Lexus has performed a do-over on its most significant – yet also its most overlooked – nameplate. It was the original LS400 that gave Lexus instant credibility when Toyota launched its brand-new, pop-up luxury brand in 1989. It was everything a prestige flagship sedan needed to be.
As the Lexus lineup grew, however, subsequent generations of the LS faded from the limelight: only 95 were sold in Canada last year, compared with more than 1,000 copies of the segment-leading Mercedes S-Class. This 2018 model is its first full model change in a decade.
The LS can no longer be accused of faceless anonymity. The 2018 model shares much of its architecture and associated design cues with the stunning LC500 coupe – Lexus even calls its silhouette "coupe-like." It also doesn't hold back in its adoption of Lexus's polarizing spindle-shaped corporate grille.
Inside, however, the last thing the LS wants to do is discomfort anybody: Omotenashi, the concept of Japanese hospitality, is paramount in the ride-and-drive experience.
Unlike many rivals, Lexus isn't stampeding down the autonomous-drive route, but its comprehensive suite of active-safety aids does include pedestrian-avoidance function that both brakes and steers to avoid a collision; that's an industry first.
The LS is now offered only as a long-wheelbase – itself stretched 35 mm – but Lexus still took about 100 kilograms of mass out of the body, which is also longer, lower and wider. Optional air suspension is a first for Lexus, with an access mode that raises the suspension when the smart key unlocks the car. Another option: front and rear seats with Shiatsu massage.
Mechanically, it's the first LS that's not a V-8, powered instead by an all-new 3.5-litre twin-turbo V-6 worth 415 horsepower. A 10-speed automatic transmission helps achieve a claimed 0-96-km/h time of 4.5 seconds. Surprisingly, though, all-wheel-drive – de facto a de rigueur feature on luxury cars in Canada – is not part of the recipe. The current model has it, and we expect that, by the time this new version comes to market, it will also have AWD. Otherwise, that's going to continue to limit its sales in Canada.
But then, says Lexus Canada chief Jennifer Barron, it's not just about sales. The redesign should reinvigorate the LS in its primary role as a flagship halo car for the Lexus brand. "It's very important to have a flagship vehicle vehicle that fits in that prestige segment (and) that sets the stage for the brand," she said.
The 2018 LS 500 will go on sale in late 2017.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.