Lexus LS500h: How Does This Hybrid Flagship Stack Up?
As a hybrid luxury sedan with executive seating, this Lexus should stand out.
Lexus has set a high bar for luxury sedan standards, and the LS flagship quietly encompasses its occupants with a fine interior and a driving experience that resembles a gentle flight above the road. In its fifth generation, the LS received the current Lexus styling language that includes its infamous front grille treatment, and introduced a new multi-stage hybrid system.
To continue the trend of electrifying several models in its lineup, Lexus gave its LS buyers a more eco-conscious option but it includes some pros and cons. In its most loaded trim level, and packed with an executive seating package, I was curious if Lexus truly delivered a flagship experience that contends in a crowded field.
The Important Specs
Lexus offers two engine options in its LS flagship, with a 416-horsepower 3.4-liter turbo V6 in the standard LS500, and hybrid setup with a 3.5-liter conventional V6 providing 295 base horsepower and 354 horsepower when the battery pack kicks in. I crave the 5.0-liter V8 that Lexus stuffs into the fantastic LC500 coupe and convertible, which I've also tested. All LS models are now standard with the long wheelbase, providing ample space for rear occupants, with a pair of executive seat options available for the ultimate driven experience.
For the standard LS500 with rear-wheel-drive, EPA estimates are 19/30/23 (city/highway/combined), and you only give up a hint of that economy by spending an extra $3,000 for all-wheel-drive. Going the greener route with the hybrid for $5,000 more, the rear-wheel-drive LS500h gets 25/33/28, and the all-wheel-drive variant's estimated fuel economy is 23/31/26.
Picking the right Lexus LS gets complicated. As you choose your powertrain, and start ticking package and interior option boxes, a base price of $75,000 can get closer to $120,000. My Atomic Silver LS500h AWD tester was about as loaded as possible, with the adaptive air suspension, forged 20-inch wheels, upgraded 2,480-watt Mark Levinson audio, and the $23,060 Executive Package with Kiriko Glass, ringing up an MSRP of $118,865.
I'm told there's an engine under there.
The Smoothest Drive To The Golf Course Awaits
Gliding over the road effortlessly, the Lexus LS500h is as refined as you'd expect from a premium sedan. Steering inputs are light, but almost disconnected from the surface beneath you. The driving experience is just as Lexus buyers expect, but I like more response, so I set up the custom drive mode to get things as sporty as possible. Even in this setup, things are still light and easy-going. I wish Lexus gave the hybrid setup a performance focus. The normal LS500 can accelerate from 0-60 MPH in 4.6 seconds, but the hybrid takes half a second longer to reach that speed, due to its extra weight and gearing that's more focused on fuel economy.
Volume of the outside world is reduced, but the Bridgestone Turanza tires are louder than I'd want on a flagship. The LS500h's air suspension allows the 5,300-lb sedan to gently move along, but there is a disconnected sensation I don't love. If you're covering a ton of highway miles, you'll appreciate not getting beaten by every groove or bump in the pavement, but I want a hint more feedback with a conventional coil suspension. Lexus plans to revise the tuning for its air suspension, so maybe that will help.
Cabin appointments are top-notch, with nice leather covering all the surfaces, smooth metal buttons on the center console, and a positive feeling from any touch control. The 28-way optional driver seat controls in the LS are nice, but the adjustments for the bolster and lumbar support are slow to react. It took a while to figure out where the massage controls were, as they're called "refresh" by Lexus, which isn't intuitive at all, and the menu is buried behind several screens and clicks. There are also no physical buttons to control the heating and ventilation for the front seats, and you have to go into a climate menu screen to find them. How did that get overlooked?
Boasting 2,480 watts, the upgraded audio system isn't up to the standards I've experienced in much more expensive cars that pack mega hi-fi setups (Naim for Bentley comes to mind), but at least the price to upgrade isn't huge. Lexus still includes a CD player in its infotainment system, which makes me laugh. Does anyone still use those?
