The LS is the sedan that launched the Lexus brand back in 1990. It has gone through a few generations since 1990, with the latest 5th generation coming out for the 2018 model year. As always, Lexus has prioritized giving the driver high levels of comfort and a luxuriously detailed interior. However in 2021 the LS is up against a series of contenders like the Audi A8, BMW 7-series, Mercedes-Benz S-class and newcomers like the Genesis G90.
Lexus has made some minor alterations to its flagship luxury sedan for 2021. The signature spindle grille, now coated in a darker finish, still dominates the front end. It is flanked by vents with a more rectangular shape, and headlights that now integrate the LED accent strip. If we flip to the rear the taillights swap chrome detailing for black trim. Lexus also adds that it is quieter inside thanks to a tweaked active-noise-cancellation system. The biggest improvement, however, comes in the form of a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, which replaces the previous display that has been a point of contention for so many years.
The days of the V8-powered Lexus LS are alas behind us, but it doesn’t really matter. The 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine does more than enough to motivate this large cruiser, sending 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels (AWD is a $3,250 upgrade). The engine is content to provide nearly no soundtrack in its normal operating range, owing in part to an extremely well isolated cabin, but liberal use of my right foot elicits a fairly aggressive growl as the revs rise. A 10-speed automatic handles gearchanges quietly and efficiently.
However, despite its F Sport designation, this is really not a sporty vehicle. Moving the dashboard-mounted mode switch to Sport or Sport Plus does have an appreciable and immediate effect; the active suspension stiffens and the throttle response wakes up, but the gear shifts remain prioritized for smoothness. A ($7,800) Dynamic Handling Package is available that adds rear-wheel steering, variable-ratio power steering and active anti-roll bars, but I don’t think the LS buyer is really looking to tick this box.
In practicality even in F Sport guise, the LS 500 is built for long, steady cruising, and it does this incredibly well. We would suggest that you leave everything in Comfort mode and let this LS hug your posterior all day. My loaner’s optional air suspension ($1,400) makes everything so smooth. It is really clear how the LS prefers to operate, and it’s also clear that Lexus has put an immense amount of effort into making this one of the smoothest rides in the segment, which is quite the tall order.
Not using a V8 also has the neat side benefit of tolerable fuel economy. My tester’s F Sport RWD setup is rated at 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, which is not too shabby for a 5,000-pound luxury sedan.
Flowing lines, intricately patterned fabrics, and rich leather upholstery fills the cabin of the LS. While luxury-forward variants of the Lexus LS let you load up the interior, my F Sport loan vehicle keeps things a little more down to earth. More importantly everywhere my hand lands feels expensive, and the build quality is top notch.
The back seats are lovely, as they should be in a car that’s for both drivers and the driven. Passenger space is as expected generous for four adults, however adding a fifth person in the standard three-across rear bench would deny passengers a true luxury experience, so we would recommend selecting the optional bucket seats. Legroom and headroom abound, and the bench itself is just as plush as the buckets up front.
The rear seatbacks are fixed, so bulky cargo items may not easily fit in the LS. The trunk, however, is generously sized at nearly 17 cubic feet, besting most of the segment.
All LS models come with Amazon Alexa, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability, navigation, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, all controlled through the aforementioned new touchscreen. That means the fussy touchpad on the center console is no longer the only way to adjust vehicle settings, switch audio sources, or set a destination in the navigation menu. The system also recognizes some voice commands. When using the system I can’t help but feel that the software is not meeting the expectations of a flagship sedan. The graphics are way behind the times and the system’s offerings fall behind offerings from Audi, Genesis and Mercedes-Benz.
In front of the driver is a gauge display, with a large central tachometer that can shuffle sideways to expand what information is being conveyed to the driver, whether it’s basic things like road speeds or more ancillary facts like fuel economy. It, too, is old, but it gets the job done. However on the newer side, the optional ($1,220) head-up display above the gauges offers a whopping 24 inches of real estate, which is more than enough to include almost every piece of information your need. One thing I always enjoy and I will never get tired of seeing in the LS, or any Lexus for that matter, is the optional Mark Levinson sound system, which on my tester costs ($1,940) and includes 23 speakers and 2,400 watts of power.
No matter the trim, every 2021 Lexus LS 500 comes with a standard suite of active and passive safety systems that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams. For an extra ($3,000) you get my loaner’s enhanced safety package that adds cross-traffic warnings at intersections, the ability to reduce adaptive cruise speed in curves and active lane-change assist. As expected, all these systems work incredibly smoothly, just keep your eyes up front and hands on the wheel and let the system guide you down the highway in total comfort.
Lexus offers longer powertrain coverage than both BMW and Mercedes, but it falls short to Genesis’s 100,000-mile coverage. A nice bonus is the maintenance is covered for one year or 10,000 miles.
In the large executive luxury sedan segment, nothing is really truly inexpensive, but the 2021 Lexus LS represents a “decent” bargain. My loaner’s starting price of $80,625 including destination rings in well below the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series, and it’s way under the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which requires a six-digit cost of entry. Nearly fully loaded, the LS on my driveway carries a window sticker of $98,630. If anything, Lexus’ biggest cause for concern is just across the Sea of Japan with Genesis and the G90. The LS is a big, attractive sedan, especially in F-Sport guise, and its design is so aggressive that it still feels modern several years after debuting. Lexus is leaning on all its strengths with the LS and it shows, now if only they could do something about that infotainment software.
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