This is the most incredible experience I have had in my 20 years reviewing new vehicles…and that is just the audio system. The stereo is the new Mark Levinson 3D sound system complete with 24 speakers and 2,400 watts of power, and the car is the 2018 Lexus LS 500h luxury hybrid sedan.
Lexus went back to the drawing board for its flagship sedan, and they have delivered quite the chariot. This long wheelbase luxury sedan features a low, coupe-like profile while offering the latest in creature comforts and technology in an executive sedan. Massaging seats? Check. Reclining seat? Check. Advanced hybrid powertrain? Check and check. The new LS 500 series arrives on Lexus’ new platform dubbed Global Architecture – Luxury (GA-L) that first arrived underpinning the LC coupes. And Lexus engineers brought the new multi-stage hybrid system it debuted in the LC 500h over to the LS program for the LS 500h.
Basically, the new hybrid powertrain combines a conventional gasoline 3.5-liter V-6 engine with two electric motors and adds a four-stage shifting device. The result gives the big sedan a 0-60 mph time of only 5.4 seconds – almost unheard of in any hybrid sedan. A new battery pack powers the new hybrid system. Lexus has gone to lithium-ion for a more compact and lighter weight pack that also offers higher power density. This allows for more power, improved fuel economy, and better overall handling of the vehicle due to the reduced moving mass. Total power output is rated at 354 ponies.
The design of the multi-stage hybrid system places the multi-stage shift unit immediately behind the power split device, on an axis aligned with the engine crankshaft. Although the unit has four speeds, the D range has a simulated shift control pattern that delivers the feel of driving with a 10-speed gearbox. As vehicle speed rises, engine speed increases with a linear, direct, and continuous acceleration feel, free from the “rubber band” effect witnessed in some continuously variable transmissions. In the 10th gear range, the CVT control allows for high-speed cruising at lower engine revs for quiet, smooth, and fuel-efficient performance. And drivers can opt out of fully automatic shifting with the M mode and steering wheel paddle shifters.
While the new LS receives new styling on the outside, the interior is the real story here. Lexus channeled “Omotenashi,” the Japanese concept of hospitality, as a common thread for the new generation car. Craftsmanship abounds everywhere inside, and beyond that is the latest in safety and infotainment technology. I already mentioned the massage function, it is offered on both driver and front passenger seats. The rear right seat can recline with a footrest that raises if you really want to impress someone and all seats take advantage of that great audio system that includes speakers up in the headrest to truly elevate the soundstage.
The driver’s cockpit is pure modern Lexus complete with widescreen color head-up display and the really wide 12.3-inch color touch screen atop center dash controllable via the newest-generation touchpad in the center console. Drivers can select from Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport S, and Sport S+ modes. These alter the electronic responses of such systems as throttle, steering, shifting, and suspension. There is also the adaptive variable air suspension system with rapid height setting and this car rode on 20-inch split 10-spoke alloy wheels with vapor chrome finish shod with run-flat tires. Other amenities included a panoramic view monitor, heated wood and leather steering wheel, power rear side window sunshades, power rear window sunshade, power trunk lid, and four-zone climate control.
This LS 500h arrived with the full host of safety technology of the Lexus Safety System + that includes pre-collision with active braking and pedestrian detection, intelligent high beams, lane departure alert, lane keep assist, active steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, front cross traffic alert, and road sign assist. Yes, this car can read road signs for you and even display a small icon in the head-up display.
So how does it drive? It feels like a well-controlled land yacht with a sport setting. The hybrid powertrain does an ample job of getting the vehicle going, although in the LS 500h it does not set you back in the seat as in the LC 500h, but you had better keep an eye on the speedometer as you will quickly find yourself going over posted limits both in town and on the highway. The car is very well-balanced and handles quite well for its size. It is absolutely quiet and all creature comfort systems work amazingly well. We had temps climbing into triple digits during our week behind the wheel and found the climate control and seat ventilation more than capable of keeping things perfectly comfortable inside as the heat was blazing outside. We also found we didn’t always need to be driving to enjoy the big Lexus. One night we just sat in the driveway listening to our favorite tunes on that awesome sound system while treating ourselves to the massage function of the seats.
Pricing for the 2018 Lexus LS 500h begins at $79,510 and the car is offered in rear- or all-wheel drive. A few extra amenities, including the Luxury package, brought our final window sticker to $103,925. Fuel economy for the hybrid powertrain is rated 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.
Designers and engineers have truly outdone themselves with the new flagship, and in the hybrid variant, it offers the option of being environmentally friendly in addition to its regal opulence. Lexus invites everyone to “Experience Amazing” with the all-new LS lineup and we did just that during our time with the 2018 LS 500h.