If you go by the standards of “tradition” and “heritage” that luxury brands frequently tout, Lexus, with its 1989 debut, is little more than an upstart. But it quickly upended the established order in recent years, routinely ranking among the U.S. market’s top-selling high-line marques.
While much of the credit goes to the wildly popular RX crossover utility vehicle, the LS has long symbolized everything the Lexus brand stands for. Now, it aims to enhance the appeal of its flagship with an all-new 2018 remake. And so, like its German competitors, the fifth-generation Lexus sedan is loaded with the classic symbols of luxury—leather and wood—in even more craftsman-like detailing and added a raft of high-tech infotainment and safety gadgets to boot.
But Lexus also aimed at something for which it was not traditionally known: a far more passionate—if polarizing—design. It starts with what the brand calls its “spindle grille.” The car’s yawning, toothy maw cannot be missed, whether spotting it parked or seeing it surge up in your rearview mirror. Meanwhile, the traditionally slab-sided LS is curvaceous and angular, with a coupe-like roofline that enhances its elegant proportions.
Of the two versions of this year’s sedan—the LS 500 and LS 500h—the latter features a fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain that can deliver up to 33 mpg on the highway. While Lexus was the first to offer this green option in the full-size luxury segment, the bulk of its buyers will likely stick with the standard powertrain package. For the 2018 remake, Lexus also broke tradition, opting to shift away from the classic formula for full-size luxury that has long required V-8, and even V-12 power. Unless a buyer is insistent on counting cylinders, it shouldn’t matter. This twin-turbo V-6 makes plenty of power—and even delivers a satisfying exhaust note under full acceleration, though the LS otherwise remains nearly tomb-quiet, as has been the brand’s tradition.
As we discovered during a day’s drive through the mountains and valleys of California wine country, the 2018 Lexus LS is also a lot more fun to pilot than its predecessors, especially if you’ve opted for the F-Sport package that adds such niceties as an Active Stablilizer System that keeps the sedan firmly planted during aggressive cornering maneuvers. In tamer driving, you can relax with the updated infotainment system controlled by a touchscreen display. The Mark Levinson sound system, pumping 2,400 watts of audio out through 23 speakers, is one of our favorite options. But others might prefer the 22-way Business Class-style, heated-and-cooled, rear seats with five different massage programs.
Starting at around $75,000, the new 2018 LS is a bit more affordable than its German rivals, but even for those unconcerned by price tags, it again proves Lexus can stand up with the best in the luxury automotive segment.