2018 Lexus LS 500 AWD
Class: Premium Large Car
Miles driven: 408
Fuel used: 23.3 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 17.5 mpg
Driving mix: 65% city, 35% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 18/27/21 (city, highway, combined)
Fuel type: Premium gas
Base price: $78,220 (not including $995 destination charge)
|CG Report Card|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Room and Comfort||B-|
|Power and Performance||B+|
|Fit and Finish||A|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
Options on test vehicle: Lexus Safety System + A ($3000), adaptive air suspension ($1500), 20-inch “Vapor Chrome” alloy wheels ($1200), head-up display ($1200), LED headlamps w/ adaptive front lighting system ($300), Luxury Package ($12,270), Mark Levinson audio system ($1940), panoramic sunroof ($1000), panoramic-view monitor ($800), premium wood trim ($800), heated wood- and leather-trimmed steering wheel ($410)
Price as tested: $103,635
The great: Beautifully finished cabin; good selection of luxurious comfort and convenience features
The good: Satisfying acceleration; capable handling for a large car
The not so good: Finicky infotainment controls; less passenger space and a less-serene ride than some class rivals
Do you want to feel old? Consider the price of a Lexus LS, the flagship of Toyota’s luxury arm since the brand was established for 1990.
That first LS, the V8-powered 400, famously upended the imported-luxury-car price structure that was ballooning under the lead of the European brands. A ’90 LS 400 with the Luxury Features Group (leather, moonroof, remote entry, and Lexus/Nakamichi audio system with CD changer) started at $39,750 with delivery. With all the remaining available options—traction control, heated front seats, electronic air suspension, and memory system—a fully loaded car would have cost $43,650.
Consumer Guide just sampled that car’s fifth-generation heir, a 2018 V6 LS 500, with an extensive complement of options that blasted its $79,215 delivered starting price into orbit at $103,635. As one CG editor notes, the value of the dollar since 1990 has halved. Thus, while the base price has roughly doubled to keep up, optioning an LS to sybaritic heights can get things out of shape.
The argument can be made that this LS is a better bargain than its esteemed ancestor was. The new one has more than a foot of additional wheelbase, it makes 66.4 percent more horsepower (with a smaller-displacement engine) and channels it through an automatic transmission with more than twice as many gears, and it protects with nine more airbags than the single driver’s-side unit in the LS 400. Oh, and the 2018 test car came with all-wheel drive that the ’90 didn’t have. To compare apples to rear-drive apples, take $3220 off the cost of the AWD LS 500.
So what does all that extra money buy in today’s LS? The biggest chunk was the Luxury Package, a $12,270 add-on that outfits the seats with perforated semi-aniline leather in a quilt-stitch pattern. Front seats receive 28-way power adjustment and massaging function. Outboard rear seats have 18-way power recliners and are heated (matching the standard front heaters). Power front seat buckles rise up when starting to make it easier to latch seat belts—heaven forbid one should have to dig between the seats and console to buckle up—and power side-window shades help passengers keep their cool. A 4-zone “climate concierge” comes with a 7-inch touchscreen controller in the pull-down center armrest that allows rear-seat occupants to have a say in their comfort. Topping it all off is an ultrasuede headliner.
The remaining individual options (priced out above) included some features that improved on existing LS 500 standard gear, namely the Lexus Safety System+ A monitoring functions, 20-inch alloy wheels, Mark Levinson audio system, panoramic sunroof, premium wood trim, and heated wood-and-leather steering wheel. Other options—adaptive air suspension, 24-inch head-up display, adaptive LED headlights, and a surround-view monitor—brought new capability to the test car. A few of these things would have been pure fantasy to the product planners behind the LS 400.
The LS comes with a choice of powerteams, either a 354-horsepower gas/electric hybrid (which Consumer Guide has already tested) or a 416-horsepower gas-only V6. The 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 is mated to a brand-new 10-speed automatic transmission. They work together to deliver easy, responsive acceleration, which gets a little saucier in the “Sport S” and “Sport S +” drive modes summoned by a twist of a drumlike knob above the instrument cluster. “Normal” mode enables a bump-smothering true luxury-car ride. “Eco” is in place to conserve some gas, and in CG’s experience, the LS 500 can use the help. Our collective test drives, carried out in nearly 70 percent city-style driving, averaged just 16.4 mpg. The EPA estimates that a city-driven all-wheel-drive LS 500 should go 18 miles on a gallon of gas.
There are a few things that bother us about the LS. For as big as it is, it’s really just a 4-seat car. The rear seat is wide enough to hold a trio of department-store Santa Clauses, and there’s great legroom in the corner positions, but a huge floor tunnel rules out a middle passenger. Being a Lexus, it is equipped with a complex central control system for audio/climate/navigation management. The driver must use a console touchpad to sweep and tap through various menus and control points. It’s harder than it sounds when trying to drive at the same time. Plus, that shiny, new smartphone that brings the whole world to your fingertips is underutilized in the LS 500 because Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity is not available.
The 2018 LS 500 is impressive in terms of big-car driving dynamics and overall luxury. It’s even a little bit of a bargain measured against its history. But it faces stiff competition from grand luxe SUVs that can hold more people and their material goods—and that wasn’t happening in 1990.