Lexus has come full circle. In 1989, the automaker chose this city for the world debut of the LS 400, its first luxury sedan. Over the years, the brand has grown in terms of models offered, it has introduced hybrids and it has become the industry benchmark for quality and service.
Still, Lexus cars were void of personality. The Lexus flagship was so quiet, the engine so rhythmic and the ride so smooth that many complained that the car lacked character. In fact, that blandness became its character. Not anymore.
Lexus continues to shed its conservative nature in favor of some panache. The latest example is its new LS flagship. The design was somewhat evolutionary but the car was lower, longer, and wider; it just looked smoother.
The 2018 Lexus LS 500 was about a half inch lower overall, while the hood was 1.2 inches lower and the trunk was 1.6 inches lower. The new LS had a 123 inch wheelbase. The alterations lowered the center of gravity and improved handling.
The spindle grille was flanked by a narrow “slit-like” three projector lamp setup on each side. There was an L-shaped LED lamp under each headlight that wrapped around to each side to give the LS a distinctive face. Its coupe-like silhouette was enhanced by a fastback roofline.
The doors were pulled in and the front and rear fenders flared away from the central position of the occupants. A front to rear shoulder line enhanced the low stance. The axis of the flared front and rear fenders were slanted forward. What’s more the moon roof was of the outer slide variety which preserved interior headroom.
In effect, the 2018 LS 500 was much sleeker than the model it will replace when it goes on sale next February. But the major change was not necessarily in the way it looked, it was under the hood. The automaker dumped its venerable V8 for a V6 power plant.
Lexus engineers developed an all-new 3.5-liter V6 and coupled it with twin turbochargers. What’s more, they mated the engine to a new 10-speed automatic transmission. This new power train made 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm. Lexus said the LS 500 rear-wheel-drive could get from a standstill to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.
This engine was responsive, it was quick, it was quiet and it was civil at low speeds. We took surface streets to climb up to the last entrance on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge before heading north into Marin County. The LS, though a full size car, handled really well in the tight confines and the narrow lanes of the streets here. There were sharp turns and steep inclines getting up to the entrance to the bridge but the LS handled the closeness of city streets adroitly, much like a midsize sedan.
Gone were the buttons and the clutter that come with them. The interior of the 2018 LS 500 was divided into control and display areas with the latter being embedded in the face of the dash in the form of a 12 inch information and infotainment screen. Underneath the middle vents which themselves were camouflaged by fine horizontal flowing lines, were unobtrusive climate controls.