Although Lexus began with two models, the LS400 and ES250, it is the LS400 which was a major contributor to the new brand’s success. Developed with the aim of producing the ‘world’s best car’, the LS400 was an entirely new model which is believed to have had a R&D budget of over US$1 billion. Even though it lacked the heritage of the established European luxury brands, the superior engineering and quality of the LS400 won over many customers who then experienced the superlative customer care that became the benchmark for the industry.
Since the first generation was launched at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January 1989, the LS has been the flagship of Toyota’s luxury brand. And like all flagships, it has been the first model in the company offer new and advanced technology.
This week, at the same event and venue 28 years later, Lexus is launching the fifth generation of the flagship model. It is presented as a new car ‘that will exceed expectations by delivering a new level of flagship luxury in every aspect’. To achieve this, Lexus says its approach was to start from new – reimagining what a flagship sedan should be, as if launching the brand all over again – just as the first LS did.
“Not only will the LS symbolize the Lexus brand, it will become the definitive new-generation luxury car embodying Japanese tradition and culture,” said Toshio Asahi, Chief Engineer for the model. “As such, this global pinnacle must go far beyond what the world expects from a luxury car.”
“We set previously unheard of targets and resolutely pushed ahead towards these ambitious goals,” he added. “The customers who are going to want to own a Lexus flagship are already surrounded by luxury on a daily basis, people who have a sharp eye for authenticity to begin with. We wouldn’t turn their heads with a conventional premium product.”
The new LS gains a strikingly bold design with a coupe-like silhouette punctuated by the new Lexus design language. It retains the ‘Yet’ philosophy that has been passed on since the first-generation LS. Lexus designers created a form which offers the room and comfort of a prestige 3-box sedan, yet with the stylish silhouette of a 4-door coupe that holds stronger appeal for younger luxury customers.
The unique rendition of the now-familiar spindle grille mesh, with a texture that seemingly changes in different light, is the result of both intense CAD development and hand-adjusting thousands of individual surfaces.
The designers took full advantage of the brand new platform, with its lower profile and length on par with that of a prestige long-wheelbase sedan, to give the new LS a stretched, ground-hugging appearance. Compared to the outgoing model, the new LS is about 15 mm lower, while the bonnet and boot are approximately 30 mm and 41 mm lower, respectively.
The new LS is the first Lexus sedan with a 6 side window design and, also a first for a Lexus sedan, the flush-surface windows smoothly integrate with the side pillar. To preserve headroom with the lower profile, the new LS features an outer slide-type moonroof.
The LS has a range of 5 wheel designs with diameters up to 20 inches. The largest premium wheels employ a brilliant appearance created using an electroplating technique known as sputtering. All but one of the wheel designs feature a hollow rim structure that helps reduce the resonance sound generated by the tyres.
Creating a new standard of flagship luxury is not simply a matter of adding more features. Inspired by the omotenashi principle, Lexus sought to instil the new LS cabin with luxury that welcomes and envelops the occupants while treating the driver like a partner.
New seating designs, including 28-way power front seats that feature cooling and massage functions, exemplify this approach. The organically shaped dashboard design clusters information displays at uniform height to support the ‘seat-in-control’ layout that emphasizes the driver’s ability to operate all systems without the need to change posture.
While making the new LS even more of a driver’s car, Lexus also lavished attention to the rear seat, developing a design that creates seamless, enveloping continuity between the trim and seatbacks for passenger egress. Options for cooling and massage make the rear seat a most welcoming environment. The available power front and rear seat with Shiatsu massage and a raised ottoman, part of a wider rear seat luxury package, offers the most legroom of LS to date. In addition, the seat behind the front passenger in this optional package can be reclined up to 48 degrees, and can be raised up to 24 degrees to help assist the rear-seat passenger in exiting the vehicle.
Because the new LS is lower than previous versions, Lexus (for the first time) has equipped the optional air suspension system with an access function. Activated by unlocking the car with the smart key, access mode automatically raises the vehicle and opens the seat bolsters to welcome the driver behind the wheel.
Lighting and attention to detail express a unique aesthetic in the LS. A new approach to creating trim elements again turned to Japanese culture, combining traditional Japanese aesthetic with advanced manufacturing techniques. This is reflected in signature touches, such as beautiful interior ambient lighting inspired by Japanese lanterns and armrests that appear to float next to the door panel.
Inspired by Shimamoku wood patterns, the new forms that combine the artistic combination of natural woodwork and application of Japan’s sophisticated sliced wood and laser cutting manufacturing technologies can be seen in the new LS.
The exhaust sound has been specially tuned to convey a more authoritative tone, yet also designed the cabin to ensure utterly quiet cruising. New sound suppression methods further hush the environment compared to previous LS models. Active Noise Control further quiets the cabin by detecting the sound of the engine coming into the vehicle and cancelling certain frequencies using antiphase sound from the audio speakers.
