Lexus LS. The original Lexus LS was the result of six years’ work by 1,400 engineers to build a luxury car that would rival the best in the world. This “Project F1” duly delivered the original LS 400 model in 1989, launching the Lexus brand and beginning a transformation of the prestige vehicle market.
Toshio Asahi, Chief Engineer of the new LS, reflected on how the original model took the motor industry by surprise: “Its excellent driving performance and superior quietness were proof that we allowed no compromise.”
More than that, it also sparked a revolution in customer service and satisfaction, with newcomer Lexus consistently setting new benchmarks for the established industry players to aspire to.
Almost 30 years later, an all-new, fifth generation LS flagship sedan is being launched, a model that draws on the proud history of its predecessors while breaking new ground in design, technology and performance, and extending the boundaries of automotive luxury.
The challenge now for Lexus is not simply to go beyond the achievements of the past, but to reimagine what a global flagship sedan should be. This mission has had the close attention of Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who is committed to introducing more excitement to Lexus models and who has helped in the development of the new LS in his role as a Master Driver.
“Not only will the LS symbolise the Lexus brand, it will become the definitive new generation luxury car, embodyin g Japanese tradition and culture,” said Chief Engineer Asahi. “As such, this global pinnacle must go far beyond what the world expects from a luxury vehicle.”
The Lexus brand shift
Customers’ perceptions of “luxury” were very different back when the original LS was launched; at that time, the focus on was on objective qualities that could be measured. Today the landscape has changed so that qualitative, subjective responses have become more important considerations when developing the new model.
Chief Engineer Asahi explained: “Luxury is now about experiences rather than possessing luxury items, so Lexus has shifted from being a luxury car brand to a lifestyle brand that offers amazing experiences.”
This broader outlook is witnessed in Lexus’ wide-ranging encouragement of innovation and emerging talent in diverse creative fields. For example, the annual Lexus Design Award seeks out exciting new designers worldwide, giving them the chance to showcase their ideas at Milan Design Week and develop their work with mentorship from leading professionals. Lexus also regularly works with high-profile innovators in fashion, art and music to help create amazing experiences that capture the essence of its brand.
The rebirth of Lexus’ flagship sedan in the form of the all-new LS encapsulates this new, wide-ranging luxury philosophy.
Crafting a unique identity
Koichi Suga, Chief Designer of the new LS, recognised from the outset the pivotal role the model plays in defining Lexus, embodying the brand’s history, image and what it stands for.
“I knew that this was an amazing opportunity to create a Lexus flagship sedan for the world,” he said. “With my team we wanted to produce something completely new, with unique proportions. Our goal was a car that is longer, lower and wider with a more powerful presence,” he said.
The designers were helped in their task by the new Global Architecture – Luxury (GA-L) platform on which the new LS is constructed. Its proportions allow for an extended wheelbase, a spacious interior and a lower, ground-hugging appearance with coupe lines.
Chief Designer Suga made outline sketches on dozens of small Post-it notes before crystallising his ideas for a sporty look that would project a more emotional image for Lexus.
“Our modelling theme was ‘forged from passion,’ with the sense of the ‘passion’ being pushed outwards towards the four wheels,” he said. “Our sketches were drawn with an emphasis on a flowing silhouette and large tyres. Meanwhile we also had to address the critical points of providing space for rear seat passengers and ease of getting in and out of the car.”
In the process of defining the car’s design, no fewer than seven mock-up models were completed, compared to the three or four usually created for an all-new model development programme, reflecting the intense attention to detail and importance of the new LS to the Lexus brand as a whole.
Design generated by the spindle grille
The spindle grille has become a signature feature of Lexus vehicle design, but its purpose is not simply a brand signifier. On the new LS it provides a starting point for the car’s design theme, generating lines which flow through the body and converge at the rear.
The grille itself has an intricate mesh design with 5,000 individual surfaces (more than 7,000 in the F SPORT), which took a highly skilled CAD modellers three and a half months to produce (five months for F SPORT), followed by further precision adjustment by hand. The sophisticated pattern echoes the shape of the grille as it folds back, with a sense of tension and an appearance which changes according to the light.
The spindle theme is also evident in the car’s rear styling and is even picked up in the stitching pattern for the F SPORT seat upholstery.
