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The Lexus LS flagship is where the Japanese luxury brand started more than three decades ago. The aim was to out-quality the established top-shelf sedan players, with insane levels of design and engineering accuracy, innovative features, and relative value-for-money.
The original Lexus LS 400’s arrival was like a combative samurai walking into an elite club filled with button-back lounges, cigar smoke, and a stunned membership. It shook the place up.
Launched in Australia just over two years ago, the current, fifth-generation LS still presents a distinctive point of difference. And the LS 500 F Sport puts a performance-focused spin on the large upper-luxury sedan formula.
Question is, does it do enough to make you want to swap from the back seat to the driver’s seat?
|Lexus LS 2020: LS500 F Sport|
|Engine Type||3.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Entry to the Lexus LS 500 F Sport club is $190,395, before on-road costs. And when you’re approaching $200K there’s an impressive list of luxury four-door alternatives within a few dollars of the same lease payment.
The main half dozen starts with the Audi S7 Sportback ($182,500), followed by the BMW 740i M Sport ($204,900), Jaguar XJ 3.0P V6 R-Sport ($239,565), Maserati Quattroporte GTS GranSport V6 ($224,990), Mercedes-Benz S450 ($239,300), and the Porsche Panamera ($219,000). Quite the line-up.
There are two grades of LS available in Australia, the F Sport as tested here, and the slightly more expensive Sports Luxury. One to drive, the other to be driven in.
Much of the standard specification is shared, but while the Sports Luxury is adding Shiatsu seat massage functions, mega rear seat entertainment and even plusher leather trim, the F Sport dials in things like bigger brakes, an active stabiliser bar and fatter rear rubber.
Aside from the safety and dynamic tech, detailed in the Safety and Driving sections below, the F-Sport’s lengthy features list kicks off with 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio (with digital radio), dual-zone climate control (four-zone in the Sports Luxury), power sunshades for the rear screen, rear side, and quarter light windows, a tilt-slide moonroof, LED interior lighting, leather-trimmed F-Sport seats, and a heated, perforated-leather F-Sport steering wheel.
Speaking of seats, the front pair are 28-way power-adjustable (combining electric motors with a pneumatic control system) heated and ventilated, and the rear seats are also heated. There’s also a power-adjustable steering column (with memory), heated, auto folding and auto dimming exterior mirrors (with reverse tilt function), and a power boot lid (with kick sensor).
But we’re not even near the end of the list. You can also add a 12.3-inch multimedia screen, colour head-up display, auto-closing doors. 8.0-inch digital instrument/information display, satellite navigation, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, alloy pedal trims, suede headlining, 20-inch alloy wheels, auto bi-LED headlights, the ‘Easy Access System’ (more on that in the Driving section), black exterior highlights, ‘Active Sound Control’, and the ‘Remote Touch Interface’ multimedia controller (more on that later, too).
We could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. This car is loaded, and Lexus will tell you this level of luxury is in line with the traditional Japanese hospitality principles of ‘Omotenashi’, “delivering a car that cares for its occupants and anticipates their needs.” Exactly.
At just over 5.2m long, 1.9m wide, and a touch over 1.4m tall the LS is no shrinking violet, but it is relatively low overall, and the brand’s unique design language translates well to such a big canvas. You won’t mistake it for anything other than a Lexus.
The signature ‘Spindle Grille’ dominates the car’s face, with large gills and jagged triple LED headlights (defined by angular LED DRLs) either side.
Hard creases and a series of character lines down the car’s flanks merge neatly with gentle curves above the wheelarches and down the doors, softening the car’s mid-section.
The turret slopes in a single shallow arc towards the boot, with the side glass tapering up to meet it at the rear, giving the car a nicely balanced, dynamic profile.
Then, LS chief chief designer, Koichi Suga, must have broken out the set squares again to shape the dramatically flared LED tail-lights, raised boot lid and chrome-trimmed exhaust apertures.
F Sport spotters will pick out ‘Jet Black’ plating on the grille, front bumper, boot lid and sills, as well as black brake calipers branded with the Lexus logo, sitting behind dark chrome 20-inch alloys. And the big LS doesn't just look racy, an aero Cd number of 0.29 is super slick.
The interior reflects the exterior design; a multi-layered dash segmented into a compact instrument display pod, a seamlessly integrated 12.3-inch multimedia screen in the centre, and minimalist ventilation controls along the lower edge.
Air vents extend into long, curved linear decoration, and combined with intricately styled aluminium elements, adds visual interest and a ‘technical’ feel.
Attention to detail in terms of design and execution is exceptional, with immaculate stitching on the seats and elsewhere around the cabin, subtle matching of materials and colours, and ‘our’ car’s ‘Moon White’ upholstery.
The contrast between the grey door cards and white armrests makes the latter appear to float, an effect accentuated by LED ambient lighting at night. Very cool.
Not so cool is the Lexus ‘Remote Touch’ pad used to manage multiple media and vehicle functions. Despite available adjustments for speed and sensitivity, even on its most benign setting it is maddeningly over-reactive and inaccurate.
