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2018 Lexus LS Review

2018 Lexus LS Review
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The 2018 Lexus LS 500 sedans don’t reach for the same performance limits as the LC coupes, but there’s ambition in every line.

Days for sedans seem numbered. Luxury buyers flock toward tall ride heights, forsaking a crowd of competent four-door sedans so good that we'll remember these as halcyon days.

The 2018 Lexus LS bows on that crowded stage. For its breakthrough moment, the LS breaks down what it’s stood for in the past. The pursuit of perfection gets dialed back, while the pursuit of engine sounds, funky crystal trim, brown paint, and 10-speed transmissions hits full throttle.

It steams ahead in three different versions: as the Lexus LS 500 in rear- or all-wheel drive; as the LS 500 F Sport; and as the LS 500h hybrid.

The 2018 LS earns a good 7.6 overall rating on our overall scale thanks to its supreme comfort, quality, and opulent features.

The style assigned to the new LS isn’t quite as successful as that of the LC coupe that nominally shares its platform. The LS shape grows longer, more tapered, more glassy, and more gently outrageous. It stakes out territory new to Lexus, not necessarily new to the rest of the luxury realm. The cabin does that more effectively. It chucks balance and temper out the window, and dresses to kill in horizon-spanning lines, outre light and dark hardwoods, aluminum, and even quilted fabric and cut glass.

The LS has two of Lexus’ most advanced powertrains, but performance excels more in the straight-ahead direction. A new twin-turbo V-6 pulses with 416 horsepower and runs it through a 10-speed automatic with a smart head on its shoulders. On the alternative route, an older V-6 with new lithium-ion batteries and electric motors and an ingenious transmission doles out 354 hp, very quick acceleration, up to 33 mpg highway, and too much amplified engine noise for our taste. Both can be fitted with air springs and adaptive shocks and exotic steering hardware, and with them the LS has remarkable range in its road manners. Still, it’s biased toward lots of wheel travel and its steering doesn’t have much feel, on center or otherwise. An F Sport edition tames the springy feel and doesn’t induce much harshness, despite its lower-profile run-flat tires and big 20-inch wheels.

The LS cabin’s grown, and with no short-wheelbase model on the horizon, it’s on par with its luxury rivals. The acquired-taste styling of the cabin aside, the LS has 28-way adjustable seats, plenty of space, and an expansive back seat where available executive seats can stretch out, airline-style, while a touchpad governs climate and audio controls. There’s a chauffeur-driven market in mind here, and on a map it looks a lot like China.

No crash-test data exists yet, but the new Lexus LS has blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and forward-collision warnings. Surround-view cameras are an option, along with pedestrian-detection alerts and a widescreen head-up display. Lexus fits the LS with beautiful blond wood and tan leather if you want, or rich mocha tones, or a Louboutin-inspired red-and-black scheme. A 23-speaker, 2,400-watt audio system delivers rich fidelity, but we’d chuck the LS infotainment system for something simpler if we could–but Lexus doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility.

The Lexus LS has made memorable styling progress.

With the LS 500, Lexus lifts some of the cues that render its new 2018 LC 500 coupes so luscious to behold.

We give the Lexus LS an 8 out of 10 for style, adding a point inside and out for a shape that stretches its usual boundaries, and another inside for the wonderfully asymmetric look.

That two-door comes off with a distinct Aston Martin flair. The LS sedan has a more elegant shape, one that’s less suggestive. It flaunts Z-shaped headlights and a version of the tremendous hourglass-shaped grille now stamped across the Lexus lineup. That grille wears different textures on different LS models, but on all its hundreds of facets glint even in low light. Aliens who gave up on Earth in 1991 and decided to give us a second chance today would be staggered by new Lexus front ends. (But not much else. Facial recognition smart devices? So 30284.23.)

Like the biggest Buicks and Infinitis, the Lexus LS now wears sheet metal with a long tapered roofline, and teardrop-shaped side windows behind its rear doors (it’s the first Lexus to have six side windows). The elongated body comes in one length, no more short- and long-wheelbase distinction. It’s lower and wider, too, and it’s capped by LED taillights that mark off the LS’ tall rear end. The new LS’ bold design takes an axe to its staid past, and while it’s not purely beautiful, it’s compelling.

Lexus trims the LS cabin with leather, wood, and metal, and bathes it in ambient light. There’s more of the licentious LC orgy on display here, with free-floating door handles and armrests, telemetric lines that sweep across the dash, and curved stitching on the door panels that gives the cockpit the automotive equivalent of a smoky eye.

The driver faces a wasp-waisted binnacle of gauges and a wide infotainment display, while the front passenger sees a panel of etched glass that seems like a placeholder for a future secondary display. That passenger may notice more of the off-horizontal lines in on the dash, or the knurled plastic vent grips, or the intentional imbalance of the design.