Lexus has revolutionised the LS’s design principles, moving from its established “three-box” sedan to a car that presents a radically different, coupe-like silhouette. Its lower, sleeker lines, which are more appealing to today’s customers, have been achieved without sacrificing any of the spaciousness and comfort that are fundamental to the LS’ status as a flagship model.
Notably, it is the first Lexus sedan to feature a six-window profile, which ensures excellent outward visibility, and also the first to feature windows with flush surfaces that integrate smoothly with the side pillars.
A shoulder line running from front to rear emphasises the low centre of gravity and the car’s low posture, emphasising the horizontal axis. The lines of the front and rear fenders are slanted forwards, generating a dynamic impression and evoking the car’s performance qualities.
The ground-hugging appearance is not an illusion: the GA-L platform has allowed the LS’ height to be reduced by 15.2 mm, with the hood and boot lowered even further – by approximately 30.5 and 40.6 mm respectively.
The frontal design makes a bold statement with the dramatic forward thrust of the spindle grille and a low hood profile, achieved thanks to the positioning of the front suspension towers permitted by the new GA-L platform. The boundary between the hood and the fenders is deeply sculpted, accentuating the contrast between the different surfaces.
The impact of the frontal design is enhanced by ultra-compact, triple bi-LED (high/low beam) headlights. These are housed in a narrow, slit-shaped unit that merges with the LED daytime running lights, set in an L-configuration that wraps around the edge of car. Sequential turn indicators are aligned with the DRLs, comprising 16 LEDs that illuminate in just 0.08 seconds.
At the rear, the shoulder line connects to the rear combination lamps, then folds down and back on itself to connect to the rear diffuser, echoing the lines of the spindle grille. The full LED combination lamps have a sleek design with strong vertical corners that give them an instantly recognisable shape.
The LS is equipped as standard with a glass sunroof which opens externally. This allows for a design that is 30 mm thinner than previously, preserving cabin headroom beneath the low roofline.
The LS is available with a range of new wheel designs, including 19 and 20-inch cast alloy noise reduction wheels, 20-inch forged alloys and a 10-spoke 20-inch cast alloy design exclusive to the F SPORT model.
In Europe, 13 different exterior paint finishes are available for the new LS, including a new Manganese Luster shade and the new Sonic Agate. F White and Sapphire Blue are exclusive to the F SPORT model.
The design of the new LS’ interior combines traditional Japanese aesthetics with advanced manufacturing techniques, reflected in elements such as the soft ambient lighting that makes the armrests appear to float next to the door panels, and new ways of working with wood to create trims with vibrant and detailed grain patterns.
Chief Designer Suga explained: “I hope that when you open the door, you have an immediate sense that you are looking at an interior that’s unlike any luxury car you’ve seen before.”
The new LS provides a driver focused cockpit and a front passenger seat area designed to gently envelop the occupant. Elements such as fine leather, precise stitch-work and detailed metal and wood accents add to the welcoming ambience with a range of textures and surfaces that are pleasing to the eye and touch.
The seats are upholstered in a new L-aniline leather that is remarkable soft and supple – up to 30 per cent softer than premium semi-aniline leather. Only the finest one per cent of hides are selected for the L-aniline tanning process.
The dashboard has a sweeping array of fixed, horizontal metal fins spanning its full width, neatly concealing the movable fins that direct airflow from the air conditioning vents. The information displays are positioned at a uniform height in a “seat-in-control” layout that allows the driver to view and operate all the systems without changing their body posture.
Directly in front of the driver, the standard combination meter is set in a stitched leather frame, with the Optitron display presenting what looks like a physical metal bezel. An elegant, full screen animation is presented on the eight-inch TFT screen when the driver enters and leaves the vehicle. A high-definition, full-colour head-up display is available, the largest in the LS’ segment. Images are projected to appear three metres ahead of the driver, to minimise the eye focus adjustment required between looking at the display and the road ahead.
The new steering wheel has a three-spoke design and smaller diameter (-10 mm) than that used in the previous LS model. The profile varies around the circumference to provide ideal grip characteristics. Three versions of the wheel are available, with an all-leather trim, a combination of leather with genuine woodgrain inserts, and an F SPORT version that uses the same grip profile as the LC coupe.
A range of interior colours is available: Black, L-White, Ivory, Topaz Brown, Dark Saddle Tan, Noble Brown, Camel and Crimson & Black combination. The F SPORT options are Galaxy Black, F White or Flare Red.