More conventional naming for the massage system could have been applied.
Hire A Chauffeur For The Best Experience
Dropping an extra 30% of the sticker price for a back seat upgrade stings at first, but once you slide into that supple recliner and engage the massage, you'll relax. The front passenger seat goes all the way forward and folds down, so that you've got optimum visibility and legroom, and the center armrest control screen allows you to get your seat just right while dialing in the climate control and music selection. I wish Lexus included some sort of table top or tray setup in the back seat, as the armrest only has a small storage bin, and there's nowhere to be productive nor stash away your work.
I set up one memory button for a stretched out configuration, and did the other for a more normal yet comfortable seated position for being driven around. Throughout my week of testing the LS500h, my wife spent a couple days in the back being driven around, and had zero complaints. The Kiriko Glass is one of the coolest trims I've seen in a production car, but maybe save yourself $6,000 and opt for the "normal" executive seating package instead.
No fridge, sadly.
A Few Highlights
As you expect from Lexus, the fit and finish inside and out is exceptional, and there's not an imperfection to be found from the assembly team. Silver may be a boring shade of paint to some, but this Atomic Silver finish had exceptional depth, and sparkled in any light condition. Doors close with the easiest touch, make a positive sound when they click into place, and are perfectly weighted. Lexus really nails this in its cars.
Everything your hands can come into contact with--minus the infotainment trackpad--feels expensive. Stitching patterns are cool but not too imposing, with the right amount of Japanese style influencing the theme. I'll admit there are nearly a dozen different materials used throughout the cabin, but they're tastefully executed, and the hand-pleated door trim is wildly cool.
But Plenty Of Negatives
Lexus needs to step up its infotainment game, and the trackpad in this 2020 model is finally being replaced by a touchscreen in the 2021 model. The interface and menus in the Lexus Enform system are said to be sticking around, and even though that awful cursor and trackpad are going away, the software is archaic. Fortunately Apple CarPlay has been standard for a couple years now, and that's nice to use on the 12.3-inch screen. Sadly the far from intuitive gearshift that's shared with the Toyota Prius is sticking around. As is the spindle grille up front.
The hybrid drive is not great, and there's no performance gained from adding the extra battery-powered torque. Lexus should have mated this setup to the "base" LS500's 3.5-liter turbo V6 that packs 416 horsepower on its own, rather than to this 295-horsepower 3.4-liter V6. It's painfully slow off the line, and the EV mode is useless.
When you press the button to engage the EV mode, you have to be stopped, and if you use more than the slightest hint of throttle, the system will kick on the petrol engine and chime an alert to indicate the EV mode is deactivated. It's really alarming, and never was I able to truly exercise the EV-only drive because it would cut out as soon as I'd touch the gas or go over 35 MPH. The Honda CR-V hybrid I recently tested offered way more EV-only flexibility and usability, and that is a $37,000 car with a four-cylinder.
This Could Have Been Better Executed
Lexus upholds a standard for quality few can match, and there are plenty of reasons why its always topping the sales charts for luxury manufacturers. Its refinement, long-term reliability, and perception among its buyers and its peers is exceptional. In the case of the LS500, Lexus offers an objectively good flagship, but against the rivals from Germany--and even Korea, in the form of the new Genesis G90--the LS leaves a bit to be desired. As an all-new model this year, that Genesis looks legit for the money too.
As a hybrid, the LS500h isn't a big leap in economy over the standard LS, and the weight and lack of added power aren't justifying the extra $5,000. Ticking the executive seat package option box is cool for a press car, but I can't say I've ever seen someone being driven around by a chauffeur in a Lexus. That level of buyer probably hasn't ever considered a Lexus, and is more likely to be driven around in a Mercedes S-Class or something even more expensive. If you do find that the Lexus LS500 is the luxury sedan for you, stick with the standard engine package, avoid the hybrid, and forego the executive seat upgrade. At closer to $80,000, that's much easier to stomach spending on a top-tier Lexus.