The LS sits on a lengthened version of the Lexus GA-L platform which debuted with the swoopy LC Coupe in 2017.
Its wheelbase runs to a not inconsiderable 3125mm, which is 35mm more between the axles than its already expansive predecessor, translating to even greater cabin space.
Despite the LS’s limousine capabilities the driver and front passenger bask in oodles of space and aren’t forgotten in terms of practicality.
Storage up-front starts with a generous lidded box between the seats, featuring a tricky two-way lid (doubling as an armrest) hinging open towards the driver or passenger depending on which side button you've pressed. Neat.
It also contains a sliding tray for cards or keys, as well as a 12V (120W) socket, an ‘aux-in’ jack and two USB-A ports.
There are two large cupholders hidden under a flip-top cover in the centre console, with another 12V socket between them, decent door bins with room for bottles, and a medium-sized glove box.
Move to the rear and Lexus firmly presses the opulence button. There’s heaps of head and legroom, and it’s worth noting if you opt for the Sports Luxury grade, the front passenger seat is able to fold far enough forward to accommodate an ottoman extending out from under the passenger-side rear seat. Even the centre rear isn’t a short straw position, but the car functions best as a four-seater.
There are adjustable air vents at the back of the front centre console, and in the B-pillars, a lidded fold-down centre armrest containing two cupholders and another pair of USB-A ports, as well as useful door bins and hardshell map pockets on the front seat backrests. And if rear seat occupants need more device charging power there’s yet another 12V socket to keep them happy.
The boot is nicely trimmed, but at 480 litres volume is okay rather than cavernous, which must annoy hire car drivers intensely. No split-folding capability for the rear seatback only compounds the issue.
On the upside multiple tie-down anchors and a luggage net are provided, as are a valet pack and first aid kit, and the bootlid’s hands-free ‘kick sensor’ is a big plus..
Towing is not recommended for the LS, and don’t bother looking for a spare of any description, the Bridgestone Turanza T005 tyres are run-flats.
The LS 500 F Sport is powered by a 3.4-litre (V35A-FTS), twin-turbo, 60-degree V6 engine. The all-alloy unit features direct-injection, and variable valve timing (electrically-controlled in the inlet side, hydraulic on the exhaust side) to produce 310kW at 6000rpm and 600Nm from 1600-4800rpm.
That’s a significant step up from the fourth-generations LS’s 4.6-litre naturally aspirated V8 at 285kW/493Nm.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via an adaptive 10-speed automatic transmission, with manual shifts available via wheel-mounted paddles.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 9.5L/100km, the LS 500 emitting 217g/km of CO2 in the process.
In a week with the car, covering city, suburban and freeway running (as well as a cheeky B-road session) we recorded an average of 12.4L/100km, which, while not exactly frugal, is within expectations for a car of this scale and performance potential .
Stop-start is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 82 litres of it to fill the tank.
The current Lexus LS hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but given the level of active and passive safety tech on-board there’s little doubt it would rank well.
The LS’s ‘Lexus Safety System+’ includes a pre-collision system (incorporating front and rear AEB), ‘Road Sign Assist’, ‘Lane Trace Assist’, blind-spot monitoring, ‘Lane Departure Alert’, adaptive high-beam LED headlights, ‘Active Radar’ cruise control, front and rear ‘Parking Distance Control’, ‘Panoramic View Monitor’, a head-up display, pedestrian recognition and road sign assist, front and rear cross-traffic alert, and tyre pressure monitoring.
If, despite all that, a crash is unavoidable you’re protected by no less than 12 airbags. Driver and front passenger front, side, and knee, that’s six. Then a pair of full length curtain airbags, as well as outer rear seat side bags, and two rear seat cushion airbags. Wow.
The LS is also able to recognise a pedestrian impact, instantly ‘popping’ the bonnet up from it’s rear edge to minimise injuries by increasing the distance between the person who’s been hit and hard parts under the hood.
There are also three top tether points for baby capsules/child restraints across the rear seat, with ISOFIX anchors in the two outer positions.
4 years / 100,000 km warranty
From its arrival in Australia in the late ‘80s, Lexus has made the ownership experience a high priority. In some areas it’s still at, or near the top of the after-sales class, but in others the grades are slipping.
For example, the standard Lexus warranty in Australia is four years/100,000km. When you have both luxury newcomer, Genesis, and the most established of them all, Mercedes-Benz, at five years/unlimited km, that offer is off the pace.
Sure Audi, BMW, and others are at three years/unlimited km, but the game has moved on for those brands, too. Plus, the mainstream market standard is now five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the other hand, the ‘Lexus Encore Privileges’ program provides complimentary 24-hour roadside assistance for 10 years, as well as access to owner events and special offers.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/15,000km (whichever comes first). At the time of writing ‘Lexus Capped Service’ set service cost at $595 for a maximum of three scheduled visits to the workshop.
A Lexus loan car is provided while your pride and joy is in the workshop, or a pick-up and return option (from home or office) is available. You’ll also receive a complimentary wash and interior vacuum. Not bad.
