Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 17, 2021
We’ve never driven a Lexus LS, oddly enough. When it first debuted in 1990, it set the standard for luxury sedans. So you can only imagine how eager we have been to experience Lexus’ somewhat underappreciated flagship, posing as a mild but noteworthy threat to the widely accepted kings of the segment: the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8. The LS also sits in the crosshairs of other off-the-radar competitors like the Genesis G90 and Jaguar XJ.
Adopting the spindle grill that Lexus has fitted onto all their vehicles, the LS isn’t immediately distinctive from the rest of the cattle, blending in with the IS and ES Sedans. The only visual feature that really gives it away is the stretched-out wheelbase and unique taillights that deliver a bold light signature. An F Sport trim with a more aggressive body kit is available should you prefer a bolder look without the chrome elements. The exclusive paint called Silver Illusion, as shown in our photographs, is another stand out element. It’s a beautiful shade of silver that splits the difference between a metallic and matte finish, and is absolutely stunning in person.
But it’s the interior that steals the show with a clean dashboard, roomy seats, and an ergonomically sound design. It may look like every other Lexus interior with its familiar steering wheel and Frankenstein-style bolts budding out of the instrument binnacle, but once you touch and feel the upholstery, you will begin to realize why Lexus charges over $100,000. The leather is creamy soft, the stitching is artful, and the fit and finish is impeccable. There’s even felt carpet padding along the footwell. For 2021, Lexus have beefed up the armrests, seat cushions, and center console padding with more foam material for a softer feel. They have even tinkered with the seat springs and added thicker cushions for better occupant comfort.
But the real gem of the LS 500 is the optional Kiriko Cut Glass Trim ($5,600), which not only adds a handful of creature comforts and modern amenities but it illustrates, and I’ll quote Lexus’ press release, ‘innovative elegance through Japanese craftsmanship’. What they’re referring to is the glass panel flanking the door handles, which draws inspiration from origami and Japanese Kiriko glassware. They look spectacularly upscale, complimented by the fabric door trim shaped like a bird’s feathers and are folded up like a tablecloth at an upscale restaurant, and add a similarly grand gesture to the Rolls-Royce Phantom’s Gallery. Would have been nice to see some underlighting for the glass panel for night time theatrics, but it otherwise successfully augments the natural flow of the dashboard. The cabin is further highlighted by the metal bands that flow from the sides of the dashboard into the air vents, mimicking a harp’s strings, and looks eerily similar to the Maybach’s pinstripe dashboard. While lacking in Mercedes’ gadgets and gizmos, it’s safe to say that this is the classiest interior in the segment.
The instrument cluster is fully digital, and there is a new 12.3-inch center touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as smartphone connectivity that lets you start the car’s engine and engage the door locks all via the Lexus app. The infotainment unit with its accompanying trackpad is still infuriating to use despite our numerous attempts at getting past its learning curve. The good news is that Lexus have finally integrated it to be a touchscreen, so you can skip the trackpad entirely and just poke your way through the settings. The screen isn’t situated very far from the seats either, offering easy access. There are a few dedicated shortcut buttons along the center console too, so you can select your seat functions without diving into the confusing sub-menus.
Luckily, these connectivity setbacks do not detract us away from the otherwise sensational interior, especially in this Crimson Red and Black leather trim. If the S-Class is a juicy filet mignon, then the LS is a fresh slice of bluefin tuna. Furthermore, the Lexus is equipped with what are possibly the most potent massaging seats ever fitted into an automobile, as it’s the only one that has made me flinch due to its unexpected kneading strength. Mercedes’ and BMW’s systems pale in comparison. The rear seats are even better, replete with electrically operated sunshades, their own sunroof partition, a center console housing a touchscreen for cabin functionality, and lie-flat seats with a raisable footrest. The only amenities we notice missing are an optional fridge compartment and fold-out picnic tables. Problems for the 1%.
Despite the -500 series moniker, the LS does not utilize a V8 engine with 500 horsepower. What lies under the hood instead is a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 that produces 416 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive comes standard. This is actually the brand’s first twin-turbo V6, and we have a feeling that it will soon replace their naturally aspirated V8. We adore this engine’s gentle power delivery, quiet operation, and meaty low-range torque. It’s no V8 but we can hardly detect that it’s turbocharged due to the lag-free launches and linear buildup. The 10-speed gearbox is nicely dialed in and gets the LS 500 up to speed without much drama, from 0-100 km/h in a respectable 4.9 seconds, the same as the Mercedes-Benz S 500, though slower than both the Audi A8 L and BMW 750Li. The LS 500 is far from athletic, and you can tell it’s a heavy unit the moment you press the gas pedal, but the powertrain is incredibly polished and graceful, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in a focused luxury sedan.
Of note, Lexus does offer a hybrid model, the LS 500h, catered towards those who prefer to save fuel and look good doing so. The hybrid uses a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 mated with two electric motors and a lithium ion battery, good for 354 hp and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.5 seconds.
For a luxury sedan so focused on comfort, the LS does not hold a candle to the road compliance and mannerisms of an S-Class or 7 Series. Under the skin, this 2021 Lexus LS sits on the same foundational structure as the 2018 model, but with a great deal of fine-tuning to the springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, and steering, to offer the maximum comfort and road stability, but there’s a sense of underlying firmness that jitters the chassis when the dampers bottom out. Though the air suspension is effective at muting the majority of vertical motions, it lacks that desired hovering effect over the road. Granted, our test vehicle was still wearing winter rubber, and I have a feeling that with performance summer tires, the ride will fare slightly better. Comfortable, yes. Completely isolated from the road? I’m afraid not. Just goes to show the kind of perfection we now expect from a top-tier luxury sedan, and how high the S-Class has set the bar.
The goal of a full-size luxury sedan is simple: execute a clean, comfortable, and smooth drive while pampering occupants with a first-class cabin brimming with all the latest tech, gadgets, and gizmos. The Lexus LS 500 achieves that goal, but why isn’t it class-leading or a popular choice for the global elite? Simple. People don’t flock to Lexus to buy an LS. They go to buy the RX. Same for Mercedes. They’re known for the S-Class, and have built their luxury reputation on that foundation alone, and not for the awkward GLC and GLE Coupes you see lying around their dealerships. Yes, the LS 500 flies under the radar not just in traffic but in buyer’s shopping lists, but it also stands out with meticulous craftsmanship, impeccable attention to detail, and massaging seats that can cure arthritis. It’s not a top-tier choice for executive sedans, nor is it the most comfortable, but it’s still wonderfully unique and deserves a serious look.
Model: 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD Executive
Paint Type: Silver Illusion
Base Price: $104,750
Price as Tested: $139,350
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,235 / 1,900 / 1,460
Curb weight (kg): 2,225
Engine: 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6
Horsepower: 416 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 442 lb-ft
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.8 / 8.7 / 11.1
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.1
Tires: P245/45R20; Bridgestone Blizzak