Back in 1990, Toyota decided that it wanted to take on the luxury end of the market. Then, as now, it is a segment dominated by German brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Jaguar. To take its luxury rivals on, Toyota created Lexus, a name which actually means “Luxury Export to the US”.
Its first model was the LS400, which was nothing short of being a luxury yacht. It had presence and offered almost everything as standard, but it floated around like a lifebuoy on an ocean. It hardly had the driving appeal of the Germans.
Since then the LS has changed dramatically, although it has still retained some of that softer ride which appeals to the market it was created for, the US. The brand has also evolved, with models such as the IS, GS and RX taking on their respective segments.
Today, Lexus has grown up and become way more serious. It has introduced changes which make its vehicles better driving cars, with a focus not just on standard specification and luxury, but chassis dynamics and performance. Towards the end of 2016 we drove the new LC500, a car which the firm thinks can take on models such as the BMW 650i and even the Porsche 911, although the 911 has nothing to worry about there.
Now it is the turn of the flagship LS to get a whole new image. Revealed at the recent Detroit Auto Show, the new LS, which is due in SA in the first quarter of 2018, is all new, inside and out. “Not only will the LS symbolise the Lexus brand, it will become the definitive new generation luxury car, embodying Japanese tradition and culture,” says Toshio Asahi, LS chief engineer.
“The LS is the flagship of the brand,” says chief designer Koichi Suga. “More than any other model, it embodies the history and image of Lexus.”
It is longer and lower than the model it replaces, and debuts a striking exterior design dominated by the new Lexus design language. It is also built on an extended version of the new rear-wheel drive GA-L platform that also underpins the new LC. Maximising the benefits of a low centre of gravity and weight distribution, the new LS has a wide and low design and is only offered in long wheelbase form.
The latest generation of Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management is said to achieve an exceptional ride and handling balance. This system implements co-operative control of all vehicle subsystems — braking, steering, powertrain and suspension — to control the car’s basic longitudinal, lateral and vertical motion, as well as yaw, roll and pitch.
Engineers used lightweight materials to carve more than 90kg from the weight of the current LS’s platform and body. This saving, together with the use of a new V6 engine and greater body rigidity, contributes to the car’s more dynamic character.
There is an all-new 3.5-litre V6 engine, offering 310kW and 600Nm of torque representing sizeable gains compared with the current model’s V8 unit and which Lexus claims will launch the new model to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds on the all-wheel drive version. The LS marks the first use of a 10-speed automatic transmission in a luxury saloon, the system having made its debut in the LC. It is a torque converter automatic, yet with shift times that rival those of dual-clutch transmissions.
Inside, there are new seat designs, including 28-way power front seats with heating, cooling and massage functions.
The company has also lavished attention on the rear seats. There are heating, cooling and massage options for 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.
New sound suppression methods further hush the interior. 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.
The serenity of the cabin provides an ideal stage for the standard premium audio system, or the 3D surround-sound Mark Levinson system, featuring in-ceiling array speakers. The package includes a more inviting graphic user interface; its next generation remote touch control is designed to mimic smartphone operation and can also support handwritten input.
The structure of the new LS provides a high degree of passive safety to protect occupants in a collision. It 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 (no, we don’t see how this would work either, unless it goes up on two wheels like Herbie).
Lexus has its work cut out for it with the new LS. It does appear that it has upped its game with the next generation, but whether it will be enough to take on the competition we will have to wait and see. – Mark Smyth