When Lexus opened their doors thirty years ago, customers were greeted by two compelling new vehicles that would challenge the luxury car status quo. One of them sent shockwaves across the globe with its superb execution, high level of quality, and proven reliability in contrast to its European and American competitors.
The story of the Lexus LS has been told many times on this website. The previous generation model was considered soft, smooth, and quiet – everything I hoped for in a flagship sedan. This was a standard in which was born from Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Imperials in the 1960s. The two LS 460s I had worked with exemplified what I expected from a car of its stature and elegance.
The newest generation of the flagship of the Lexus line arrived for 2018. When I reviewed it over a year ago, I found the 416-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 tester to be "a very desirable flagship sedan that should be considered above any of the others." This is a statement born from the fact that the bar for flagship sedans had been raised multiple times that there are some customers that have been frustrated by the pricing of the LS 500’s German rivals.
Now, I have another Lexus flagship sedan to work with. It is the LS 500h – the hybrid version. More on that later…
The subject of the LS was brought up while I was a guest on Drive Cartel's Dream Killers podcast. One of the hosts, Ian, has two Lexus cars – one of them is a first-generation LS that is bring used as a motorsports machine.
My thoughts about the LS up to this point lead to the fact that I would call it a personal "favorite" of mine. Having witnessed the original Lexus from its debut at dealerships in late 1989 as the backbone and the flagship of the line over the past 30 years. I was fortunate to have worked with three – and, now, a fourth.
There is something that I love about the LS. I use the word "supreme" to describe the experience (as in John Coltrane's "Love Supreme"). It seems apt – an experience of luxury that reminds me of the days when luxury was defined by quiet elegance and sheer grace – the 1960s and early 1970s.
That grace was evidenced by this 2020 LS 500h.
It all starts with the drivetrain. The Multistage Hybrid system is essentially two motors and two transmissions working together. You have the familiar 3.5-liter V6 engine with a set of electric motors, then add a continuously variable transmission with a four-speed automatic transmission. The result is a 354-horsepower luxury driveline pushing about 5,027 pounds worth of all-wheel-drive flagship sedan.
It is a quiet driveline, which helps in making the driving experience serene. If you push the throttle on passing and other maneuvers, you will hear the V6 engine push harder to get back into a cruising velocity. Still, I go back to that lack of noise from the outside. The Bridgestone Turanza tires are even quiet.
The ride quality is sublime. Yes, you will subtly feel rougher patches of road – potholes included – but on the smoothest of tarmac the ride is simply supreme. It also handles quite well without much lean or roll through the corners. The LS 500h is a poised machine to cart your friends or that special passenger enjoying the reclining rear seats in the back.
Since I brought up the rear seats, they are a part of a $12,250 Luxury Package. If you have that someone who is too important to drive themselves, they will enjoy the 18-way power rear outboard seats. They also have their own climate control zone, audio controls, and power-operated sunshades for each rear door. You can also close the power rear window sunshade when they request you to do so.
My function solely is where I really need to be – in the driver’s seat. I get a 28-way power driver’s seat with a massage function. So does the other front seat occupant. Our seats are cooled and heated, while the rear seat occupants are only heated. My preferred seat is on the taut side, but the soft leather upholstery loosens up to let me get comfortable for the drive ahead. The purpose of the driver seat is to be in control, and Lexus delivered on that excellently.
The cockpit set up is straightforward with the customizable TFT screen that serves as a speedometer, information center, and power/energy control. Analog fuel and temperature gauges flank this digital screen. A large 12.3-inch screen serves as the hub for the touchpad that controls the infotainment system. A welcomed addition to this package is Apple CarPlay, which integrates well with this system. As much as you hate the touchpad controller, I have learned to set it up first, then use the steering wheel controls for advancing tracks or changing radio stations. This tester had the 23-speaker, 2,400-watt Mark Levinson audio system emitting sound throughout the cabin.
The driving experience continues with a decent steering rack. The feel is not soft nor heavy, but it does offer a tight turning radius that makes this 206.1-inch flagship sedan feel smaller. The brakes offer great stopping power without that "hybrid" feel of regenerative braking. Pedal action is great, though I wished for some distance between it and the accelerator pedal. And, yes, I am nitpicking.
While I’m in the mood to nitpick, let me address the trunk space. In the LS 500, I have almost 17 cubic feet of luggage and shopping to load it. In the Hybrid model, that space has been trimmed down to 15.19 cubic feet because of the battery pack. You can use the pass through in-between the power seat seats for longer, narrower items.
This brings me to discuss fuel economy. I was hoping that the LS 500h would return some really good fuel economy with the battery pack, regenerative braking, and so forth. I tried, however, but 23.9 MPG is what I can muster. You may go ahead and send hate mail to me…
The base price of my tester – an LS 500h with all-wheel-drive – is $83,230. With the Luxury Package and other options included, my tester came with a sticker price of $107,605. If you live in a place where you don’t need all four wheels driven, then your base price drops to $80,010. If you want some more turbocharged engagement, more trunk space, and the battery pack removed, the LS 500 lineup starts at $75,450.
No matter which LS you choose, you will get the supreme experience. An experience that rivals with its competition that is still unique, graceful, and rewarding. After 30 years of brand excellence, the Lexus LS is what you really want as a flagship.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern