Car reviews - Lexus - LS
Strong twin-turbo V6, ride comfort, noise insulation, Sports Luxury rear seats, unique interior design, value vs Euros
Room for improvement
Hybrid needs more grunt, fiddly touchpad, interior let down by some cheap elements
Lexus applies slight changes to classy LS sedan in bid to match premium Euro rivals
26 Feb 2021
WHEN you think of the premium upper-large sedan segment, the first models that come to mind will likely be European offerings like the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, or even the super-luxury barges like the Bentley Flying Spur or Rolls-Royce Ghost.
However the segment’s sole Japanese contender, the Lexus LS, has quietly carved itself out a niche in the segment over the years with a loyal owner base and a more affordable pricetag compared to some of its $250,000-plus segment rivals.
With some mechanical and safety kit tweaks, we took both the LS500 and LS500h out on the road to see whether it can keep up with its European counterparts.
First drive impressions
Approaching the LS, there is no mistaking the big four-door for anything but a Lexus, thanks to its swooping, angular face and long, contoured body with sharply styled head- and tail-lights.
The overall look of the LS gives it a sense of subtlety, looking sleeker and more compact compared to contemporaries like the 7 Series which seems to take up half of the road.
Moving into the cabin, the swooping, angular theme is continued with a unique design profile with a sweeping, asymmetrical dashboard headlined by a slatted air-conditioning vent arrangement that spans the width of the dash and gives the impression of a flowing wave.
The flowing impression is continued at the doors with a floating armrest and a door trim that can be customised in a range of different materials and styles, giving the impression of luxury and individual customisation.
Infotainment duties are catered for by a 12.3-inch touchscreen system, which along with an analogue clock is housed on a tablet-style screen. We would have preferred the touchscreen to have been more neatly integrated into the dash, as the stuck-on tablet look (seen on various other brands including Mercedes) just doesn’t feel as premium.
While it was not long ago that Lexus (and parent company Toyota) infotainment systems fell far behind the benchmark for resolution, functionality and processing, the newer systems found in current Lexus models are a big step forward, and the LS infotainment is no different.
Graphics are clear and operation is snappy, however the one hangover from frustrating previous Lexus systems is the frustrating and fiddly touchpad system, used to navigate the various infotainment functions.
Drag your finger too far and the ‘mouse’ is sent to the other side of the screen, and too small an input will not move the mouse at all. Thankfully the 12.3-inch screen is also touch sensitive.
While premium materials are abound in the cabin of the LS, it is also let down by a few minor details, namely the black plastic buttons on the air-conditioning buttons and drive-mode selector stalk.
While only a minor gripe, we can’t help but feel replacing the black plastic with something more premium such as a brushed-metal finish would go a long way towards increasing the opulent feel of the LS’ cabin.
As expected of a big luxury sedan, the seats are comfortable and plush with beautifully stitched leather and a range of colour options, as well as heating, ventilation and plentiful adjustment. We would have liked to have seen the chairs have a little more thigh coverage, however it is a small issue.
For owners of the $201,078 plus on-roads Sports Luxury trim level (F-Sport is priced at $195,593), the real seats begin in the second row, with the standard fitment of the brand’s opulent outboard pews that feature reclining function with ottoman, as well as heating, ventilation and massage functions.
If you are buying a car that you plan on being driven around in, there are few better-value options at the top end of town than the LS Sports Luxury, with a vast array of seat configurations and comfort options combining with the coolbox and pair of standard 11.6-inch rear-seat entertainment screens to create a luxurious chauffeured experience.
Both the F-Sport and Sports Luxury are available with two powertrains – a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 in the LS500, and a 3.5-litre V6 self-charging hybrid set-up in the LS500h.
The LS500’s turbocharged unit is tuned to produce a meaty 310kW at 6000rpm and 600Nm from a wide 1600-4800rpm, driving the rear wheels via a reworked 10-speed automatic transmission.
The more powerful LS500 is the pick of the LS engines, with a smooth and even power delivery thanks to its plentiful low-down torque and quiet, refined demeanour.
When needed, the engine can also pack a fair wallop and get the long four-door up to speed, but the real reason it is best-suited engine is it is able to deliver its power in a more relaxed and understated manner.
Lexus says around 75 per cent of LS buyers opt for the 500, and having tested it, we can see why.
On the other hand, while the more frugal of the two engine options, the 500h hybrid takes a bit more effort in getting up to speed, with its 264kW combined output requiring greater exertion from the engine compared to its turbocharged counterpart.
While Lexus and parent company Toyota have found great recent success with its portfolio of self-charging hybrid options, they are often a more attractive proposition due to having similar or even increased outputs compared to their internal-consumption counterparts.
However the 500h does not have the same advantage, despite being the more frugal of the two engines.
In the LS500h, we saw a fuel economy figure as low as 6.5 litres per 100km on a long highway run, up to around 9.5L/100km in a mix of driving scenarios.
With its increased outputs the LS500 was a bit thirstier, returning around 9.1L/100km depending on the driving situation.
One of the hallmarks of any good executive sedan is a comfortable and plush ride, and we are pleased to say the LS delivers on its brief, with a ride quality as smooth as silk and befitting a $200,000 luxury car.
Regardless of the surface, the LS glides along with minimal feedback from road surfaces, which also results in excellent noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.
Even on coarse-chip back roads, the LS does an excellent job of suppressing tyre roar, keeping the cabin hushed and insulating occupants particularly well from outside noise intrusion.
Handling is about par for the course for a luxury barge – the LS is no sportscar, but its ample power outputs and rear-drive layout still afford it a slightly sporty bent, especially in the F-Sport with the drive mode selector set to Sport S+.
Steering has a light and gentle feel, complementing the soft and relaxed ride.
The LS faces stiff competition in its segment, packed with the most technologically advanced and luxurious models its rivals have to offer.
While it may not match the all-out opulence or performance of some of its more expensive German counterparts, it does provide a pretty complete luxury sedan package at a price point that the Germans barely scrape into.
While the latest update does not move the needle a whole lot, the LS does provide a good option for those who want something different from the Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series crowd.
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