Lexus unveils 5th-generation LS sedan

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

It’s the car that helped build a new brand. Now, Lexus is ready to build a new LS.

Few cars are more closely associated with a luxury brand than the LS. The flagship sedan was the first model the then all-new marque revealed when it made its own debut at the 1989 North American International Auto Show.

“It is the car that launched a company,” said Jeff Bracken, the U.S. manager of the Lexus brand. So, it should be no surprise the level of effort that went into developing the fifth-generation full-size LS.

Lexus shows off the 2018 LS 500 at a press conference during the North American International Auto Show Monday.

Changes in the 2017 version include: a "coupe-like" design, a twin-turbo V6 engine capable of 415 horsepower and a new advanced safety package.

There’s no question that the big sedan needed a complete makeover as the oldest full-size premium luxury vehicle on the market. But company designers created several thousand sketches before settling on the dramatic look that rolled onto the stage during a standing-room-only preview at this year’s NAIAS.

The new LS picks up on the mandate laid down by parent Toyota Motor Corp. CEO Akio Toyoda who, in a visit to Cobo Center last January declared Lexus would put more “passion” into both its design and driving dynamics.

The 2018 Lexus LS certainly lives up to that promise from a visual standpoint. It abandons the traditionally boxy Lexus look for a sleeker design. It picks up on the brand’s familiar “spindle grille,” but here it gets a jewel-like appearance.

The cabin, meanwhile, adopts an array of premium and high-tech features. There’s a new infotainment system with expanded levels of connectivity, and the world’s largest, 24-inch head-up display to help drivers keep their eyes on the road.

Lexus LC500 Coupe: 
I have yet to get my mitts on Lexus’ dramatic-looking, six-figure flagship, which is due in the States in the first quarter of 2017. The LC is a two-door sports car – but with its big, honking, front-mounted V-8 and porky 4,300 pounds, it’s aimed more at BMW 6-series customers than the rubber-burning Porsche 911 crowd.

Though it retains the classic leather and wood cues of a luxury car, the interior adopts a more chic and elegant appearance than the outgoing LS. One of the more intriguing design details is the integration of door armrests that appear to be floating on their own.

“Not only will the LS symbolize the Lexus brand, it will become the definitive new-generation luxury car embodying Japanese tradition and culture,” said Toshio Asahi, chief engineer for the new LS. “As such, this global pinnacle must go far beyond what the world expects from a luxury car.”

Lexus said the new LS will be sold in more than 90 countries globally and will be built on a new global architecture for luxury vehicles. The rear-wheel drive platform will offer drivers a more “dynamic experience on the road,” and the car will feature a more luxurious interior and “visionary technology.” Lexus said.

Comfort is, of course, a watchword for halo luxury cars, and the new 2018 LS shouldn’t disappoint. For the driver, there’s a 28-way heated and cooled seat with optional Shiatsu massage. The rear seats recline and can also be equipped with optional heating and massage functionality.

The 2018 Lexus LS 500.

Lexus, like sibling brand Toyota, has been putting a premium on luxury and it expands the array of advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS technologies available on the 2018 LS. That includes a world’s first collision avoidance system that not only can detect and brake for pedestrians but, if necessary, even steer out of the way of a collision.

Picking up on broader trends in the premium luxury segment, the new LS walks away from its traditional V-8 powertrain in favor of a high-tech, twin-turbo V-6 – mated to a segment-first 10-speed automatic transmission -- making 415 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to launch the big sedan from 0 to 60 in just 4.5 seconds, according to Bracken.

A hybrid version is expected to follow, though Lexus didn’t offer detail. And while it said the twin-turbo six will deliver better mileage than the old V-8, final numbers won’t be released until closer to launch.

Under the skin, the 2018 Lexus LS shares the same new Global Architecture-Luxury platform first used for the brand’s high-performance LC coupe – which was launched at the NAIAS last January. The GA-L, as Lexus calls it, adopts new high- and ultra-high-strength steel to shave about 200 pounds of mass off from the old LS. That approach also results in a stiffer, more nimble ride, Bracken said, and is another reason why fuel economy should improve notably.

The new Lexus LS will reach U.S. showrooms by late this year. It will also go to dealers in about 90 other markets. That’s a sharp difference from when the original version of the sedan debuted in 1989. Back then, Lexus was offered only in the U.S. That explains why the maker has invested so heavily in ensuring the 2018 LS can keep up with the best the industry has to offer in the premium sedan segment.

For complete coverage of the Detroit auto show, go to