The trim choices include Kiriko Glass,Laser Cut Dark Wood, Black Shimamoku, Art Wood Organic or Herringbone, Laser Cut Special and two types of walnut finish. Naguri-Style aluminium trim is exclusive to the F SPORT model.
The intersection of tradition and technology
The fine skills of Takumi craftspeople contribute to the high quality of every Lexus vehicle, but in developing the new LS, Lexus has gone further to combine the traditions of Japanese culture and aesthetics with contemporary design and advanced technologies.
It was Chief Designer Koichi Suga’s vision for the new LS that is should draw on traditional Japanese artforms, such as Kiriko glass-making and Origami. He said: “As a Japanese luxury brand, we wanted to integrate elements of Japanese culture and the timeless appeal of Japanese craftsmanship to express the artistic side of Lexus.”
The Lexus Takumi
The Takumi are the most senior craftspeople in Lexus, responsible for ensuring that the required excellent quality is achieved in every stage of the car-making process.
Using the skills of the human hand, eye and ear, honed through years of experience, they can detect the smallest imperfections and the fine adjustments that may be needed to improve performance or appearance.
They also contribute to the hand-crafted elements of the vehicle, for example the precision stitching of the leather upholstery. The Takumi undergo intensive training, moving from straight lines to the rapid sewing of curved seams. Once they have mastered this technique, they work on a real instrument panel, repeating the seaming several hundred times over a period of three months. At Lexus’ giant Kyushu factory there are just 12 Takumi responsible for the detailed accuracy of every stitch.
The Takumi are also responsible for training and inspiring other technicians, helping them learn the skills that will make them the Takumi of the future.
The earn Takumi status, Lexus craftsman have to complete a number of rigorous challenges, including a daily Origami cat challenge. To demonstrate their dexterity and attention to detail, they must perfectly complete the folded cat design in less than 90 seconds. What’s more, they have to accomplish the task using only their non-dominant hand.
Kiriko glass ornamentation
The traditional skills and designs of Japanese Kiriko glass-making have been used to create a unique ornamentation for the new LS’ door panels. Masters of Kiriko worked with Lexus to replicate the hand-carved appearance of the glasswork, which adds extra dimensions of visual and tactile appeal with its light-catching, multi-faceted surface. Although the glass looks delicate, it is in fact very strong thanks to modern reinforcement technology.
Hand-pleated door panels
The draped pleating in the door panels has been achieved using the time-honoured skills of Origami paper-folding. A colour designer and a fabric artisan produced Hand Pleats, a new fabric pleating technique that creates a three-dimensional pattern that is pleasing to the eye and touch. The process took four years to develop and can only be carried out by the human hand. It mirrors the work of the finest Origami artists, requiring individual sheets of fabric to be expertly folded, like a sheet of paper. The finished panel changes in appearance according to the time of day and cabin illumination, adding to the elegance and enveloping quality of the interior.
Lexus has applied new ways of working with veneers to produce unique designs and effects that distinguish the new LS from any other model.
Using Takumi craftsmanship, it has produced a new Art Wood finishes that fuse the natural beauty of wood with Lexus’ brave design. Art Wood Organic uses a precise layering technique and a natural gloss coating to bring out vibrant, contrasting, flame-like grain patterns. For Art Wood Herringbone, techniques used to craft fine musical instruments are applied, with the hand-grafting of small pieces of wood to create delicate symmetrical patterns.
A third interpretation, Laser Cut Special, uses laser technology to cut through the veneer to expose a sub-layer of metal, creating a pattern inspired by the way the Lexus L-motif is worked into the mesh of the LS’ spindle grille.
- New LS embraces the traditional Japanese hospitality principles of Omotenashi in caring for vehicle occupants and anticipating their needs
- Advanced new front and rear seat designs with class-leading levels of adjustment and sophisticated new massage functions
- Precision control of the cabin environment for each occupant with upgraded Climate Concierge
- Bespoke 23-speaker 3D Surround Mark Levinson Reference Surround System using advanced new Quantum Logic Immersion (QLI) technology to create a full, three-dimensional sonic environment
The meaning of Omotenashi
Lexus believes that creating new standards of luxury in a flagship model is not simply a matter of adding more equipment features and technologies. Rather it aims to produce a kind of progressive luxury that welcomes and cares for the vehicle’s occupants, anticipating their needs and enabling the driver to feel perfectly connected to the car. It’s a way of thinking that’s inspired by Omotenashi, the finest principles of traditional Japanese hospitality.
