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The latest Lexus LS 500 offers shiatsu massaging seats and a flashy exterior!
USA TODAY

NICASIO, Calif. — Lexus, you brought out the Richie Rich in me with your shiatsu seats and origami-inspired door panels.

While the first redesign of Lexus’ top-of-the-line sedan, the LS 500, in a decade features a host of chassis and technological tweaks, the level of sybaritic luxury available to occupants of this flagship vehicle is outrageous enough to cause the lumpen proletariat to storm the barricades.

What’s intriguing is that outrageous levels of passenger pampering also are the rage with a number of Chinese-backed automotive ventures that have yet to sell a car. Lucid, NIO and Faraday Future all have displayed prototypes that seem like private jets on wheels.  

But Lexus is offering jet-travel amenities on four wheels now.

While the styling of this large people mover is questionable — the 2018 LS’ designers clearly had an aversion to simple sheet-metal curves — its execution is faultless and leans heavily on the Japanese custom of hospitality, or omotenashi.

Let’s get right to the glitz packed into this pricey car, which arrives in February toting a tag that will start around the current model’s $75,000 base price and rise quickly from there.

While a number of companies ranging from Ford to Mercedes-Benz offer some form of massaging seats, Lexus felt compelled to take things up to Four Seasons spa levels.

All four LS seats offer a large array of pneumatic bladders that inflate and deflate to replicate Japanese shiatsu massage techniques. But one push of a touch screen button will send the right rear passenger — presumably the successful owner of this chauffeured behemoth — into such a state of reclined bliss that deeply tinted windows are a must.

The right rear seat in the 2018 Lexus LS 500 is fit for a titan of fill-in-the-blank, with a reclining seats that offers shiatsu massage. (Photo: JAMES HALFACRE)

In a silent mechanical ballet, the front passenger seat starts to fold forward as your own leather-wrapped throne elongates and sprouts what Lexus calls an ottoman, gently supporting you in a position conducive to passing out cold.

Faux fingers firmly knead your back, buttocks and thighs. Spot heaters replicate a hot stone massage. Turn on the Mark Levinson 23-speaker, 2,400-watt 3D Surround Sound system — there are even speakers in the roof — and drowsiness comes on fast.

During a recent event to showcase the new LS held at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin County just north of San Francisco, Lexus engineers waxed technical as I reclined. I asked repeated probing questions, all just an excuse for me to doze longer.

Luxurious touches also find themselves into the LS’ door panels, where buyers can opt for herringbone-patterned wood or something else decidedly Japanese: hand-folded fabric resembling intricate origami patterns set next to Kiriko cut-glass inserts. This stuff makes bling look boring.

As mentioned before, the exterior of the new LS also isn’t for everyone. Fans of subtlety won’t cotton to the array of intersecting panels and planes or the dizzying effect of the mesh front grille. But what’s under the bodywork does impress.

It starts with size. The car is 1.3-inches longer and 0.6-inch lower than its predecessor. Under the hood, a new twin-turbo V-6 engine — mated to Lexus’ innovative 10-speed automatic transmission — produces 416 horsepower that’s good for a sprint to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. A new hybrid version will generate 354 horsepower between the V-6 gas engine and electric motors.

But what these numbers do not convey is how well Lexus engineers managed to make a luxury car with a 123-inch wheelbase drive like a more sporting midsize sedan.

On the undulating and winding roads of western Marin County, the LS not only maintained its composure when pushed hard, but it even encouraged repeated use of its paddle shifters. Steering was taut and communicative, braking was responsive.

From the driver’s perspective, LS vehicle dynamics instilled confidence that bordered on fun, typically not the norm when piloting land yachts.

Once back at the ranch that Star Wars built, there were more debriefs on other high-tech features of the LS.

This included an impressive demo of the 3D Levinson system that made it sound like a helicopter was hovering just outside the rear-seat sunroof and an endless litany of Lexus Enform infotainment features ranging from in-car Wi-Fi to over-the-air, car-to-dealer health checks.

These days, having a ton of tech toys in a car isn’t news. It’s par for the race-to-autonomy course. That’s why as long as humans are doing the driving, the proof of a great car really remains in the front-left seat — behind the wheel.

By those standards, Lexus can take pride in developing an LS that still is worthy of both road and possibly even track.

While that reclining back right passenger seat may whisper “let’s ride,” this revamped LS shouts “let’s drive.”

WHAT STANDS OUT

LUXURY: Right-rear fully reclined passengers will feel like royalty

3D SOUND: Headliner-mounted Mark Levinson speakers flood the cabin

DESIGN: A bit much for some tastes

2018 LEXUS LS 500

WHAT? First redesign in 10 years of Lexus’ flagship sedan

WHEN? Due in showrooms in February 

WHERE? Made in Japan

WHAT MAKES IT GO? A twin-turbo V-6 producing 416 horsepower

HOW THIRSTY? Not yet disclosed but if you don’t expect to be impressed, consider the hybrid version

HOW BIG? 17.1 feet

HOW MUCH? Starts around the current LS base price of $75,000, but climbs quickly from there with technology and equipment upgrades 

OVERALL: A worthy successor to the original LS luxury yacht

Follow USA TODAY reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter.

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