2021 Lexus LS 500h – Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Ultra-Luxe with A Social Conscience
Photos and Story By DAVID COLMAN
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Lexus currently manufactures 10 different models. Base prices range from $32,300 to over $100,000. The flagship of the fleet has always been the LS 500, the company’s super luxurious business express. The current LS line-up includes 3 distinct versions, the 500, the 500h (Hybrid), and the 500 F Sport. We spent a week sampling the LS 500h, which carries a base price of $90,500. An extra $3,000 gets you the Lexus Safety System+ which consists of pre-collision with active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian and front cross traffic alert and lane change assist. It should be noted that this grouping of attributes is included as standard fare on many sedans costing $60,000 less than the LS 500h. Another $9,000 for the Luxury Package helped boost the final tally of our test vehicle to $104,965, placing it atop the company’s price pecking order. The Luxury Package, unlike the Safety System+, consists of specialty features not found on other sedans in any price range. The prime attractions here are the 28-way power driver and passenger seats “with multifunction massage.” In addition, rear seat passengers are treated to 18-way power reclining seats with memory and their own 7” touchscreen controller. A “4 Zone Climate Concierge” looks after the temperate welfare of all occupants in an LS 500 equipped with the Luxury Package.
Due to its size and weight, this Lexus is not so much a driver’s car as it is a chauffeur’s steed. With a curb weight exceeding two and a half tons (5,170 pounds), this long wheelbase (123 inch) limousine loves to travel fast in a straight line. Deviating from that trajectory produces some resistance. Approach a sharp turn too fast and you will find yourself dialing in a lot of last second steering lock as the LS 500h completes the directional pivot. As long as you’re prepared for such a maneuver, this Lexus acquits itself with remarkable composure on back roads. The sizeable Bridgestone Turanza EL 450 radials (245/45R20) never lose their grip nor issue so much as a peep of breakaway warning. This sedan’s reputable back road behavior is partly attributable to its sophisticated “Adaptive Variable Suspension” which utilizes an air system to configure ride height to road surface variations. There’s even a height control button on the center console which Lexus calls the “Rapid Height Function.” This innovation allows you to regulate the suspension height of the LS according to its passenger and baggage load.
When Lexus introduced the current fifth generation LS sedan back in 2018, they eliminated the previously standard 4.6-liter V8, which had been offered in three states of tune (360hp, 386hp and 438hp). Supplanting that enticing but fuel inefficient V8 is a turbocharged 3.5- liter V6 engine producing 416hp. From a performance standpoint, the turbo V6 is a fair replacement for the departed 438hp V8, despite the 600-pound weight penalty gained by the current LS compared to its immediate predecessor. Unfortunately, if you select the Hybrid LS, the power to weight discrepancy grows even more. The LS 500h, with its extra electrical gear and battery pack weighs even more than the V6 Turbo, yet its combined hybrid output of 354hp shortfalls the V6 Turbo by 62hp.
If you run the numbers of previous and present versions of the LS, the figures work out as follows: The previous LS with top echelon 438hp V8 offered a power-to-weight ratio of 10.30lb/hp. The current model LS V6 Turbo stands close at 12.42lb/hp. The hybrid we tested comes in at 14.6lb/hp. This descending differential in performance became immediately apparent when we flattened the accelerator of the LS 500h on a two lane back road in an effort to pass a semi-truck travelling 55mph. The LS, even in Sport Mode setting, took a disarmingly long time to muster enough speed to clear the big rig before the passing lane ended. Unlike its V8 forebear, the hybrid is not a quarter mile acceleration champion.
However, in its defense, it must be noted that the Hybrid scores exceptionally high merit points for its fuel economy, which borders on miraculous. With an overall rating of 28MPG, this Lexus scores an impressive 6 out of 10 on the Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating Scale, and an even more meritorious 7 of 10 on the tailpipe Smog Rating Scale. So, there’s no reason to hide from Tesla owners when greenie points are tallied up. And to be sure, this splendidly appointed Lexus is finished with the kind of care and attention to detail Tesla drivers will never experience in their wildest dreams. The quilted stitch perforated semi-aniline leather seats are works of the tailor’s art. Likewise, the artfully sewn door panels, with their converging sweeps of streamlined strakes, look like they belong on the wall of the museum of modern art. Even the delicate honeycombed speaker grills for Mark Levinson’s amazing 23 speaker, 2,400 watt “Immersion Reference Surround Sound Audio System” are finished with a panache that lets you appreciate appearance as well as sound quality.
Without question, the LS 500h is a stellar way to spend your road time. It cossets you and your psyche in unimaginable ways. When you hear the closing thunk of its massive door, you know you’ve encapsulated yourself in a very special travel chamber. While it may lack the sheer gallop of its more powerful stablemates, the LS 500h makes up for its acceleration deficiencies with a stupendous travel range of more than 600 miles per tank of fuel.
2021 LEXUS LS 500h
ENGINE: 3.5-liter V6 with Lexus Multistage Hybrid System
FUEL ECONOMY: 25MPG City/33MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $104,965
HYPES: Ultra-Luxe with A Social Conscience
GRIPES: Lacking Straight Line Suds
STAR RATING: 9.5 Stars out of 10