All-new Lexus LS 500 sets a new benchmark in the luxury stakes

In 1990 the Lexus brand was launched with the unveiling of the LS 400, a car which heralded a breakthrough approach to luxury, comfort powertrain smoothness, build quality and the application of innovative technologies, supported by unparalleled levels of customer service and satisfaction. 

Brian Joss – The world debut of the fifth-generation Lexus LS at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit demonstrates how Lexus has consistently raised the benchmarks set by its original model.

The LS is all-new, inside and out, reflecting a strong and uniquely Japanese identity, while designed as a true global car, destined to be available in around 90 countries worldwide.

Artistic bent: the Lexus LS 500. Picture: Motorpress

“Not only will the LS symbolise the Lexus brand, it will become the definitive new generation luxury car, embodying Japanese tradition and culture,” said Toshio Asahi, LS Chief Engineer. “As such, it must go far beyond what the world expects from a luxury car.”

The new LS is longer and lower than the model it replaces, and debuts a striking new exterior design, with a coupe-like silhouette, punctuated by the new Lexus design language. A driver-centred, performance feel comes from the car having been built on Lexus’s new global architecture for luxury vehicles, an extended version of the rear-wheel drive GA-L platform that also underpins the new LC luxury coupe. This helps secure a more dynamic driving experience while at the same time raising the level of renowned Lexus ride comfort.

The new LS is true to Lexus’s more dynamic direction. Each previous generation of the model marked advances in luxury, craftsmanship, performance and safety in their own way, with the most recent version adding much more emotional design and engaging performance to the mix.

To create the new LS, Lexus started afresh, reimagining what a flagship saloon should be, as if it were launching its brand all over again. The goal was not to improve on what has been done before, but to exceed the expectations of luxury customers worldwide.

Omotenashi, the Japanese concept of hospitality, remains a common thread that runs through all LS models. In the context of a luxury automobile, it means taking care of the driver and passengers, anticipating their needs, attending to their comfort and protecting them from hazards.

More than ever before, luxury saloon drivers demand greater handling agility and performance feel, without sacrificing comfort. It’s one of the hardest balances to achieve in a vehicle, yet Lexus’s new GA-L platform meets the challenge. The platform made its debut in the LC coupe and now, with a longer wheelbase, underpins the new LS. Maximising the benefits of a low centre of gravity and weight distribution, the new LS has a wide and The latest generation of Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) helps achieve an exceptional ride and handling balance. This system implements co-operative control of all vehicle sub-systems – braking, steering, powertrain and suspension – to control the car’s basic longitudinal, lateral and vertical motion, as well as yaw, roll and pitch.

Lexus engineers used lightweight materials, including ultra-high-tensile steel and aluminium, to carve more than 90kg from the weight of the current LS’s platform and body. These savings, together with the use of a new V6 engine and greater body rigidity, contribute to the car’s more dynamic driving quality.

The LS has a history of outstanding suspension compliance, yet Lexus saw opportunities for new gains to be made in this area as well. For example, the multilink suspension has double ball joints on the upper and lower arms to permit control of the smallest movements from driver inputs and road conditions.

An all-new 3.5-litre V6 engine has been designed specifically for the new LS, giving both high power and excellent fuel efficiency.

The engine is indicative of the more dynamic approach being taken by Lexus, offering V8-level power without sacrificing fuel economy and minimising noise and vibration. The output figures of 310kW and 600Nm of torque represent sizeable gains compared to the V8 unit featured in the current LS.

The engine’s long stroke and optimised stroke-to-bore ratio contribute to high-speed combustion and the efficiency of the twin turbos, helping the LS post a projected 0 – 100 km/h acceleration time of 4.5 seconds (with all-wheel drive).

The driver will be able to tailor powertrain response and feel by selecting Normal to Sport and Sport+ drive modes, with just enough of the exhaust note being audible to enhance the sporty feel.

The LS marks the first use of a 10-speed automatic transmission in a luxury saloon, the system having made its debut in the new LC coupe. It is a torque converter automatic, yet with shift times that rival those of dual-clutch transmissions. The wide bandwidth afforded by the ten closely spaced ratios is ideal for all forms of driving, helping provide an optimal gear for all conditions.

The driver can execute shifts using paddle controls, but many will prefer to use the advanced electronic control system, which anticipates the driver’s input. The system chooses the ideal ratio by monitoring the acceleration, braking and lateral G-forces.

“The LS is the flagship of the Lexus brand,” said Chief Designer Koichi Suga. “More than any other model, it embodies the history and image of Lexus and serves as a symbol for everything the brand stands for.”

Creating a new standard of flagship luxury is not simply a matter of adding more features. Inspired by the principles of Omotenashi, Lexus sought to instil a luxury in the LS’s cabin that welcomes and envelops the occupants and treats the driver like a partner.

“I suggest that you simply open the door and experience that immediate, intuitive sense that you’re looking at an interior that is unlike any luxury car before,” said Chief Designer Suga.

New seat designs, including 28-way power front seats with heating, cooling and massage functions, exemplify this approach. The organically shaped dashboard design clusters information displays at a uniform height to support the “seat-in-control” layout – the driver can operate all systems without having to change their posture.

Lexus also lavished attention on the rear seats, producing a design that provides seamless continuity between the trim and seatbacks. There are heating, cooling and massage options for rear seat occupants, while power-controlled rear and front passenger seats are available with a Shiatsu massage function and a raised ottoman leg rest as part of an extensive rear seat luxury package. 

Lexus has tuned the LS’s exhaust to convey a more authoritative tone, yet has also designed the cabin for utterly quiet cruising. New sound suppression methods further hush the environment compared to previous LS models. Active Noise Control quiets the cabin by detecting the sound of the engine coming into the vehicle and cancelling certain frequencies, using anti-phase sound from the audio speakers.

In addition to a 12.3-inch navigation display, the LS can incorporate an optional 24-inch colour head-up display – the largest in the world – that projects a variety of information toward the driver’s forward line of vision.

The LS will be equipped with Lexus’ Safety System+ and benefit from the world’s first intuitive pedestrian detection function with active steering.

With this system, if a pedestrian is detected on the road ahead and a collision is imminent, the LS will automatically brake and steer around the person, keeping to its traffic lane. The driver will be alerted by a warning on the colour head-up display.

Lexus Co-Drive, a high-level driving support system, is also being introduced on the new LS. This provides steering control in accordance with the driver’s intention and continuous driving support on motorways.

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