It wasn’t long ago that Lexus could reliably sell 20,000-plus LS sedans in the U.S. each year. Certainly, the model’s pre-recession sales performance fell under the heading of “reliable,” with over 35,000 sold in 2007.
Ever since great economic upheaval sent American buyers fleeing in increasing numbers into the arms of crossovers and SUV, the Lexus sedan that created tsunami-like ripples through the luxury car field in 1990 has seen its customer base erode. Just 5,514 U.S. buyers saw fit to take an LS home in 2016.
Could a redesign bordering on the radical be the medicine the LS so desperately needs?
Unveiled this morning at the North American International Auto Show, the fifth-generation LS adopts Toyota’s new global GA-L platform and dumps the staid styling of years past. Through these changes, Lexus hopes to cast the LS as an involved motoring experience, not a detached Interstate cruiser.
Traditional buyers might not take note of the platform’s role underneath the wild (for Lexus) LC 500, but this longer variant — the brand’s stiffest — lends the full-size sedan some performance credentials. It also helps the LS lose about 200 pounds. Hopefully, the generously improved handling characteristics touted by Lexus come to pass.
While a taught platform and competent road manners can do wonders for a car’s reputation, it seldom lures buyers off the street. For 2018, the LS says goodbye to its formal, upright greenhouse, preferring to draw attention to itself through its coupe-like roofline, aggressive side sculpting, and even more pronounced corporate mouth. Yes, the LS — once the go-to ride for savvy retirees — goes all-in with the automaker’s signature spindle grille. Open wide.
If the vehicle looks like it took the old Detroit adage of “lower, longer, wider” to heart, it has. The upcoming LS sports a wheelbase 1.3 inches longer than its long-wheelbase predecessor, while riding 0.6 inches lower. Hood and trunk elevation sinks 1.2 and 1.6 inches. Overall, the new LS stretches 1.1 inches longer than the lengthiest of the current generation.
Lexus also saw fit to bring power levels up to something more fitting of the platform. In another abandonment of tradition, the LS loses its signature V8 for 2018, preferring a new tailor-made twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6. That mill cranks out 415 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque — a power bump of 29 hp and 75 lb-ft over the outgoing 4.6-liter V8. Tasked with putting that power down is a 10-speed automatic transmission featuring pared-down shift times.
Lower, lighter, stiffer, and now more powerful, the new LS reportedly sprints to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds. Of course, occupants might not care about the model’s newfound muscularity, preferring instead to recline their rear seat 48 degrees, turn on the Shiatsu massage function, and rest those tired feet atop the raised ottoman. The silence should be more deafening than before, thanks to boosted sound insulation. Yes, even a modest wheelbase stretch can work wonders for cabin environment.
On the technology front, the LS gains a 12.3-inch wide navigation display, optional 24-inch heads-up display, and the ability to brake or swerve to avoid pedestrians while under its own control (thanks to the automaker’s Lexus Advanced Safety Package). That grab-bag of driver assists includes Intuitive Pedestrian Detection with Active Steering. After hopefully dodging the elderly lady or careless child, the system should return the vehicle to its designated lane.
The planted, wide-mouthed 2018 Lexus LS should appear on U.S. dealer lots in the fall of 2017.
[Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars]