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Pure Vanilla

Despite some new curves and an engine upgrade, Lexus' newest offering is nothing to get excited about

Lexus is proud of the new LS's take on the brand's spindle mesh grille, which appears to change texture from different angles. It reportedly took a Lexus designer six months to create the effect, which resembles something thrown by Spider-Man.

As I’ve gotten older, I have found myself increasingly enjoying vanilla ice cream. Gone are my days of opting for frozen confections rife with swirls of gooey fudge or gobs of cookie dough.
Now it’s an elegant, understated and deceptively satisfying vanilla bean that excites my palate.
The same cannot be said for my taste in automobiles. There, I still prefer some gooey, gobby complication and panache. That’s why I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Lexus LS sedan. Undoubtedly an important vehicle – it launched the Lexus brand back in 1989, removed any irony from the phrase “Japanese luxury” and offered an unprecedented level of dependability in its class – it has also been the most vanilla thing this side of a Breyers half gallon. Now that Lexus has shown us its sexier side with the forthcoming sleek LC coupe, can it finally do the same with its flagship four-door?

Unveiled in January at the North American International Auto Show and on sale near the end of this year, the 2018 Lexus LS 500 rides on a stretched version of the platform used for the aforementioned LC 500 sports car. And that’s pretty much where the similarities end. There is nothing sporty about the forthcoming LS. Like its predecessors, it is a big, quiet, competent barge.

There are some relatively exciting new developments in LS land, however. First, the engine loses two cylinders, gains a pair of turbochargers, and enjoys a healthy boost to 415 hp and 442 lb.-ft. of torque (up from the outgoing model’s 386 hp and 367 lb.-ft.). That, along with a lighter, stronger frame, lower center of gravity and 10-speed automatic transmission, should make for a more dynamic ride.

Slightly less dynamic is the exterior styling. The new LS is a handsome enough sedan – certainly an upgrade over the slab it will replace. The redesigned LS features more curves and contours – plus a rounder, glassier greenhouse. Somehow, it has managed to evolve … and appear somewhat derivative. Sigh.

Inside, the new LS shines – literally, thanks to an elegant ambient lighting system inspired by Japanese lanterns; and figuratively, thanks to typical Lexus luxury, like 28-way power front seats with requisite heating, cooling and shiatsu massage features. Rear passengers can enjoy an optional ottoman-and-reclining-seat package. Vibrant new crosscut wood grain further dresses up the classy cabin.

With a bit more punch – and maybe even panache – perhaps the new LS won’t be straight vanilla anymore. Cookies ’n’ cream, maybe. :: lexus.com

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