By Shari Prymak
The original LS luxury sedan which helped launch the Lexus brand way back in 1989 was a groundbreaking achievement. Its outstanding refinement, quality, and craftsmanship were so far ahead of the time that it forced the leading luxury brands, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, to go back to their drawing boards. The world has come a long way since then and flagship luxury sedans no longer hold the same level of relevance that they once did. Despite a stronger focus on SUVs and crossovers, Lexus continues to stay true to its roots and carry the LS along into a new generation.
Although it might not appear immediately obvious based on its understated design, the LS 500 is every bit the luxury flagship to Lexus as the S-Class is to Mercedes or the 7-Series is to BMW. It is a properly large sedan with a decent amount of road presence. Aside from a few eye-catching details such as the massive spindle front grille, the LS takes a more subdued approach to luxury. The theme continues to focus on quality more so than design, which is something that the more conservative buyer might appreciate.
Open the door and the LS certainly wows with a few unique styling details. Instead of the typical wood trim, the door panels are covered in a pleated origami-pattern fabric combined with kiriko glass panels with cast etching that looks quite striking. The rest of the interior is covered in the finest leather and trim materials with outstanding fit and finish. Despite the lengthy features list, the control setup is surprisingly straightforward with just enough traditional buttons and knobs for common tasks. The touchscreen infotainment system is responsive and functional, but the graphics are definitely well behind the best in this class. Still, there is a welcomed approachability here that don’t find in the more tech-heavy rivals.
The 28-way adjustable front seats are soft and wonderfully supportive with wide range of massage settings to help soothe occupants. If comfort is the goal, however, then the back seats of the Executive Package-equipped LS are where you will want to spend time. A centre armrest folds down to reveal a touchscreen which is used to control everything from the sunshades, sunroof, climate, and the 22-way electrically-adjustable heated and ventilated seats with their own range of massage modes. Admittedly, rear seat legroom and headroom could be a bit more generous. Even with the front passenger seat moved up and the ottoman extended, I still struggled to stretch out as comfortably as I would want.
When it comes to the driving experience though, there’s no question that Lexus spared no expense. Despite its substantial size and heft, the LS 500 handles with surprising poise and balance. The highlight, however, is the outstandingly supple ride and noise isolation which keep riders in a state of spa-like relaxation. Where other luxury sedans take a jab at sport sedan dynamism, the LS 500 maintains a razor sharp focus on top-notch refinement and comfort.
Whereas every generation of LS has relied on a traditional V8 engine, the latest version makes use of a twin-turbocharged 3.4L V6 matched to a 10-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. The engine produces 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to strong, effortless power delivery. For those who prefer a more modern electrified option, the LS also offers a hybrid-electric drivetrain in the LS 500h.
Admittedly, the LS 500 is a relatively hard sell at its loaded MSRP of $130,400, or even its starting price of $104,750 before options. A comparable Mercedes S 500 4MATIC or BMW 750i xDrive would be tough to pass on, even if they command an even higher price. For far less money than the LS, one could also have a Genesis G90 which, aside from some of the fancy trim and rear seat toys, gives up very little to the Lexus. Still, those who appreciate the LS 500 for what it offers and what it represents should be perfectly satisfied. It remains a triumph of luxury and craftsmanship, and is a worthy flagship for the Lexus brand.