Over thirty years ago, the thought of a Japanese automaker taking on the European luxury crowd seemed improbable. But along came Lexus, and it reshaped the luxury car market. When they arrived on the scene in 1989, it caused such a stir that the competition lost a chunk of their sales in North America. The car that gave the Germans, the British, and the Americans a scare was none other than the first-generation LS.
Since then, the LS set the foundation of every Lexus model that followed. Be it the IS or the LX, every Lexus model has a bit of LS DNA in them, especially when it comes to comfort, quality, and refinement. Over the years, the LS has established itself as a threat to the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. That said, it was viewed as a rather conservative choice in its class, largely due to its design.
So when Lexus redesigned the LS in 2018, it was quite a shock. Gone was the stately, upright look and replaced by a swoopy and rakish exterior. You could even say it was controversial. When we first drove in three years ago, we found that underneath the edgy exterior was a plush, leather-lined comfortable cruiser just like its predecessors.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Japanese automaker gave it a bit of an update. They made a few styling tweaks, as well as software and hardware upgrades. Being the flagship of the sedan range this should be the best four-door they have to offer. It's time to see if that's the case.
What we have here is the hybrid version, the LS 500h Premier. At first glance, you won't know that it's assisted by an electric motor. If anything, it keeps its green credentials on the down-low. The only clues here are the hybrid badges on the rear door, the “H” on the trunk lid, and the blue Lexus badges.
Lexus also toned down the exterior by a notch or two. They dropped the slashy Z-shaped headlights for a slightly more conventional look. The bumpers were rounded off a little bit for the 2021 facelift. That doesn't mean the car looks bland now. It still looks as striking as it did in 2018, thanks in part to that massive grille. Speaking of the grille, it's still one of the talking points of the LS. Say what you want about it, whether positive or negative, it's done its job: you talked about it. On a big car like this though, it seems to wear it quite well. After all, this is a flagship sedan, and these things require more road presence.
As for the rest of the body, it carries over largely unchanged. It has soft, gentle curves on the flanks but it's complemented by rakish angles on some parts. If this car had brighter paint, you'll see more of that. At the back, it follows the tone set by the front end. It looks just as bold and aggressive back there. Nobody would call that a conservative look, especially with those curves on the trunk lid and those distinct taillights. All in all, you'll either love it or hate it, but you have to give props to Lexus for putting a ton of effort into it.
In normal cars, interiors are simply for holding passengers in place. But that's not the case at all for the LS 500h. Lexus is renowned for its attention to detail, and the interior of this luxury sedan is more a showcase of their craftsmanship. Two prime examples of that are the volume knob and the button to open the cupholders. Lexus could have saved a few bucks and made them out of plastic, but they don't do things like that over there, especially with their flagship model. These basic parts are made out of metal. If you want to be more specific, the volume knob is aluminum. Acres of wood and leather are all over the interior, just as one would expect in a car like this. Almost everything is soft to touch, making you feel like a million bucks.
Like most luxury cars these days, the instrument cluster is digital. But it is surprising to see a pair of analog gauges in here. Mind you, it's just the temperature and fuel meter, but it's a refreshing sight nonetheless. Then we get to the massive infotainment screen that houses plenty of functions. We're glad Lexus added touchscreen controls for this facelifted version since the touchpad wasn't the most intuitive system around. They also left the climate control and some entertainment buttons outside the screen, which is good. You wouldn't want to dig through sub-menus just to adjust the temperature.
Of course, the reason why anyone (with deep pockets) would consider a car like this is for the rear-seat accommodations. With that, the LS 500h has 22-way power-adjustable rear seats that are ventilated. You can adjust it with a touchscreen that is built into the armrest. You can even move the front passenger seat forward for more space. That doesn't mean it's tight in the back, this is a full-size sedan, after all. If anything, it's cavernous back there, which shouldn't be a surprise. What is surprising is the good headroom despite what the rakish rear windshield suggests otherwise.
The rear quarters then are the best place to be, but a few features would make the back seat experience even better. A rear entertainment system would be nice, along with massaging rear seats. You can get those in the four-seater version, though, but you'll have to cough up more for it. As for practicality, the cargo capacity is limited to 440 liters because of the battery packs. At least it's wide enough to carry several golf bags.
