2021 Lexus LS 500: Improved, But Agonizing

Strong points
  • Sharp yet elegant design
  • High-quality materials and finish
  • Twin-turbo V6 is a good fit
  • Superbly smooth and quiet ride
Weak points
  • Needs a new driving environment
  • Not as inspiring or exciting as German rivals
  • Actual fuel consumption is high
  • Hybrid variant is pointless
Full report

Twenty-four. That’s the number of Canadians who purchased a Lexus LS last year. Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic had a lot to do with that, but sales of the full-size luxury sedan didn’t even top 40 units after the first three quarters of 2021.

How long will it keep agonizing like this? Remember, Lexus dropped the GS after the 2020 model year. Genesis is the only other Asian automaker with an entry in this segment (G90), which is and will always be dominated by the Germans, namely the Porsche Panamera, Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, not to mention the electrifying Porsche Taycan. If you look at them inside and out and get a chance to drive them, you’ll quickly understand why.

The 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD we tested cost just shy of $140,000 due to the Silver Illusion body, Crimson Red/Black interior with Kiriko glass trim, and the Executive Package which alone adds over $25,000 to the price. Clearly, Lexus took a page from the aforementioned competitors (except Genesis) that charge a small fortune for optional packages. By the way, there’s a nearly identical body colour called Iridium that won’t cost you a penny.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

The current generation dates back to 2018 yet the design still feels fresh. For 2021, the front fascia has been tweaked a little, with the colour of the spindle grille changed to a dark metallic. New three-projector LED headlamps feature a vertically stacked layout. At the rear, the chrome trim within the taillights has been switched to Piano Black. For a more dynamic look, there’s always the F Sport package ($6,650).

Mixed Feelings Inside

Comfort inside the Lexus LS has been enhanced for 2021 with redesigned seats and extra padding at most touch points. All four seats can be heated and ventilated, complete with a five-mode massage function. The rear passenger sitting on the right side even has a folding legrest for maximum relaxation. Some of the controls have been revised, but the highlight of the cabin will always be the lack of outside noises. As for space, the LS is adequately roomy and accommodating even without a long-wheelbase variant.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

The new 12.3-inch touchscreen is a good thing because you don’t have to rely on the brand’s awful touchpad on the centre console. Lexus’ infotainment system remains a big step behind Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both of which are available here) in terms of user-friendly navigation. The image from the rear-view camera is not super-sharp, which is surprising for such a luxurious car. Also, the instrument panel looks dated when compared with the competition. On a positive note, it’s easy to appreciate the 24-inch colour head-up display system.

While the Lexus LS impresses with great build quality and material selection, we don’t like some of the gaudy elements particularly the glass inserts on the door panels. At $5,600 with the red/black interior, this is certainly an option we could live without.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Thirsty, But Forget the Hybrid

On the road, the 2021 Lexus LS preserves that safe, smooth ride we became enamoured with a long time ago, using an adjustable air suspension and wide array of available driver assistance features to make trips as pleasant and stress-free as possible. There’s even an additional layer of comfort with newly revised suspension tuning, while larger-diameter stabilizer bars contribute to a more stable ride.

If you like driving instead of being chauffeured, a German sedan remains a better option. And it’s not like the LS has a high-performance model, either. The twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 engine under the hood happily delivers 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, but it doesn’t make the big Lexus a world-class rocket (0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds). The 10-speed automatic transmission has been reprogrammed to keep the engine running at optimum revs in more situations, which is good.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Six different drive modes are available (still accessed via that weird, stubby controller sticking out from the side of the instrument panel cover): Eco, Comfort, Normal, Custom, Sport S and Sport S+. Arguably the best move you can make is to select Custom, with the chassis set to Comfort and the powertrain set to Power. The standard AWD system includes a limited-slip centre differential that can adjust front-rear torque distribution from 31/69 on dry pavement to 48/52 on slippery surfaces.

Fuel economy is a big letdown. While the 2021 LS 500 AWD is rated at a combined 11.1 L/100 km by Natural Resources Canada, we ended up closer to 15 L/100 km. Sure, more highway driving would have helped, but the fall temperatures were not too cold yet and we didn’t spend the entire week doing acceleration tests, either.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Lexus does have a greener alternative, namely the gas-electric LS 500h. But even though the V6 in this variant is naturally aspirated and total output is a more modest 354 horsepower, average fuel consumption is reduced by just 1.9 L/100 km. We understand the company’s intention, but it’s not enough. Besides, with the Executive Package included as standard and a starting price of $133,900, the LS 500h makes it impossible to recoup your investment—unless, maybe, you plan to keep the car forever.

A New Start, or the End of the Road?

Speaking of which, Lexus LS buyers should bank on a long-term relationship given the expected fast depreciation over the first five years. Luckily, this Japanese luxury sedan proves more reliable than the average competitor and also has lower maintenance costs. 

What does the future hold for the LS? Well, the 2022 model is arriving soon in dealerships with a new Haku interior trim option and version 2.5 of the Lexus Safety System+. After that, it would normally be time for a new generation to come in, but this is no sure thing at the moment. The brand’s flagship SUV has been completely redesigned and improved for 2022 (LX 600). Will the flagship sedan get the same opportunity?

Photo: Guillaume Rivard
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