The influence of Omotenashi starts with the “welcome” sequence as the driver approaches the vehicle. Inside the car there is a meticulous attention to detail in providing the most comfortable, safe and relaxing environment for all occupants, whether taking the wheel, or enjoying being chauffeured as a passenger.
To make getting in and out of the new LS as comfortable as possible, models equipped with air suspension provide a Premium access function. This automatically raises the low-slung sedan by 40 mm to an ideal 555 mm hip-height in just four seconds when the vehicle is unlocked. Once the occupants are on board and engine is switched on, the car returns to its regular ride height. The same convenient height adjustment is made when the car is stopped and a door is opened for someone to exit.
For the driver and front seat passenger, there is a sense of the car being prepared for their arrival, with the seat belt holder extending by 50 mm when the front doors are opened, ready for use. For the driver, the holder also rises when the engine is switched off, to make unbuckling easier. The feeling of being welcomed into the car continues with the outer cushion bolster opening out when the car is unlocked, and then automatically returning to its normal, supportive position when the driver is seated. The driver’s seat also automatically rises and moves rearwards to make for easier exit from the vehicle; similarly, when the driver enters the car, it returns to the previous driving position when they are seated.
The cabin lighting adds to the sense of welcome, with an illumination inspired by the soft glow of traditional Japanese Andon lanterns. Light sources are located behind the door trim panels and armrest, giving indirect, downward illumination that adds to the sense of spaciousness.
The design of the seats in the new LS was a prime consideration and a defining factor in the Omotenashi qualities of the car.
Lexus developed the seating to suit two types of customer: those who want to drive the car and those who will mostly be chauffeured in it as a passenger. This required equal attention to be paid to the needs of the driver, as well as rear-seat occupants, ensuring everyone on board can travel in supreme comfort, regardless of how long the journey lasts.
Front seating with 28-way adjustment and Shiatsu massage
The new LS is available with a new driver’s seat with 28-way power and pneumatic adjustment, including new controls to adapt support for the back, pelvis and hips. The level of adjustment is the best in the LS’ segment. The design provides excellent side holding, pelvis stability and shoulder support, and allows people of all body sizes and types to find their ideal position at the wheel and feel at one with the car.
Built on a new frame, the front seats are stronger and more rigid, using a high tensile steel side frame, yet they weigh only about 6 kg.
Rear seats with premium access
The multi-function touchscreen in the rear centre armrest console is used to precisely control the position of the rear seats, together with audio, climate, sunshade and interior lighting functions. The front passenger seat and entertainment monitor are also automatically adjusted to suit the chosen configuration.
There are three pre-set rear seat positions: Business, which is the default; Entertain, which reclines the seat for comfortable viewing of the entertainment monitor, and Relax, which extends the leg ottoman, deeply reclines the seatback and moves the front passenger seat to its further forward position to provide maximum legroom (at 1,022 mm, 86 mm more than in the previous LS). When the passenger arrives at their destination, the seat automatically returns to its default position as soon as the rear door is opened, allowing for an easy and comfortable exit .
The rear seats are available with best-in-class 22-way adjustment, including back, hip and pelvis support and ottoman extension. The angle of rear seat recline is also class-leading, at 48 degrees, achieved through adept packaging and a revised reclining mechanism.
Shiatsu massage functions
Lexus consulted Japanese massage experts to help design new Shiatsu massage systems for the front and rear seats that provide the right degree of thumb-like pressure in the right places to help the occupant relax.
For the front seats there are five separate massage courses which can be selected using the multi-information display, working with a centripetal or centrifugal action, or focusing on the lumbar, upper and lower body regions. For the driver this promotes relaxation without impairing their control of the car.
The rear seat massage function has also been upgraded with its operating area expanded to cover the occupant’s thighs as well as back. In a world-first, the system includes two spot heaters for the shoulder and lower back to provide targeted heat stimulation in conjunction with the Shiatsu massage.
Multiple setting options let the user tailor the massage sequence to suit their preference, with full body settings or operation focused on the upper or lower body, shoulders or lumbar region.