Under the hood of the LS 500h is a 3.5-liter V6 with 299 PS and 356 Nm of torque. Those are impressive figures, but isn't that the same as a six-cylinder Camry? Thanks to its electric motors, it makes a lot more than that. With the engine and motor working in harmony, the total output is rated at 359 PS. Now that's more like it.
So how does this luxury limo deliver that power on the road? Smoothly.
This is Lexus we're talking about here, an automaker that prides itself on making some of the quietest and most refined cars on the road. The LS 500h is no exception. The large sedan does a great job getting to highway speeds, and it's a serene cruiser when you're driving in the city. It's almost impossible to know when you're running on EV mode or with the engine when you're on the move, too. That's how quiet this car is once in motion.
If you choose to stomp on the throttle, Lexus claims it can do the 0 to 100 km/h sprint in about 5.5 seconds, but that's not the point of this car. Think of it as having vast reserves of power so the engine doesn't have to shout. Making things smoother is what Lexus call the Multi-stage Hybrid Transmission. It's another term for CVT, but thankfully, it doesn't drone on and on like what you'd find in economy cars.
It wouldn't be a hybrid car review if we didn't mention fuel economy. Lexus claims up to 15.1 kilometers per liter in mixed driving conditions. Real-world testing averaged 10.1 kilometers per liter in city driving and 15.0 kilometers per liter on the highway. Those are figures you expect from a four-cylinder compact sedan, not a V6, leather-lined full-sized four-door.
There are no complaints about its performance, but what about handling and dynamics? If you're looking for a sporty experience behind the wheel, you're looking at the wrong Lexus. The LS, especially in 500h form, isolates you from the road instead of involving you in the driving experience. Then again, that's what its target market, namely high-ranking executives and self-made billionaires, want. They want something effortless to drive with light controls, should they choose to get behind the wheel. Besides, they want a car that soothes them after spending a long and tiring day running a corporation.
But when push comes to shove, the LS delivers secure handling with decent road-holding. It's not bad for a 5.2 meter long, 2.3-ton leather-lined land yacht. Buying an LS 500h for driving excitement is a bit like buying a Supra for its cargo capacity. You also have to remember that a car like this is made for comfortable cruising.
Speaking of cruising, we also tried out its adaptive cruise control with lane tracing assist. It's almost like having autonomous drive as it steers four you around (well marked) bends on the highway. Admittedly, it feels unnerving at first, but you learn to trust it eventually. Of course, that doesn't mean you can let go of the steering wheel and leave the car to its own devices. You still need to keep your eyes on the road. Think of it this way: even though airplanes have autopilot, it doesn't mean the pilots leave the controls unattended.
The LS 500h is best experienced in the back seats. But regardless of where you're seated, the LS is a comfortable place to be in. Of course, you expect that from a car that uses air suspension. It doesn't wallow as much since body motions are kept to a minimum. That said, sudden bumps catch out the air springs from time to time, but it doesn't jolt you.
But when you're in the best seats in the house (in this case car), the 22-way adjustable seats are wonderful at coddling its occupants. It's soft and supple, allowing you to stretch out and relax. Multiple air-conditioning vents will keep you cool, and the Mark Levinson sound system plays your favorite tunes in high fidelity. It's so comfortable back there that you pine for the four-seat version with the massagers and the Ottoman seats. Besides, it is almost undignified to put someone in the center seat of a luxury limousine.
Let's be blunt here, buying a car like this isn't a logical or rational choice. A luxury car is a purely emotional purchase, and it should appeal to the senses. That is what Lexus achieved with this model. It's not exciting behind the wheel, but the LS impresses you in other ways. If your idea of a perfect car is all about silence and refinement, this car, specifically with the hybrid system, fits the bill quite nicely.
Is it the best sedan Lexus makes? That depends on who you're asking. Chairpersons and head honchos will like it, but anyone under the age of 40 might not appreciate it. But either way, it has to be impressive, especially since it starts at PHP 9,238,000.