sporty and different. Unfortunately, the result is seriously compromised. While it is really sportier to drive, it is hampered by its weight thus performance and handling are both unremarkable. Meanwhile, the impeccable ride comfort and refinement of the old Lexus has taken a noticeable setback. In addition to an annoying control system, it shows too many rough edges than a Lexus, or just any cars in this class, is expected. Unless you can’t live without its striking look, there seems to be no good reason to choose it instead of the brilliant S-class, A8 or 7-Series. Even Hyundai G90 manages to find its own position on the market. It is worth praising that Lexus dares to walk out of its comfort zone and try to redefine itself, but as the results show, the effort is unfulfilled.
Verdict:  LS500:   /  LS500h:

Length / width / height

Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout
Suspension features


Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
LS500 F Sport
Front-engined, RWD, 4WS
Steel monocoque, aluminum parts
Mainly aluminum
5235 / 1900 / 1450 mm
3125 mm
V6, 60-degree

3445 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT
416 hp
442 lbft
10-speed automatic
All: multi-link
Adaptive air springs + damping,
active anti-roll bars
F: 245/45ZR20
R: 275/40ZR20
2155 kg
155 mph (limited)
4.6 (c)
LS500h AWD Executive
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque, aluminum parts
Mainly aluminum
5235 / 1900 / 1450 mm
3125 mm
V6, 60-degree, Atkinson-cycle + electric motor
3456 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT
295 hp + 179 hp = 354 hp
257 lbft + 221 lbft
Multi-stage CVT
All: multi-link
Adaptive air springs + damping


2370 kg
155 mph (limited)
5.1 (c)

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