Bringing new guns to the fight
Boy oh boy where do we start. How do you cover a car loaded with so much luxury and tech in one review? You cant. Instead we focused on standout features that are worth discussing. To fully appreciate everything the Lexus LS 500 offers, head over to your local dealer and experience one for yourself. You will not be disappointed. Now it’s time to explain/cover everything we can without writing a book about it.
The LS 500 is Lexus’s flagship sedan. It’s designed to go against the BMW 7 Series, the Audi A8, but most importantly the Mercedes S class. Without including the Mercedes S63 AMG (which is a lot of car for a lot more money), Lexus finally has the chops to compete on a performance level too. The Mercedes S 560 sedan starts at $100k, whereas the Lexus LS 500 F Sport starts at $81,200. Here’s where it get’s interesting…
Lexus LS 500 F Sport ($81,200)
- 416 HP, 442 lb-ft torque, 3.5L Twin-Turbo V6
- 0-60 in 4.6 seconds
- 19 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 23 combined
- 4707 lbs curb weight
Mercedes S560 ($100k)
- 463 HP, 516 lb-ft torque, Twin-Turbo 4.0L V8
- 0-60 in 4.6 seconds
- 17 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, 21 combined
- 4630 lbs curb weight
Lexus LS 500h Hybrid (our review car, starts at $79,710, as equipped at $104k)
- 354 total system HP, 3.5L V6 with electric motors
- 0-60 in 5.1 seconds
- 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, 28 mpg combined
- 4850 lbs curb weight
So how does a heavier, less powerful Lexus keep up with the Mercedes S560? Germans typically underrate their engine output, so I’m honestly quite surprised. Perhaps it’s the new 10 speed transmission that comes standard on the LS. Lots of short/fast firing gears will certainly make an impact. It also says a lot about the efficiency of the new drivetrain, which bests both variants of the S class in fuel economy. Say what you will about prior generation performance, but the new Lexus LS has everything it takes to compete with or even best most of its German rivals in performance. When you factor in vehicle cost the Lexus actually has better performance per dollar than the Germans, which is something prior F variant vehicles could not boast. Then consider that the LS Hybrid is no slouch and gets roughly 30% better fuel efficiency and you can see why I like the hybrid variant so much. Let’s also not forget the 600 mile range per tank that the hybrid provides. The Lexus LS has also shown better performance in the handling and braking department as well, by both stopping in shorter distances and averaging higher G’s on the skidpad when compared to the Mercedes S560.
Leather everywhere, wood, a welcoming cockpit, just pure luxury. Every inch has attention to detail down to the quality of leather stitching, the texture on something so simple as a volume knob, and the placement of everything feels damn near perfect. The 28-way adjustable front seats are wrapped with with stunning leather with varying stitching patterns to further enforce the attention to detail and quality. Decompress to and from your destination by activating the Shiatsu massage (legit full massage on your back), engage the seat heater or ventilation, and even warm your hands with the heated steering well. That wheel is also wrapped with hand-stitched leather and matching trim to the rest of the interior. Paddle shifters are there if you’re feeling sporty, otherwise let the car control its wonderful 10-speed gearbox as you set off in comfort mode.
Both the front and rear seats offer heating and ventilation, but only certain packages grant you the Shiatsu massage. The Executive package (a $17k add-on) gives you butterfly power-retractable front and rear headrests, 22-way power rear seats with memory, multi-function massage with heat, rear passenger side ottoman, a center touch screen for rear occupants and more. If you have the hybrid model, the only way to get rear massage seats is to purchase the Executive package with Kiriko glass (a $23k upgrade). The Kiriko Glass package is a very unique look, something that I haven’t seen on any car before. It has hand-pleated interior trim (the most gorgeous part in my opinion) with door trim containing actual polished glass. It sounds weird, but you kind of have to see it in person to appreciate the detail. If you plan on having rear seat occupants, the Executive package is a must-buy in my opinion. There are simply so many things included that significantly increases comfort and luxury it’s almost a different vehicle for the rear.
