A supreme luxury car for those who have a hundred grand to burn and want to hurt the environment a little less.
As with my 2020 RAV4 TRD and 2020 CX-30 reviews, I had this Lexus for a week while the country was on lockdown during the Coronavirus/Covid-19 global pandemic. As a member of the media I am exempt from stay-at-home orders, but I did take precautions. Vehicles are dropped off in my driveway, and the deliverer and I never come into contact.
At $98,885 the 2020 Lexus LS 500h, h standing for hybrid, is a curious vehicle. Some seem to be confused as to why Lexus even bothered, while others like the looks, but can’t get past the price tag. After-all, Lexus have prided themselves on being the affordable and reliable luxury option when compared to rivals from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. That doesn’t mean the Lexus isn’t worth the money, or doesn’t have what it takes to compete against its German frenemies.
I’ll be honest, I think, for the most part, the Lexus LS 500h looks the business, albeit with some definite orange peel in its paint. My tester was painted in the beautiful Nightfall Mica with Parchment leather and Open-Pore Brown Walnut trim. This is the stuff of a Monaco millionaire, and in some ways I felt it. When I first saw the LSh in my driveway I thought, “Meh, that’s a dull color.” I thought it was just like a purplish black. It was rainy, dreary, and not a great looking day outside. However, when the sun came out the color absolutely popped and looked every bit of luxury and sexy. Many are put off by the front end, but it started to grow on me towards the end. I don’t think it’s “pretty” per se, but I think it’s at least unique and becomes better looking the more you see it.
The base price of the LS 500h with rear-wheel drive is $80,010, and $83,230 with all-wheel drive. The LSh comes with an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6, 295 hp, 258 lb-ft; permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors, 177 hp, 221 lb-ft; combined output, 354 hp; 1.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Transmission of choice is a CVT, with a 4-speed automatic bolted to that CVT. This makes for quite possibly the weirdest transmission I’ve ever used after the original Smart ForTwo’s automatic that felt like a badly shifted manual gearbox. Lexus have made the two gearboxes work together to show 10 speeds when in manual mode, and to kind of act like a 10-speed automatic. At this point you’re going to ask, “Why not just add a 10-speed automatic?” Well, CVTs are better for fuel mileage… but I don’t think it would truly hurt the fuel economy that much. More on the gearbox later.
The LS 500h gets a respectable 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, respectively, with a combined average of 26 mpg. A rear-wheel drive LS 500h achieves 25 city and 33 highway, with a combined average of 28 mpg. The standard LS 500 with all-wheel drive is able to get 18 and 27, respectively and 21 mpg combined.
My test car came with a whopping $14,680 worth of options. This included a $2,800 Lexus Safety System+, which features pre-collision with active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross traffic alert, and lane-change assist; $1,500 for adaptive variable air suspension; 20-inch wheels for $1,200; a 24” heads-up display runs $1,200, also; $300 for LED headlights with adaptive front lights; $3,730 for the Interior Upgrade Package that features quilted-stitch perforated semi-aniline leather interior trim, 2-way power driver’s seat with multifunction massage, ultrasuede headliner, over front seat buckles, and heated rear seats; A must-have 23-speaker, 2,400-watt Mark Levinson Quantum Logic sound system; $800 for a panoramic view monitor; premium wood trim costing $800; and finally $410 for a heated wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Opening any door on the LS hybrid yields an inviting experience to sit and relax. With how comfortable the car is you forget that you actually need to put it in gear to get moving. Comfort is wonderful; it’s luxury to the nth degree. The interior is nice, with a ton of classy materials that look and feel good, including suede on the doors. The door armrests appear to be floating, and it looks absolutely stellar. The right rear passenger is able to control the front passenger’s seat, both forward and back, and it’s a very nice touch in a car that doesn’t have a more expensive badge. This feature isn’t anything new in a Lexus LS, but my parents have had a 2015 and 2019 750Li and 750i (in North America all 7s are long wheelbase as of 2018), and neither of them have had this feature, while both had an MSRP above my press LSh. So, again, it’s a welcome option here. Oh, and a really weird but excellent feature: the front belt buckles light up when you open the door. Interior lighting overall is soft and quite wonderful. Trunk space is a healthy 15.185 cubic feet without a rear cooler, and 14.126 with. A little is lost due to the hybrid system. The non-hybrid LS has a trunk capacity of 16.95 cu ft.
Whether you are closing the doors from the inside or outside, the soft-close feature could be a little quicker to react. You almost start to grab the handle to re-close the door when the system takes over.
A quick weird thing I noticed was front seat cooling system can sound like sirens in the distance when coming to a stop. Also, the front passenger seat’s butt area is shorter than the driver’s. You can set the driver seat to give your knees some support, but the passenger has a lot of empty space between the seat and the back of your knees.