More likely, they’ll be dazzled or dumbfounded by some of the trim choices: a black and red leather interior clearly has Louboutins on the brain, while a pleated-fabric and cut-glass package delves deeply into prom-night iconography. We’ll take the bamboo and blond leather, but Lexus’ mocha paint and brown semi-aniline leather satisfy some deep-seated food-related cravings, while the laser-etched woods and herringbone trim smartly echo fine furniture.

The new Lexus emphasis on performance hasn’t been fully fleshed out in the LS sedan’s handling.

While the LC coupe casts its eyes hungrily on sports cars from Europe and even America, the Lexus LS sedan turns its attention to the places where big sedans matter more. On a globe or a map, you’ll find that place listed under “China.”

With the LS, Lexus effectively sells two and a half models. The LS 500 toughens up its responses to become the LS 500 F Sport; the LS 500h hybridizes a V-6 engine to spur better gas mileage.

We give the Lexus LS a 7 out of 10 for performance, with a point extra each for powertrains and for its plush adaptive ride.

Lexus LS 500 and F Sport
The gas-powered Lexus LS 500 no longer has a name that’s directly related to engine displacement. The powerplant under its hood is a new twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6, coupled to a new 10-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or all-wheel drive.

The new V-6 has port and direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and amplified engine sounds introduced in some drive modes.

The V-6 cranks out 416 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 442 pound-feet of torque from 1,600 to 4,800 rpm when it’s run on premium unleaded. Lexus quotes a 0-60 mph run of 4.6 seconds, and a top speed of 136 mph. The extra low-end enthusiasm is welcome. Lexus pumps in amplified V-6 vibrato when the car’s set to Sport or Sport+ mode, which is fine and not too obtrusive, though the warm burble of its former V-8 will be sorely missed.
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The 10-speed automatic also is used in the LC 500. It can be shifted with paddles, and Lexus claims it shifts as quickly as a dual-clutch transmission.

The EPA says highway figures range as high as 29 mpg—not shabby considering the LS’ curb weight, which ranges from 4,707 pounds in base trim to 5,093 pounds on all-wheel-drive cars with the lush Executive trim package.

Our drive of the gas-powered LS 500 came entirely behind the wheel of an F Sport. With its myriad electronic add-ons and traction aids, it’s a sedan blessed with a little more of everything: more engine growl, more suspension noise and tire smack, more interesting road manners.

Our full-bore LS 500 F Sport had all the geegaws: continuously adaptive dampers fused to an air suspension for finer ride control; active sway bars to counteract cornering forces with a push toward the ground; rear-wheel steering to cut its turning circle in low-speed maneuvers; and a set of driver-selectable modes that dial in and out through the usual Eco, Normal, Comfort, Custom, Sport, and Sport+ programs.

The initial impression the LS F Sport gives is of a smaller car. Its steering wheel has a relatively small diameter, and the dash turns down at the corners, and those details give it a more intimate feel, the opposite of a broad-of-beam sedan like a Mercedes E-Class.

The LS’ variable gear-ratio steering puts lighter emphasis on weight and pays more attention to fine-tuned responses. It reads inputs accurately, but curiously, there’s not much on-center weight at all. With rear-wheel steering it has a very small turning circle.

The LS’ ride motions seem all over the map. The suspension on our F Sport teamed double ball joins in front and multiple links in back with the adaptive dampers and air suspension. Armed with data from cornering-force sensors to stability control to speed, the so-equipped LS can resist body lean in corners, but misses out on a finer sense of coordination. The F Sport’s run-flat tires (245/45-20s in front, 275/40-20s in back) combine with stiff damping to yield a rumbly ride texture over low-frequency bumps. Over big, long undulations, the air springs relax to downy softness and bound over bumps like it’s leaping into a feather bed.

Saw at the wheel, cut bravely into deep corners, and the F Sport gets more thick-skinned despite intrusive traction control. It lives its best life in Sport mode, where the electronics exert reasonable control over everything without chattering your molars. Leave the track attack to the LC coupe: the LS leaves much on the table for the E43 and VSport to lap up.

Lexus LS 500h hybrid
The performance gap between LS sedan and LS hybrid sedan has narrowed significantly, thanks to lighter and more powerful batteries, and a mind-bending transmission.

With the LS 500h, a 3.5-liter V-6 hooks up with two electric motors, a 44-kw lithium-ion battery, and a 4-speed automatic transmission designed specifically for this use. One motor moves the car at low speeds through three set power-level outputs, while the second motor adds power at a wider and higher range of speeds. With one gear reserved for overdrive, the LS’s hybrid transmission nets out with 10 forward speeds, with control offered via shift paddles.

Lithium-ion batteries sit under the LS 500h's rear seat to store energy for the system. The 44-kw battery contains 84 cells generating 1.1 kilowatt-hours of power. That’s barely enough for a couple miles of electric-only operation.

The net: 354 hp, available in rear- or all-wheel-drive form. Lexus quotes a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds for the former, 5.2 seconds for the latter, and a top speed of 136 mph.

