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Lexus LS 500 facelift

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Smooth Operator |

My first experience of Lexus was nearly thirty years ago. Since then, many things have changed but over the years the basic premise of the LS sedan has stayed the same; to deliver exceptional refinement, comfort, and quietness in keeping with its status as the flagship in the Lexus range. 

In October 1992, I was invited to test drive the just-released LS 400 luxury sedan – shortly after the new luxury brand from Toyota was formally introduced to the local market.

By then the upstart marque had already taken the huge US market by storm (Lexus sales had surpassed BMW and Mercedes-Benz sales in the US in the same year) and it was expanding its model range, as well as its footprint, to other countries, including Europe and South Africa.

I distinctly remember three things from that first encounter: the smoothness of the Lexus V8 engine and drivetrain, the comfort of the interior and the refined, if somewhat floaty ride quality. Ah, yes, and the unconventional Optitron instrumentation – something I had never seen before.

The Lexus LS has also been a pioneer, being the first vehicle in the world with an adjustable steering column and driver airbag, and the world’s first hybrid V8.

Noteworthy, though, is how the LS has grown, gained weight and received more power over the generations in order to keep up with the competition. While I may have perceived the first generation LS400 as a big car, its dimensions now are comparable with the latest Lexus ES!   

Enhancements

Now in its fifth generation, the relentless evolution continues. As part of a mid-life update, the front fascia of the LS has been slightly revised with new, compact, three-bulb headlamps with an accentuated L-design and BladeScan adaptive high-beam system (first seen on RX). 

The grille mesh is now a dark metallic colour with squared-off sub-radiator grilles, and trim in the rear lamps has been changed from chrome to piano-black, with the F-Sport derivative receiving dedicated colour for the spindle grille and 20-inch wheels. Further enhancements include under-the-skin engineering improvements as dictated by the new Lexus Driving Signature initiative. 

The interior now features revised, more comfortable seats, updated leather options, a higher-resolution rear view mirror and a 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that now join the Lexus Remote Touch Interface. The Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 is now standard and includes updates such as Lane Change Assist and Active Steering Assist.

In keeping with its core values, the LS 500 also benefits from enhancements to its engine, drivetrain and suspension. The 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine now has an updated piston design for lower emissions and reduced NVH when cold.

The powerful V6, delivering 310 kW and 600 Nm of torque, is quiet and efficient, and coupled with a seamless ten-speed auto transmission with improved shift timing for a wider acceleration range in each gear.

Impeccable comfort 

The LS 500 glided over the tar surfaces of the sweeping Mpumalanga roads, and while there is a choice of driving modes (Normal, Eco, Sport and Sport S+) the best option in the conditions was Normal mode. The shift paddles, while useful in Sport+, proved unnecessary on our test route, as the transmission’s advanced electronic control system worked really well.

Powertrain noise and vibration is further muted by liquid-filled engine mounts, and the multi-link suspension geometry with revised Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) – now with continuous damping control through 650 levels – take the big sedan’s ride comfort and quality to unprecedented levels.

Improved steering response and cornering stability make the big LS 500 feel smaller than its physical size, and body roll is minimal, courtesy of thicker front and rear anti-roll bars and more rigid, specially developed run-flat tyres.

The LS 500 is now available with new exterior colours, including innovative silver paint finishes, and while the F-Sport derivative has some exclusive features, such as its own spindle grille mesh-design, 20-inch wheels, F Sport seats and pedals, aluminium door trim and own interior trim colours, the Luxury model has a vibrating massage and ventilation function for all seats.

The Lexus LS 500 Luxury is now available for R2 204,200, with the LS 500 F Sport priced at R2 397,900, including a seven-year/105 000km Warranty and Full Maintenance Plan. The range will be expanded with the introduction of the LS 500 Hybrid later this year.

Report by Ferdi de Vos | Images: Lexus South Africa

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