Technology in the Lexus LS is nice, except for the horrible infotainment system. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse at this point, because I know this will finally be changed within a couple of years. But it must be said that driving and attempting to operate the infotainment system without spending a while familiarizing yourself with all how it works can be dangerous. Just plug your phone in to use Apple CarPlay and don’t worry about anything else. Control everything from your phone. The less you have to use the touchpad the better. Although the volume and tuning knobs being part of one stalk under the radio is genius. Also, like I complained about in my RAV4 TRD review, the cameras are nothing special, and not even as clear as what Mazda have put in their CX-30 I recently reviewed. For nearly 100-grand, this needs to be changed ASAP. You can, however, change the color of the LS that appears in the 3D surround camera view, which is kind of cool.
Once you are buckled into the seat and ready to go for a drive, you’ll grab the steering wheel and then the shifter to put it into reverse. The shifter is not intuitive and takes a second to get used to. It’s almost like an old SMG from BMW. You pull the shifter towards you, then push it forward to engage reverse. Then you pull it towards you again and pull back for drive. Pulling straight back again engages manual mode. You definitely get used to it, and it’s not a burden once you drive it for a few days, but it is certainly weird. Once you grab hold of the steering wheel you’ll feel a comfortable leather surface with light but pretty direct steering. The Shrek ears on the dash on either side of the top of the wheel are interesting. You get used to them, and you start to forget they’re there. Yes, they’re weird. But, I don’t think I could imagine them being any other place. As awkward as they are placed, they serve a purpose. Although on a hybrid luxury cruiser I find it difficult to see the need for Sport or Sport+. But, it’s there if you want it.
In sportier driving the all-wheel drive system helps the LS 500h to feel planted and unwilling to give up. That being said, this is by no means a sporty car. Handling is good, but not great, as it the LS 500h with all-wheel drive and air suspension weighs in at 5,104 lbs. Lexus say the LS 500h will hit 60 mph in 5.2-seconds, and I have no reason to doubt that. Judging by my ass o’meter, I’d say a low to mid-5 second 0-60 is doable in most situations. I feel in some corners you need to adjust your steering input mid-corner to keep the front wheels on the apex. I doubt you’ll be driving as hard as I was trying to scare this Lexus, though. It’s weird, even in Eco mode, the car seems to predict or monitor upcoming corners, and will actually “downshift” to keep the revs up as you’re cornering. It’s cool, but freaky that it knows what to do before you touch the brakes. Oh, and because I use cruise control a ton, the LS’s system works all the way down to 18 mph.
Sometimes the hybrid and gas motors stutter not knowing which to use when crawling from a stop. And then when you’re just driving along, the performance of the hybrid and gas motors seems fine and ample. But then when you want to get moving, it feels slow to respond.
The LSh has decent power delivery, but the CVT/4-speed auto tries to act like a dual-clutch, and it keeps revs too high between shifts, stripping you of any power and torque build-up. Instead it just rattles off shifts, but each gear starts spinning from 5,000 rpm to a redline of 6,500. It doesn’t add up. So instead of the car feeling powerful, it just feels awkward with no major forward momentum.
There is one thing I can’t get over after the Lexus was picked up: the Mark Levinson sound system is probably the best I’ve ever heard. I have a playlist of music I play while I’m driving that ranges from classic rock, blues, classic R&B, rap, and live music. When listening to “Miami 2017” by Billy Joel live at MSG for 12-12-12, the concert for Hurricane Sandy Relief, at any volume it’s amazing. But, at full volume it is impeccable. Jesus, I felt like I was at Madison Square Garden listening to Billy play it live. I’ve been to MSG once to see Eric Clapton in September of 2017. Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark, Jr opened for him, and then came out to perform a couple of tracks as an encore. The sound is literally perfect. Any seat you sit in the audio is crystal clear, you can hear every word being spoken or sung, every note played, and feel each beat. The Mark Levinson sound system has that exact same feeling. This is the best concert hall inside your car.
The day before Lexus came to pick the LS 500h up I had to drive two hours out of town to help my parents with something. When I got to my destination I realized that I still had the keys to the friggin’ car that was being picked up the following morning. So, at about 10-10:30 I made the two hour journey back home. I went to bed and woke up at around 7:30 to do the same damn two hour drive once more. This trip was done in my mom’s 2019 BMW 750i M-Sport. A roughly $115,000 MSRP car. So I spent six hours in that car in less than 24 hours after spending a week in the Lexus I came to the conclusion that if I were mainly driving on the highway with very few back roads, give me the Lexus LS 500h all day, every day. It’s more comfortable, a better cruiser, and the driver assist features are far less intrusive. Where the BMW wants to yank the control from your fingertips when it thinks you’re doing something wrong, the Lexus gives a subtle nudge and reminder of what you should be doing.
Driving the LS I have the feeling that 20 years from now, if compared to a 2020 BMW 750i or Mercedes-Benz S550, the Lexus will have a much lower maintenance cost over that time. As a luxury car, this is brilliant. If you don’t have to touch the terrible infotainment system, which luckily for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto you don’t have to interact with it much, and the “meh” hybrid powertrain, then you will absolutely love this. But if you’re looking for luxury and performance at a bargain price, save a few bucks and get the “regular” LS 500 with all-wheel drive. I haven’t driven it, but I can pretty much guarantee it’s great. Oh, and how many times do I have to review a Toyota and say it has a button to release the fuel door? Come on, let’s move past that now, please.