Fuel economy settles in as high as 33 mpg highway.
On the road, the LS 500h’s hybrid powertrain has obvious markings. Lexus amplifies the noise from its naturally aspirated engine, and it’s far more noticeable here than in the twin-turbo V-6. The switch over from real to created noise is palpable and obvious, but the handling differences are almost too subtle to register. There’s less pronounced difference between normal and sport modes, and the steering has similar weight, and a similar lack of inflection.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Lexus LS quilts the driving experience with 28-way adjustments and hot-stone massage.

The 2018 LS outshines its Lexus ancestors with an opulent interior and better space than ever.

We give the Lexus LS a 9 out of 10 for its front and rear seats, for its cargo and storage space, and a point for beautiful fit and finish even on the prototypes we drove.

Beneath the skin it rides on a stretched version of the same platform than underpins the LC, which means it’s lower and has better weight distribution than before.

By the spec sheet, it’s an inch longer than the long-wheelbase 2017 LS sedan, with a 123.0-inch wheelbase that is 1.3 inches longer. The car sits 0.6 inches lower, while the hood is 1.2 inches lower and the trunk is 1.6 inches lower. Overall length is 206.1 inches, and width, 74.8 inches.

From the driver seat, the perspective has changed immensely. The dash lays low, and on F Sports, heavily sculpted seats poke in at wide hips. On other models, the LS’ seats can be moved and inflated 28 ways, can be heated or cooled, and offer massage functions. If you can’t be comfortable for more than four hours, see a doctor. Entry and exit are eased on air suspension cars, which can rise more than an inch to greet passengers.

Standard seating in the rear grants lots of space for up to five, but it’s the Executive package where the LS shows its true mission: to grab its share of chauffeur-driven sales. Executive LS sedans can be fitted with four-zone climate control, 22-way heated and cooled rear seats, and a right-side rear seat with a raised ottoman, shiatsu-style and hot-stone massage functions, a 48-degree backrest recline, and an access mode that pushes the front-right seat forward more than 40 inches. There’s also a touchscreen panel on the rear armrest that controls climate and entertainment and lighting.

Trunk space is fine in either the gas-powered or the hybrid edition, with 17 cubic feet of space on the former, 15.2 cubic feet on the latter.

We’ll give the 2018 Lexus LS a safety score when crash test scores go live.

Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested the LS sedan, and it may be a while before either agency gets interested in putting the low-volume luxury sedan through their regimens.

We abstain on a safety score until those figures are in.

The 2018 Lexus LS comes a bundle of valuable safety features, including forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Lexus is careful to avoid any “self-driving car” terminology, but the driver can set the LS’ lane-control and speed-control features and remove their hands from the wheel for 5 seconds before a warning triggers the driver to retake control. After a couple seconds of inaction, the car will begin to shut down its active assist systems.

An optional Advanced Safety package adds a pedestrian detection system with active steering that can steer around obstacles at low speeds. Lexus also offers a high-definition head-up display that casts a see-through set of information 2 feet across the bottom of the windshield. Outward vision is quite good in the LS, thanks to a low beltline and lots of rear glass.

Lexus earns kudos for its kid-glove service, but the LS desperately needs new infotainment options.

The Lexus LS 500 comes standard with a wealth of technology and luxury touches.

We give the Lexus LS a 8 out of 10 for features, with extra credit for its plush standard and optional features, and a point for its stellar service reputation. 

Above the usual power features, cruise control, leather, and climate control, the LS 500 will have navigation, a 12-speaker audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming and USB connectivity, active noise cancellation, and 19-inch wheels. A 2,400-watt Mark Levinson system with 23 speakers delivers beautifully rendered music for those who spend more for it.

On the options list, Lexus will have the safety features mentioned above, the Executive package, 20-inch wheels, and all-wheel drive.

F Sport LS sedans have distinctive exterior trim with aluminum trim and special 20-inch wheels. Inside, the F Sport has its own firmly padded 28-way power seats, a gauge cluster with a movable center gauge that reveals additional performance information, a sueded headliner, and aluminum pedals and trim.

All LS sedans come with a 12.3-inch display screen and a touchpad for infotainment input. The infotainment system uses touch input and voice commands to run phone, navigation, and audio systems, and it remains one of the clumsiest infotainment systems on the road. Its fingertip inputs nearly require a parked car, but bad interfaces are a poor way to control driver habits and to control functionality. We eagerly await Lexus’ next-generation infotainment systems, which may also include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For now, neither third-party interface can be run from the Lexus LS, which makes Lexus a loner in the executive-class lounge.

Fuel Economy
Fuel economy gets a hybrid boost, but there’s no plug-in model of the Lexus LS, yet.

The Lexus LS sedan earns 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined when configured as a rear-drive hybrid, according to the EPA. With all-wheel drive, the hybrid is pegged at 23/31/26 mpg.

On the standard LS 500, the EPA predicts rear-drive fuel economy of 19/30/23 mpg, with AWD figures checking in at 18/27/21 mpg.



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