Sleek design. The fourth generation of Lexus’s flagship LS sedan marks a clean break from the model’s history of elegant – yet sedate – styling. The latest incarnation is longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing model by an inch in all three dimensions.
It borrows a number of design cues from the stunning Lexus LC with multi-dimensional taillights that wrap around and fold into the rear quarter panels, deeply sculpted side sills, and an even more massive spindle grille flanked by narrow enclosures that house an array of bi-LED headlights and signature LED ribbon lights.
Yet, looking past the spectacular new look, the 2019 Lexus LS offers all the same hallmarks of the original – namely, spectacular quality and elegance at a relatively reasonable price point. The German competition would be wise to remain wary of their Japanese rival.
Stunning, well-crafted interior. In this rarefied automotive atmosphere, interiors cannot simply be impressive; they must be outstanding in every way. The designers and engineers at Lexus are well aware of this, and the resulting interior is first-rate.
It's not just focal points that impress, such as the beautifully stitched 28-way standard power seats or the richly decorated door panels set behind floating arm rests. No, Lexus set themselves apart by sweating the details and embracing a Far East heritage the Germans are unable to tap into.
Buyers might never think twice about the ambient lighting inspired by traditional Japanese lanterns or the available wood, metal, and cut-glass trims which hearken back to ancient Japanese craft, but the distinctive ambiance this adds to the wide range of interior choices is unmistakable.
Great sound, middling interface. The 12.3-inch color infotainment screen looks impressive, but it’s not touch-sensitive, and the supporting hardware and software is mediocre at best and exasperating at its worst.
Much of this can be attributed to the touchpad interface. Unlike buttons or even a well-programmed touchscreen, the touchpad is finicky and distracting to use while driving, and competitor’s systems are, at the very least, a step ahead.
There are no such complaints about the audio system. The base version offers 12 speakers with Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto capability. While it's very good, anybody with an ear for music will want to splurge on the optional Mark Levinson audio system. With 23 speakers and 2,400 watts, it easily lays claim to being one of the finest aural experiences available in any car from any marque.
Single powertrain, soft ride. Lexus has always been more pragmatic and conservative than other luxury marques. But at this price point, many buyers look for an opportunity to be wholly irrational – an impossibility with the LS, where the only engine offered is a relatively modest twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6.
Not a bad engine by any means with 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, it's smooth, linear, and, paired with a modern 10-speed automatic transmission, manages to romp from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds. This is quick enough to outrun the six-cylinder variants of both the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
But for BMW and Mercedes, those sixes only represent the first salvo. Beyond that, the two marques offer V8 and V12 engines with prodigious amounts of power. Hardly practical, the air of exclusivity that surrounds them is palpable.
It's this feeling that Lexus lacks, and for a brand that strives to be the last word in luxury, the absence of such a powertrain hampers any aspirations of dominance in the uber-luxury class.
That issue aside, as the flagship of a brand bent on renewing an emphasis on performance, the best that can be said of the sharpened F Sport is slightly improved handling, a bit of engine growl, and additional Sport modes – none of which manage to move the needle more than a tick from the suspension’s cosseting nature. Despite a tight turning ratio and rear-wheel steering, body lean is pronounced in tight corners, while very little of what the chassis is experiencing is transmitted through the steering system to the driver.
Final thoughts. The 2019 Lexus LS successfully entered the battlefield by delivering the tactile experience expected in this class at a price point below – that it still maintains, albeit a bit closer to – the bar-setting German competition. But that value proposition, which has long been a major part of the LS equation, is no longer the exclusive domain of Lexus. The result is increased pressure coming from both above and below its $76,000-plus starting price.
The $71,000 Lincoln Continental Black Label and, more pointedly, the $69,000 Genesis G90 are two other full-size sedans aspiring to lure buyers looking for an affordable entry into the glitziest sedan segment. Then there’s the German brands, which command higher price tags but offer seriously exotic powertrains some well-heeled buyers find worth the money.
In between sits the able and well-crafted Lexus LS. It's an excellent vehicle overall, but so are those it’s up against – making it much harder to pick out the LS as the clear winner, which was the case with the original car 30 years ago.
If Lexus were to set itself apart by offering a truly flagship powertrain and replaced that baffling infotainment system, perhaps brand could recapture the class-leading greatness of 1990.