Lexus flagship sedan, the LS, has been around since the brand's inception in 1989. Over the years it has grown, larger, more sophisticated and more refined. The latest iteration was introduced in 2018, since then the LS has seen little change. Competitors include the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Genesis G90, Maserati Ghibli, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Volvo S90.
Available only as a 4-door sedan, the LS is offered with rear- or all-wheel drive. Three models are offered: LS 500, LS 500 F Sport and LS 500h. The LS 500 and 500 F Sport come with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. It mates to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The LS 500h has a hybrid powertrain that combines a 3.5-liter V6 with two electric motors for a combined output of 354 horsepower. The 500h has a unique transmission that combines a continuously variable automatic with a conventional 4-spped automatic to simulate a 10-speed automatic.
The LS can be equipped with extras like a 24-inch head-up display, 28-way power adjustable front seats, a panoramic sunroof and rear seats with 22-way adjustability with heating and ventilation. The Luxury package adds an adaptive air suspension, upgraded front seats with quilted leather upholstery, power-reclining rear seats and more. There's also the Safety System+ A package that equips the LS 500h with enhanced driver safety systems.
Pricing starts at $75,450. The $81,450 F Sport model add unique front fascia and mesh grille, exclusive gauges, bolstered sport seats, aluminum pedals and an enhanced vehicle dynamic control system. The hybrid 500h starts at $80,010. All-wheel drive adds about $3,200 to the base price of each model.
The twin-turbo V6 in the gas-only LS 500 is amazingly powerful and smooth. It will push this two-and-a-half-ton sedan from 0 to 60 MPH in about 4.5 seconds. Thanks to a slick-and-smooth shifting 10-speed automatic, passing power is almost instantaneous. With race-car sounds at full throat, the engine even sounds the part, which thankfully can be toned down in around-town cruising. Are there other flagship sedans with more power? Of course, but the LS 500 has more than enough oomph for most buyers.
Things take a turn with the hybrid powertrain in the LS 500h. Not only is power down, but the unusual hybrid automatic transmission lacks sophistication in around-town driving. With today's hybrid technology, you generally either get great performance or great fuel economy. The 500h gives you neither, or a little of both, depending on your perspective. It is not as if the 500h isn't quick -- it will run from 0 to 60 MPH in a tick more than 5 seconds -- it's just how it does it, which is neither inspiring nor impressive.
There's a steep $3000+ price penalty for all-wheel drive and this is one case where it might just not make sense. Though you definitely gain traction, as the system shuffles power to the wheels with the most traction, there's a fuel-economy penalty and almost 200 extra pounds of mass. It might make more sense to opt to just swap out snow tires in the fall and call it a day.
Speaking of fuel economy, the rear-drive LS 500 is EPA rated at 19 MPG city and 30 MPG highway. Rear-drive hybrid models net 25 MPG city and 33 MPG highway. As you'd expect, the hybrid is the most efficient in the class (but only by a few MPGs) and the gas-only model falls mid pack. Like most flagship luxury sedans, the LS engines require premium-grade gasoline. In routine driving expect to average about 22 MPG with the gas-only model and perhaps as high as 28 MPG with the hybrid -- assuming you aren't too heavy on the throttle.
Lexus made big strides in driving dynamics when it moved the LS to an updated chassis in 2018. Overall, it's not nearly as capable or athletic as the BMW 7-Series or Audi A8, but for most buyers, it proves more than competent in most driving situations. Drilling down to the details, the LS rides more smoothly than nearly every competitor. The supple suspension soaks up road imperfections large or small and the body doesn't bounce or bob. Still, there's more suspension movement in quick maneuvers and the large Lexus feels heavy and a ponderous on twisty roads. Indeed, the F Sport is clearly the most athletic and the heavier hybrid models seem to be the least capable.
In Lexus tradition, the steering is overly boosted, resulting in a light feeling at speeds. Though is it quick and easy at parking speeds, making the LS easy to maneuver in tight spaces. Brakes have ample stopping power, especially on the gas-only model. On the hybrid, there's a bit of a transition when slowing as the brakes switch from regen to friction braking. It's only slightly noticeable and may be more a function of the transmission stepping down through the gears.
Interior noise levels are extremely low. The LS is basically a decompression chamber. There's no road or wind noise. The engine only intrudes with deep stabs into the throttle. With the gas-only model, those sounds are sweet, with the hybrid, they are a bit out of place in a $100,000 luxury sedan.
There's no denying the LS isn't 100 percent top shelf on the inside. Saying materials are impressive is an understatement -- leathers, woods, metals amaze and are a clear cut above most competitors. The design is flowing and modern and not derivative of any competitors. Even the way the doors close screams quality and old-world craftsmanship.
From a functionality standpoint, the LS interior attempts to blend trendy minimalist controls with conventional switchgear -- and for the most part it works. The trackpad-controlled infotainment system is likely the weakest link as it's hard to operate on the move and definitely requires a bit more attention than a traditional touch screen or jog-dial system. In addition, the lack of Android Auto support is unacceptable at this price point. Thankfully, all other controls are well placed, clearly marked and easy to operate.
The gauge layout echoes the minimalist theme to some extent with just a single analog-type dial. But hiding behind that is a movable display that can be configured by the driver to provide an almost endless stream of information. A 12.3-inch infotainment screen sits atop the center stack. It's bright and easy to read, but is confusing to operate and requires multiple inputs to engage even simple things like the seat heater. Thankfully, there are lots of redundant controls below the screen on the center stack, on the steering wheel and to the left of the steering wheel.
As is the case with most vehicles in this class, the front seats are extremely comfortable and offer great long-haul support. They offer lots of adjustments, are heated and cooled and are also available with a massage feature. The back seats are even more comfortable and have lots of adjustments as well as their own console to control things like the HVAC and audio system. Front or rear, passenger room is tremendous. There's even an available rear cooler box to keep your beverages from getting warm.
For a sedan, outward visibility is just OK. The roof pillars are thick and the pinched greenhouse, long nose and tall tail can create quite a few blind spots. Thankfully, an around view camera is offered. Getting in and out is easy, especially at the rear thanks to an unusually large door opening. Another plus are soft close doors.
In this class, a roomy trunk is a must and the LS offers an adequate 16.9 cubic feet of capacity, though that number shrinks to 14.1 on the hybrid model. That's on the smaller side for the class, with the M-B S-Class offering more than 18 cubic feet. Still, that's a large boot with plenty of luggage space. Interior storage isn't so great with just a few open and covered bins. The center armrest has the single, rearward-opening cover that's not quite as functional as the winged-covers that are offered in most competitors.
Bottom Line - Offering refinement, reliability and an incredibly low price, the LS shocked the luxury-car world when it was introduced back in 1989. Since then, Lexus' flagship has grown in size and price, but hasn't meandered too far from its roots. The LS is still the most comfortable and composed of the flagship sedan offerings. True, it trails its competitors from a tech and athleticism perspective, but changes starting in 2018 are beginning to bridge that gap. The LS isn't the steal-of-a-deal it once was, but it's still hard to find a luxury sedan that provides more comfort and refinement.