The serenity of the cabin provides an ideal stage for the standard premium audio system or the audiophile-worthy available 3D surround audio package with in-ceiling array speakers developed by Mark Levinson (which has been supplying audio systems to Lexus for many years) which features a more inviting graphic user interface. The next-generation remote touch is designed to mimic smartphone operation and supports handwritten input. In addition to its 12.3-inch wide navigation display, the LS can incorporate an optional 24-inch colour heads-up display (HUD) – the largest in the world – that projects a variety of information onto the windscreen ahead of the driver.
The LS gets an all-new 3.5-litre V6 engine specifically engineered for the model. It has twin turbos developed through the company’s F1 technology. This new engine indicative of the more dynamic approach being taken by Lexus, offering V8-level power without sacrificing fuel economy – while minimizing noise and vibration.
The new LS engine offers the output one would expect in a flagship sedan: 421 ps/600 Nm, sizeable gains over the current LS model’s V8. The long stroke and optimized stroke-to-bore ratio contribute to high-speed combustion and the efficiency of the twin turbos, which assist the LS with a projected 0-100 km/h of 4.5 seconds. Perhaps more critical is how Lexus engineers tuned the engine and transmission to deliver instant acceleration and a constant build-up of torque toward the redline.
A ladder frame structure in the cylinder block, redesigned engine mounts, electric waste gates and numerous other features help ensure the remarkable powertrain smoothness, a Lexus hallmark. The driver will be able to tailor powertrain response and feel by choosing from Normal to Sport to Sport+ modes, and just enough of the exhaust note can be heard to enhance the sporty feel.
The first-ever 10-speed automatic transmission for a luxury sedan, having already debuted in the LC 500, is also used in the new flagship. It is a torque-converter automatic, yet with shift times that rival those of dual-clutch transmissions. The wide bandwidth afforded by ten closely spaced ratios is ideal for all forms of driving, helping to provide an optimal gear for all conditions.
More than ever before, luxury sedan drivers demand greater handling agility and performance feel without sacrificing comfort. It’s one of the most difficult balances to achieve in a vehicle, yet the new Lexus global architecture for luxury vehicles (GA–L) meets the challenge.
The new platform debuted in the LC 500 coupe and now, with a longer wheelbase, underpins the new LS. To enhance centre of gravity height and weight distribution, the new LS is offered only as a long wheelbase model.
The GA-L platform is the stiffest in Lexus history, setting the stage for enhanced handling, ride smoothness and cabin quietness.
For this new generation, the latest chassis control technology known as Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) is incorporated. This system implements cooperative control of all vehicle subsystems – braking, steering, powertrain, and suspension – to control basic longitudinal, lateral and vertical motion as well as yaw, roll and pitch. Optimal control of these motions helps to enable exceptional ride comfort, enhanced traction and safety and handling agility. Handling is further enhanced by active stabilizer bars and the Lexus Dynamic Handling (LDH) System with independent front and rear steering. VDIM is capable of aiding stability when the car is traversing split-friction surfaces, such as dry pavement and ice.
In creating the new LS, engineers used lightweight materials including ultra-high tensile steel sheet and aluminium to carve over 90 kgs from the current LS platform and body. These savings, along with the implementation of the new V6 engine and enhanced body rigidity, allow for a more dynamic driving experience.
Critical to its driving performance, the new platform lowers the car’s centre of gravity by placing most of the mass, including the engine and the occupants, in a position more centralized and lower in the chassis to help enhance the centre of gravity. Special braces in the engine compartment, stiff aluminium front and rear suspension towers, and other features help bolster the strength of key chassis structures.
The LS has a history of outstanding suspension compliance, yet Lexus saw opportunity for new gains in this realm as well. For example, the multi-link suspension employs double ball joints on the upper and lower control arms to help allow for control of the smallest movements from the driver inputs and road conditions. Beyond sharing workload, a dual ball joint arrangement helps optimize suspension geometry to increase wheel control and yield more precise steering response with better initial effort. To reduce unsprung weight and therefore aid agility and comfort, aluminium is used extensively in the suspension.
In addition to a high degree of passive safety, Lexus has equipped the LS with technologies that can possibly help prevent crashes from occurring or mitigate their effects. The new LS will feature the brand’s Lexus Safety System+, incorporating Active Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist and Adaptive High Beam System.
High-level Driving Support called Lexus CoDrive is also introduced in the new LS. It enables control steering in accordance with the driver’s intention and continuous driving support in highways.
Deliveries of the new LS will begin in the fourth quarter of 2017, depending on the market. While certain Lexus models are produced at two factories in the USA and three in Japan, the LS is produced only at the Tahara plant in Japan.
For our archives: The early history of Lexus
To locate a Lexus Centre in Malaysia, visit www.lexus.com.my