2018 Lexus LS 500 F SportLexus

The 2018 Lexus LS 500 F Sport includes multiple performance upgrades

The feedback, confidence and overall driver engagement I experienced at the wheel of the new 2018 Lexus LS 500 really shouldn’t have surprised me. Lexus has made one thing quite clear in recent years: the brand’s longstanding reputation for high-quality-but-boring vehicles will no longer be tolerated. This desire to alter Lexus’ image has already manifested in some interesting new models, including the sporty RC and gorgeous LC. But those are both two-door coupes with clear intensions around performance and fun. I didn’t expect this same focus on driver engagement to manifest in the all-new 2018 Lexus LS sedan.

I was wrong.

2018 Lexus LS 500 RearLexus

The 2018 Lexus LS 500 comes in rear- or all-wheel-drive

During their morning technical briefing, before ever letting us near the new LS, Lexus executives offered a long list of impressive design and engineering facts about the brand’s all-new flagship sedan. It started with Lexus’ new global luxury platform, which has a lower center of gravity, better weight distribution and a more rigid structure than the previous model. For the 2018 LS 500 this translates into a body that’s 1.3 inches longer, overall, than the outgoing LS extended wheelbase model while being three inches longer between the wheels. That means substantially more interior space. Enough, in fact, for the new LS to be sold in a single wheelbase version for 2018.

2018 Lexus LS 500 GrilleLexus

The LS 500’s spindle grille is integrated into the sedan’s body lines

Draped over this new platform is a new body that starts with Lexus’ trademark spindle grille and sweeps back into an aluminum hood, fenders, doors and trunk. Contrasting those aluminum body panels is a passenger cell comprised of mostly high-strength steel. Another component of the LS’ new body is a lower, fastback roof angle, which adds to the sedan’s sleek appearance and lower center of gravity but does impact headroom. The drop from the previous LS’s headroom spec is less than an inch, and it was never an issue for me personally, but other journalists did note some close contact with the LS 500’s leather headliner.

2018 Lexus LS 500 InteriorLexus

The LS 500’s all-new interior features laser cut trim prices

The rest of the 2018 Lexus LS 500’s interior delivers on its promise of increased space and sumptuous luxury. Vast rear seat legroom (3.4 inches more than last year’s car) and wide shoulder room imparts a sense of premium travel, and that’s before you recline the rear passenger-side seat into “ottoman” mode, ala First Class air travel. You’ll need the optional Executive Package to access that feature, and the package includes hand-folded pleats and Japanese Kriko Glass trim on the door panels as an homage to Japanese culture. Nearly every LS interior surface is covered by supple leather, even on standard models, with nine interior color choices and options for quilted seat leather and multiple laser cut wood finishes.

2018 Lexus LS 500Lexus

Hand pleated door panels pay homage to Japanese culture in the new LS 500

Between the upgraded interior and reworked exterior the LS certainly looks the part of a flagship luxury sedan, but it was the driving aspects that surprised me. It started with my first seat time at the wheel of the hybrid-powered LS 500h, (arguably the least sporty version of the new sedan). I was immediately aware of how responsive the car was to driver input. The LS 500h is powered by a new 3.5-liter V6 engine and two electric motors/generators fed by a lithium-ion battery pack. Combined system horsepower is 354, which may not sound sporty but includes the immediate torque of those electric motors piped through Lexus’ Hybrid Synergy Drive system.

2018 Lexus LS 500 Rear SeatLexus

Interior space has increased in the new LS, though headroom decreased slightly

This hybrid system offers the equivalent of a 10-speed automatic, and between the engine, dual motors and wide gear set the LS 500h sprints forward at any speed below 80 mph with even modest throttle input. Lexus puts the hybrid’s zero-to-60 time at 5.1 seconds, with fuel economy rated at 25 city, 33 highway and 28 combined mpg and total range at over 600 miles. All these numbers are for a rear-wheel-drive LS 500h, but all-wheel drive is also offered on all 2018 models, with the AWD hybrid earning an mpg rating of 23/31/26.