You may be thinking, why apply the F Sport treatment to a 2.2-tonne luxury sedan? And sure, it’s not the most likely candidate for a sneaky backroad blast. But if people are ready to stump up close to $400K for a walloping Mercedes-AMG S 63, why not an LS 500 F Sport at half the price?
Thanks to standard air suspension the drive experience begins before you’ve even hit the ignition button. A ‘welcoming sequence’ starts with an access mode raising the car 40mm “to an ideal 555mm hip height” (in four seconds) when it’s unlocked.
The driver's outer cushion bolster opens out at the same time, and the seatbelt buckle extends 50mm when the front doors are opened.
According to Lexus, “cabin illumination is inspired by the soft glow of traditional Japanese Andon lanterns.” And while I’m not intimately familiar with the output of that particular device, the interior ambient lighting is super cool.
The driver's seat, which will have previously raised and moved backwards to make it easier to exit the car, will return to its previous driving position when you sit in it (the outer cushion bolster retreating to its normal position at the same time). Then, once you’re powered up, the car rises to its regular ride height. Now that’s automotive theatre.
Once up and running several attributes immediately come to the fore. This car rides incredibly well. As in, unbelievably well. It’s properly quick in a straight line, with claimed 0-100km/h acceleration in 5.0sec. And it’s more responsive dynamically than a luxury sedan of this size and weight has any right to be.
First, the ride. Suspension is by a multi-link arrangement front and rear, and the LS 500 F Sport’s adaptive damping set-up continually adjusts to the road conditions. In concert with the air suspension, over a rough surface, the system can smooth out the ride without excessively increasing damping force. No matter which drive mode you’re in, ride comfort is amazing.
Then the speed. With no less than 600Nm available from just 1600rpm, all the way to 4800rpm, the LS 500 F Sport gets up and goes hard. The V6’s twin turbos are mounted on top of the engine to reduce intake-tract volume and throttle lag, and that engineering trick works.
Squeeze the right-hand pedal firmly and the adaptive 10-speed auto soon gets the idea, rapidly cycling through its gears, with wheel-mounted paddles delivering urgent if not outright fast manual shifts. The engine noise and exhaust note rise to the occasion with a raspy soundtrack as well.
And the dynamics. While it’s far from sports car agile the big LS handles well, helped in no small part by ‘Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management’ (VDIM), which orchestrates various sub-systems like ABS, traction and stability controls, the electrically-assisted steering, air-suspension, and adaptive damping.
On the F Sport, VDIM also links in the ‘Dynamic Rear Steering’ system and active stabiliser bars.
Aside from all that, the LS 500 F Sport has a few fundamental aces up its sleeve. Front to rear weight distribution is a handy 52/48, the GA-L platform underpinning it delivers a low centre-of-gravity, and its 20-inch alloys are ‘staggered’, wearing 245/45 Bridgestone Turanzas up front, and 275/40 rubber at the rear.
Variable ratio electric power steering, and the standard rear steering system jointly deliver accurate cornering turn-in, although road feel is average. The LS feels planted, but despite the VDIM system’s best efforts you can still feel a sizeable weight transfer in enthusiastic cornering.
And when it comes to washing off speed the F Sport is equipped with professional grade 400mm ventilated front discs clamped by six-piston calipers, and 359mm ventilated rotors at the rear with four-piston calipers attached. They do the job with a progressive pedal and no hint of fade.
In cruising mode the LS 500 F Sport is every millimetre the limo. The top three ratios in the 10-speed auto are overdriven for easy highway cruising, active noise cancelling (using anti-phase sound from the audio speakers) helps to keep things quiet, and the air suspension system can dial up the plushness.
Under the heading of random observations, the digital dash cluster is neat and functional, the stop-start system is almost imperceptible, and the front sports seats are comfortable and supportive even during longer stints behind the wheel.
The Lexus LS 500 F Sport presents as a contradiction in terms. A large, upper-luxury limo with a performance personality. But it pulls it off, combining top-shelf value and refinement, with energetic performance and surprising dynamics. Yeah, forget the back seat... get behind the wheel.
|LS500 F Sport||3.4L, PULP, 1 SP AUTO||$194,136||2020 Lexus LS 2020 LS500 F Sport Pricing and Specs|
|LS500H (hybrid) Special Edition (inspiration)||3.5L, Hyb/PULP, A SP||$203,018||2020 Lexus LS 2020 LS500H (hybrid) Special Edition (inspiration) Pricing and Specs|
|LS500H (hybrid) Sports LUX Black Trim+premium||3.5L, Hyb/PULP, A SP||$209,888||2020 Lexus LS 2020 LS500H (hybrid) Sports LUX Black Trim+premium Pricing and Specs|
|LS500 Sports LUX Camel Trim+base||3.4L, PULP, 1 SP AUTO||$209,636||2020 Lexus LS 2020 LS500 Sports LUX Camel Trim+base Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||9|
|Engine & trans||8|