2019 Lexus LS 500: A suitably cushy flagship with a polarizing visual edge
What is it: Historically, the LS is the flagship of the Lexus lineup; this is the model's fifth generation. The LS 500 is the "base" model, but it is, as you'd expect, extremely well-equipped. There's also a hybrid Lexus 500h and a sporty Lexus LS F, but all are equipped with some form of 3.5-liter V6 -- there's no higher-displacement motor available as of this writing. The car is available in rear or all-wheel drive.
Key Competitors: Cadillac CT6, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8
Base Price:$79,215 As-Tested Price: $103,635
Full review:2018 Lexus LS 500
Highlights: The LS 500 does everything you'd expect from a roomy, smooth, comfortable full-size luxury sedan, which has been true about Lexus' four-door flagship from the very start. What sets this one apart from its predecessors, and its competition, is its edgy styling inside and out.
Our Opinion: Lexus made a name for itself building unimpeachably well-engineered and well-built luxury cars that were also, let's be honest, a little bit beige. Impressive values, sure, and cool in their own normcoreway (I'd love to have a Floridian grandpa-style early 1990s LS, personally), but beige.
This LS 500 is anything but beige, probably for the first time in the model's nearly three-decade history. It checks all the requisite boxes: Power is ample and linear, though I'm surprised that you can't get anything but a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 in any of the car's three existing variants. Not that you really need it -- the the 416 hp/442 lb-ft output is plenty to make this heavy beast scoot. That Lexus hasn't take the German philosophy of more being more when it comes to trims, engines and variants is surprising. Overall, the LS 500 is wonderfully solid and heavy on the road, but in a good, bank vault sort of way. The interior is profoundly isolating and relaxing, thanks in part to the $12,270 (!) luxury package -- spendy, but totally worth it. But you'd get that solidity from any of this car's competitors.
For me, the best part about the LS 500 is that looks and feels different than the typical German offerings, especially inside. There are unique -- the good kind of unique, not the forced, pointless kind -- design flourishes everywhere in the cabin, from the flowing dash to the distinctive texture of the door cards and upholstery to things as small as the sculptural metal interior door handles. There's real attention to detail here. I dig the overall techno-teahouse effect. In fact, I'd say this is my favorite full-size luxury sedan interior on the market today.
The only think I don't like in that cabin is the infotainment system. The Lexus setup, which now features a hypersensitive touchpad thing instead of that weird square joystick nub, is inelegant and clunky. After a few days of use I began to adapt to it, and I'm sure if I only drove Lexii it would become second nature to me. I try to be sensitive to this when reviewing a car I'm in only briefly. Still, it's an unfortunate weak point in an otherwise stunning interior.
The bigger elephant (or rather, elephant-sized spindle) in the room is that freakin' grille. It's going to turn off some potential buyers right from the start; it has to be the most polarizing styling element to ever appear on the traditionally super-conservative LS since the model's initial appearance back in 1989. I'm not the biggest fan of that grille, especially when it's been grafted on to an existing Lexus. That LX 570 is really something else, for example. But the LS, and the LC coupe, are a much better home for the goofy fascia.
Actually, I'll go a step further than that: I think the grille works well with the rest of the car's styling, which I've been saying since the LF-FC concept was unveiled a few years back. This thing makes the previous LS look like a flabby jellybean. The overall effect is stronger you see it in person, so don't go just by the photos alone. You really need to check the LS, and the LC coupe, out in the sheetmetal. If you still can't abide the look after that, well, there are plenty of other fine luxury sedans on the market. I'm pleased that Lexus has decided to do something different.
--Graham Kozak, features editor
Options: Luxury Package including aniline leather interior trim, 28-way power driver and passenger seat with multifunction massage, ultrasuede headliner, power front seat buckels, heated rear seats, 18-way power reclining outboard rear seats, four-zone climate control, power side window sunshades, and 7-inch touchscreen controller ($12,270), Lexus Safety System including pre-collision warning w/active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross traffic alert, and road sign assist ($3,000), Mark Levinson 23-speaker 2,400-watt surround sound audio system ($1,940), adaptive variable air suspension with rapid height ($1,500), 20-inch split spoke alloy wheels with vapor chrome finish ($1,200), 24-inch heads-up display ($1,200), panorama glass roof ($1,000), panoramic view mirror ($800), premium wood trim ($800), heated wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel ($410), LED headlamps with adaptive front lighting system ($300)