2018 Lexus LS 500 DisplayLexus

The large 12.5 inch display screen offers a wide array of information

It wasn’t just the hybrid’s straight-line acceleration that impressed me. The LS 500’s new chassis architecture isn’t just the stiffest in Lexus’ history but also among the first to feature new suspension technology in the form of double ball joints on the upper and lower control arms. This design maximizes suspension geometry while improving steering precision, manifesting in the LS 500h’s confident, even nimble driving dynamics on the twisty roads snaking through Marin Country. It left me wondering, “If the hybrid feel this good what does the LS 500 with the F Sport package feel like?”

2018 Lexus LS 500 EngineLexus

The twin-turbocharged V6 makes 415 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque

I answered my own question a few minutes later in a 2018 Lexus LS 500 F Sport wearing Infrared paint. Unlike the hybrid the F Sport sticks with the LS 500’s standard drivetrain, a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 making 415 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. Power is delivered to either the rear wheels or all four through a 10-speed automatic transmission, and fuel efficiency is rated at 19/29/23 for rear-wheel drive models and 18/27/21 mpg on all-whee-drive models. My test car, an LS 500 F Sport with rear-wheel-drive and the F Sport Performance Package, featured variable steering, active rear steering, an active stabilizer bar and a sport-tuned air suspension.

2018 Lexus LS 500 F SportLexus

The LS 500 with F Sport package is extremely rewarding on a twisty road

Riding on 20-inch wheels with summer tires, sized 245/45 front and 275/40 rear, the Infrared F Sport streaked between and around corners feeling like a much smaller and lighter car than it is. Better still, it encouraged this type of driving through its steering wheel feedback, confident brakes (these are upgraded on F Sport models) and effortless directional changes. Put simply, the F Sport was undeniably fun and engaging to drive — a statement I never expected to use when describing a Lexus LS sedan.

2018 Lexus LS 500 OttomanLexus

The Executive Package includes a fully-reclining rear seat with ottoman

After a few more driving loops through the scenic hills surrounding George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch I was driven back across the Golden Gate as a passenger in the 2018 Lexus LS 500 with the Executive Package. Beyond the reclining, “feet up” ottoman mode this package adds Shiatsu massage with five programs that run for 15 minutes, for both the front and rear passengers. The new LS employs a variety of noise reduction techniques to keep the cabin placid, including exterior mirror placement, active noise cancelling via the audio system and new run-flat tire technology. The latter allows the LS’ tire pressure to drop momentarily over large bumps, smoothing the ride and reduce tire “slap” on broken pavement.

2018 Lexus LS 500 Climate ControlLexus

An array of sensors read and respond to body temperature

These technologies make riding in the new LS 500 almost as fun as driving it. With the on board WiFi providing fast internet streaming and four-zone climate control (including heated and cooled seats that work with 16 sensors to read body temperature) it was easy to forget about typical San Francisco traffic as I was driven back to the city. The list of luxury and safety features on the new 2018 LS 500 could justify a story of its own, but my favorites include the fully integrated drivetrain, suspension and gauge cluster settings that shift based on driver modes (Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+), the air suspension that automatically raises and lowers the LS to ease entry and exit, the full color heads up display and 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with 7.1 channel surround sound.

2018 Lexus LS 500 TouchpadLexus

The touchpad control system in the LS is not its strongest feature…

There’s also a wide array of standard and optional safety and driver-assist technology. Everything from pedestrian detection and avoidance technology to smart cruise control, lane keeping assist, steering assist, front cross traffic alert and road sign recognition is available if you add the Advanced Package to the LS 500’s standard safety equipment. One area where the LS falls short is the primary control interface, which continues to use a cumbersome touchpad that simply isn’t as efficient as the touchscreen interface found on most competitors. There’s also no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay available on this or any other Lexus (or Toyota) model, which is assuredly costing the brand sales.

2018 Lexus LS 500 Front DrivingLexus

The LS 500 looked good crossing America’s most iconic bridge

If those issues aren’t issues for you the 2018 Lexus LS 500 starts at a wallet-friendly $75,000. Exact pricing for each trim level and option package hasn’t been released yet, but expect $80,000 to $90,000 to buy you a technologically advanced and highly engaging luxury sedan, which is less than the starting price of the LS’ primary competitors. The value argument used to be the primary reason to go with the LS instead of its European competition. No you can add “fun to drive” to the that argument.