The Mark Levinson sound system is superb with 23 speakers, 16 channels, and 2,400 watts. The staging is what really sets this apart from the base audio system. The virtual center stage is incredible with the full spectrum of sound gracefully hitting your ear drums. Strong mids and lows demonstrate how much power is really there regardless of volume. I feel that the rear passengers get a better sound experience than any car I can recall sitting in. The typical speaker placement on the rear decklid and doors is there, but you also get speakers above you in the headliner. You also get your own mirrors and reading lights but that’s another discussion. The benefit of having speakers in front and above you while you sit in the back is experiencing a higher stage of sound. It’s almost as if you’re sitting up front when you compare to other premium sound systems. This insures your VIP passengers don’t get screwed in the audio department. All of this staging is due to the work of audio engineers perfecting something they call “Quantum Logic Immersion”. Regardless of the name or their goal of developing a benchmark system for the next 10 years, it sounds incredible. The Executive package also grants rear passengers the ability to select their music, change the volume, seat comfort, rear privacy shades and more. If you’re a control freak, you can disable rear seat control from the front infotainment system. The 2019 LS gets the Alexa and Apple Car Play functionality, but I was not able to test this on my 2018 model. Smart technologies for mobile devices is a must on a new car and is certainly worth opting for the 2019 model for this feature alone.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to explain about this car is the way it communicates with you. Typically, true luxury sedans are designed to isolate you from the road as much as possible. Noise, bumps, nuances in weather, etc. All of this shouldn’t impact how you commute from one location to the next. What the Lexus does so brilliantly, is communicate the smallest detail of what’s going on in the road without ruining what would otherwise be a perfectly luxurious ride. The tiniest feedback from the road is always present which somehow connects the driver to the road without ruining the isolation we want from a luxury car. It’s a miraculous feat of engineering. I feel like I know what the car is doing, what I am doing, at all times. It installs extra confidence in the driver, and an appreciation for what’s going on around you. In the F Sport, active sway bars disconnect at low speeds to enhance road isolation, while reengaging at speed to give you the cornering ability you demand. The variable (and optional) air suspension with 650 damper levels copes with imperfections on the road and raises the vehicle up to make getting in and out even easier. Changing from comfort to Sport + makes a dramatic impact on your ride experience. Road noise is exceptionally low which is to be expected from a car in this class and price range.
All Lexus LS’s have incredible braking performance and the F Sport performance package adds to that. The F Sport features 15.7″ front rotors with six-piston calipers with enhanced cooling. The performance package adds active stabilizers, variable ratio steering, and rear-active steering on top of the brakes. If you fancy a large luxury sedan that likes being pushed closer to the limit from time to time, that package is for you.
I had the LS 500h so although there wasn’t a performance package on it, I felt like the car has a natural capability on the road. Part of that comes from sharing a similar platform to the LC 500, which is Lexus’s latest flagship coup. The car is naturally flat on the corners with some body roll due to the weight and softness of the suspension. Brake response is excellent and the pedal has a soft progression to it. Putting your foot down on the gas never translates into jerky acceleration. Instead the car rolls up to speed almost like an airliner when throttling up its turbines for takeoff. If you haven’t noticed a theme yet, here it is: Smooth. Everything about this car meets or exceeds expectations when driven and I think they knocked it out of the park when it comes to driving characteristics.
I find myself talking less and less about the exterior of vehicles because I think the one purchasing the car has the ultimate say on what looks good to them. We all have different opinions which is great and what makes the car landscape so diverse. I will say that Lexus continues to refine the often discussed front grille. The LS is no exception and because the LS is such a large sedan, the large front grille feels more at home and in harmony with the rest of the car. The LED headlights have a lot of detail, and project on the side of the road when making a sharp turn. The chrome accents on the side view mirrors brings in some welcome detail on such a large landscape of metal. Even the hybrid model looks aggressive, if not almost menacing when viewing it head on. The rear is a bit more simple and restrained, but you still get all the integrated “Ls” that Lexus loves to incorporate throughout the vehicle’s design. The taillights have an array of Ls inside it, with a chrome reflector coming down which looks like an L. The exhaust is hidden under the bumper on the hybrid so the restrained design continues from top to bottom. I think this design is smart because the LS is going to age very well. If you design a car too extreme from the ordinary, it tends to stand out in the wrong way as time presses on. I think for what segment the LS is designed to address, they made a lot of wise decisions.
I’m glad they added Amazon Alexa and Apple Car Play to the 2019 model. It was a bit of a sore spot on the 2018 and I think it helps address any technical shortcomings Lexus had to its rivals. I only had one real gripe with the LS and that was the lack of dedicated climate control buttons for the front seats. There is a seat climate button near the center arm rest, but you then need to interact with the infotainment system to make any changes to it. While I like this ability, I wish they had dedicated buttons for at least the driver to adjust heating/ventilation without the distraction of navigating through the infotainment system. Aside from this, and the odd placement of the 12v socket inside the cupholders, I think they made an amazing car.
The LS has everything you want from a Luxury car, with Lexus build quality. It has an exceptionally stiff chassis so it handles well, while still giving you great performance, efficiency, and handling whenever you ask for it. Personally, I would pick the hybrid model with the Executive package (with Kiriko Glass) and Mark Levinson surround system. If you like additional safety features, consider adding the Lexus Safety System+ A ($3000) which adds radar cruise control, pre-collision detection with Front Cross-Traffic Alert, Active Steering Assist, Heads-Up Display, and more. As much as I love the performance options of the Ls 500 with the twin-turbo V6 and F Sport package, I think this is one of those rare occasions where the hybrid makes more sense.