2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD Review

Damn the brand recognition


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Revisions to the front fascia look more integrated with the whole design, unique and truly special interior, great touchscreen, pricey executive package turns this into a bona fide limo.
Negatives: Infotainment controls are still imprecise, painful turbo lag, too much body roll.
Bottom Line: The LS holds its own in the luxury sedan game not by performance or big V8 power but via excellent design and high levels of build quality. If the Germans are off-putting to you, the LS makes a solid case for a premium Japanese luxury sedan.
Maybe nobody really noticed, but the big Lexus flagship sedan just got updated with new, more integrated headlamps and trim surrounds on front fascia. The LS 500 (and LS 500h hybrid) are also quieter inside thanks to the adjusted active-noise cancellation technology inside, as if it needed to be quieter. Most importantly, however, is the addition of a big 12.3-inch infotainment screen with touch capability (previous LS models were not touch-capable). The twin-turbo V6 engine is still under the hood, and the rest of the car goes pretty much unchanged. We drove it in base AWD trim (with the addition of the $18k Executive Package) for a week to see if it still had its unique charms. Read on for our detailed review.
 

Driving Experience

7.6

 

If it's a comfortable and cushy luxury steed you want, look no further. The LS 500 is a remarkably impressive big sedan that takes bumps with ease and has enough power for most people. It's also great as a high-speed cruiser. Just don't ask it to do much in the twisties.

Ride Quality: The LS is really a limo of a luxury sedan with a seriously compliant ride. Nothing seems to upset its great shock absorption.

Acceleration: 0-60 comes in 5.8 seconds, which isn't insanely quick in the segment. The BMW 740i will do it over a second quicker. Downshifts in the LS 500 are on the slow side, and the turbo lag doesn't help.

Braking: The brake pedal feel isn't really there, but it slows down well at lower speeds. At highway speeds, this lack of feel means you have to really push the brakes to come to a stop.

Steering: The steering, like most other large luxury sedan, is light and absent of feedback. Turn-in isn't immediate, either, but it will satisfy the older target market.

Handling: The body roll in non F-Sport trim is noticeable. The car weighs almost 5,000 pounds, and you feel it in the turns.

Technology

8.2

 

Lexus has struggled with infotainment for a while, and the struggle continues. They keep improving their system with better graphics, bigger screens, and more intuitive menus, but the controls are still distracting while driving. This car deserves better.

Infotainment System: The large 12.3" touchscreen is beautiful and easy to read. It's one of the best versions in the Lexus lineup. The rear touchscreen console for the Executive Package allows for control of the rear climate, seats, massage, shades, and audio. It frankly works better than the front infotainment.

Controls: Most of the controls are excellent, including climate toggles and steering wheel buttons. It's the infotainment controller we don't like. The dual-function audio knob feels great in the hand and brilliantly incorporates volume and tuning in a single knob. We love the conventional shift knob thanks to its slim profile and low height. The shift pattern, however, takes some getting used to.

Styling

9

 

The revisions to the LS 500's front end might not seem dramatic, but they do make a difference. The overall styling of the LS 500 is handsome with a swoopy and fluid look that's way different from the competition. The most noticeable aspect is the huge spindle grille, which is still polarizing. Surprisingly, the more popular BMW 7-Series now has a huge set of kidney grilles. The interior of the LS 500 is the best (and most original) execution of luxury we've seen for around six figures.

Front: To the casual observer, the front end might not seem all that different since the big grille is still the same. But the DRLs have been moved up into the main body of the headlight housing instead of beneath it. The result is a less busy front end with fewer creases. We think it looks better than before.

Rear: The back end is also subtly restyled with the removal of the chrome strips that once bisected the taillights. There's now a new chrome strip between the taillights.

Profile: The long lines are punctuated by elegant muscularity with the front and rear haunches. We also love the big dark wheels, as well as the steep rake of the front and rear glass.

Cabin: We adore the interior of the LS with its fluid lines and excellent materials quality. Leather, glass, and metal are wonderfully executed throughout, and it stands apart from the Germans nicely.

Comfort

9.6

 

There's a ton of room in front and rear, and the Executive Package makes the second row downright regal. The angled roofline makes entering and exiting a bit challenging, but it's still a remarkably accommodating interior that looks and feels pricier than it is.

Front Seats: The seats are plush but not mushy, and they're also decently bolstered. We love the premium leather quality, as well.

Rear Seats: The expensive Executive Package adds sumptuous features like Semi-Aniline leather bucket seats that match the fronts, 28-way adjustable front seats, massage functions in front and back, butterfly headrests in front and back, and a deployable ottoman. It's one vehicle where riding is better than driving.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Even at high speeds, the LS 500 is whisper-quiet. Its sublime ride is mated with a very quiet cabin.

Visibility: Visibility is good, but the steeply raked rear glass compromises rearward sightlines. The cameras are a huge help.

Climate: The system is quick, powerful, and very effective at heating and cooling. It's one of the best ones we've used.

Safety

7

 

The LS has not been crash tested by either body, but it does have a ton of standard and optional safety equipment, including automatic driving aids that work to its advantage and is expected at this price point.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The LS comes with the superb Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that includes such features as a Pre-Collision System, an adaptive cruise control system that works at all speeds, and semi-autonomous Lane Tracing Assist.

Optional Tech: The big 24" color heads-up display puts important data right in front of you, so you don't have to divert your eyes.

Storage/Cargo

9.1

 

There are some great storage options in the cabin, well done given the fact that the interior is design-centric. The trunk is massive and can hold two full-sized golf bags.

Storage Space: Though there are no open cubbies in the center stack or center console, the huge armrest and retractable-door cupholders offer plenty of concealed space for smaller items. The door pockets are good, too.

Cargo Room: The trunk is wide and deep, offering almost 17 cubic feet of cargo space.

Fuel Economy

7.3

 

The big Lexus isn't bad with fuel economy. We drove it in Sport mode 100% of the time, so our mileage did not hit the EPA estimates. If you want better efficiency, go with the LS 500h hybrid model, but it's not as good to drive as the gas-only version.

Observed: 16.3 mpg

Distance Driven: 128 miles.

Audio

9.5

 

The 23-speaker Mark Levinson system is one of the best in the business, rivaling Bang & Olufsen and Harman Kardon with rich, full sound that bathes the interior regardless of your musical tastes. The fact that it's less than $2K as an option is remarkable.



Final Thoughts

We don't love the LS 500's driving dynamics, but in a straight line, it's marvelous and plush. This is a luxury sedan that's actually well-priced compared to the Germans that cost thousands more. It doesn't command the same respect as BMW or Mercedes, but it's worthy in its own right as a comfortable big steed. We love the interior most of all, and the Executive Package is almost worth the near-$18k asking price.
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