Big, rear-wheel-drive, luxury-branded sedans seem archaic as the 21st century heads toward its third decade. Maybe the Mercedes-Benz S-class will always be around, but Lexus could have let the LS die. After a few wistful tears and melancholy reflections, the world would have moved on; after all, Lexus makes its real money selling crossovers and SUVs. Yet here’s a new big Lexus four-door, the direct successor to the original 1990 LS400 that rocket-launched the brand into existence and also the only Japan-made vehicle of its type still sold in North America.
If God is in the details, then the new fifth-generation 2018 Lexus LS500 packs a supernatural punch. This is a car best appreciated at the granular level, where texture and intricacy invite ever-greater microscopic investigation and where you forget overall impressions and dive into the minutiae. But the big picture matters, too, and that’s more problematic. Like, where’d the V-8 go?
Except for a few floor stampings and some of the rear suspension, the latest LS is pretty much all new. Now riding on a 123.0-inch wheelbase and stretching a full 206.1 inches overall, it’s actually longer than ever before. The sole wheelbase option is 1.3 inches greater than that of the previous L model (as distinct from the discontinued and shorter, non-L version), and overall length is up an inch, too. The new car is also an inch wider and an inch lower.
So the new LS500 and LS500h hybrid are big mothers. They are still a smidge shorter than the U.S.-market S-class, but the smidge has tightened to less than an inch. The new LS is the largest car any Japanese manufacturer has dared sell in the United States. And as is increasingly common in this class, both versions are available with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
Whereas every previous-generation LS has relied upon V-8 engines for propulsion, the new one is a V-6–only proposition. The standard engine is the new V35A-FTS direct-injected, twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6. With a relatively long 100.0-millimeter crank stroke, this 3.4-liter V-6 is tuned for torque production, and it slugs out a seamless 442 lb-ft from 1600 to 4800 rpm. Meanwhile, the 416-hp peak occurs at 6000 rpm, which is an area of the tachometer that the silky-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission prefers to keep the engine away from.
The 416 horsepower represents a 30-hp bump over the previous LS460’s 4.6-liter V-8. But it’s the increase over the…