We’ve always been fans of the Lexus luxury flagship. And when it’s the sporty F SPORT model, even more so. We enjoyed the previous-gen 2017 Lexus 460 F SPORT, and were enamored with its powerful V8 engine. And then we were seduced by the new 2018 Lexus LS500, especially with the reclining rear seats with massage function – pure luxury limo.
But even then, we knew the hot ticket would be the LS500 F SPORT. Losing the 460’s V8 would be tough, but gaining 30 hp and 67 lb-ft of twin-turbo V6 muscle seemed like a pretty good deal. Add in all the performance and appearance goodies to the stunningly sumptuous design of the LS, and this must be the ultimate Lexus sedan. And sharing the chassis of the LC500 Coupe? Icing on the cake!
The LS500 is a knockout. While some may not like the oversize signature grille, the overall proportions are on a grand scale – the LS is actually longer than the Toyota Sequoia! And the swoopy aggressive lines come together in the F SPORT, with unique bumpers, sporty mesh grille, lower doors, and rear diffuser. Combined it gives a tautness to the coupe-like exterior design, which while handsome, is a tad conservative for our tastes in non-F trim.
Making the biggest statement are 20-inch split 5-spoke alloy wheels in a deep graphite finish. It even looks like larger wheels would fit! Our tester was a deep rich Matador Red Mica which catches the eye, looking stylish but not overboard. If it were our money, we’d go for the Obsidian black. Pure evil. But that’s just us.
This is still a Lexus, so with your serving of F SPORT, you will be supremely spoiled. (Say that fast three times!)
In fairness, our F SPORT tester couldn’t compete with some of the amazing premium level of our last LS, which had the $17,500 Executive Package which included 22-way adjust power rear seats with massage, right power reclining rear seat with sliding ottoman, and Kiriko Glass interior door trim with hand-pleated interior trim. Not available on the F SPORT. Sorry chauffeurs….
Hey, you don’t know what you don’t know, and if you just walked into an LS500 F SPORT at your friendly dealer, you’d be left breathless with the beauty of the design, with a wave-like motif that’s elegant and stylish. Leathers are soft, supple and abundant, with detailed stitching throughout the cabin. The matte finish is subtle and tasteful, and the interior door panels are works of art in their own right.
Ponying up for the F SPORT does bring some specialness to the interior, with perforated leather including seat, wheel, and shift knob, 28-way adjustable front seats, a unique instrument cluster (more on that in a second) Ultrasuede headliner, aluminum pedals and interior trim.
That makes the LS500 a wonderful place to go about the business of driving. The controls are simple to use, and make many of the top-end Europeans look fussy and overloaded with switchgear. The F SPORT gives you the cool LFA Supercar inspired gauge with a large center tach that can motor over to the side to let you toggle through all sorts of cool information like a G-meter and turbo-boost gauge. It’s fun and never fails to impress the passengers.
Less impressive to us, is the touchpad info-tainment interface. It’s fiddly and hard to be precise with. The Lexus mouse controller models is a little better, but we still wish for a simple knob.
Speaking of knobbery, kudos to Lexus for giving us a volume knob for the audio system!
And we made good use of it, thanks to the optional superb 23 – yes 23! – Mark Levinson Audio system. Lexus goes to huge trouble to make the LS quiet, and it pays equally huge dividends to create a wonderful soundstage. Miss your favorite song? The Cache Radio lets you pause live AM/FM Radio and HD Radio for up to 15 minutes. Cool.
Standard tech is state-of-the-art with Apple CarPlay, 4GB Wi-Fi, and navigation with a monstrous 12.-3-inch high res display with full-screen map capability and 3D rendering, and speed limit display. Our tester also had the optional 24” heads-up display to keep us informed.
The front sport seats are wonderfully supportive, and the LS’ long wheel base means there’s stretch-out room in back for even the tallest adults. That said, the LS500 gives you a coupe-like environment that feels sporty and snug, but you do notice less overall space than the larger Audi A8 or BMW L7.
You’d expect that most people who opt for the F SPORT will be wanting autobahn-storming, BMW-crushing, performance. We say, close, but no Bavarian Pretzel.
Under the hood is the same twin-turbo V6 we loved in our last LS500 test. Power is unchanged, but it’s plenty, with 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque coming in at a low 1,600 rpm. Keep your foot out of it, and it’s quiet, and Lexus-refined. Punch it, and an exhaust valve lets in some sweet sounds that are much more becoming a vehicle wearing an F SPORT badge.
Lexus serves you up a couple tempting choices, too. There’s an available All Wheel Drive system with a Torsen rear differential that would probably up the capabilities, and make for supreme all-weather high-speed transport.
If all that power doesn’t seem necessary(!) the LS500 F SPORT is even offered with the 354-hp hybrid powertrain, that serves up a 28-mpg combined rating. Impressive for such a large vehicle. We’ll stick with the twin turbo, please.
The 10-speed automatic makes sure you’re always in the powerband, and in Sport + mode is quick to respond. Acceleration is strong, and for a big vehicle it can really hustle, but for some reason, it never feels truly excited about doing so.
Ride and handling are in the same boat. Our tester’s Adaptive Variable Air Suspension serves up a wonderful ride, no small feat with those giant 20-inch rims, and grip in the turns is wonderful.
This is an easy car to drive fast, a true gentleman’s (or gentlelady’s) express. But it falls just short of the kind of exuberance we find in the high-end European brands.
We end up feeling that for enthusiasts, the F SPORT is the base of a great performance sedan, but we’d love to see an all-out, take-no-prisoners LS-F, a big brother to the storming and exceptional RC-F and GS-F.
We will give one huge thumbs up to the F SPORT braking system. Six-piston front calipers with 15.7-inch discs and Four-piston rear calipers with 14.-1 inch ventilated discs have massive stopping power, with exceptional feel. Best in class.
We also felt exceptionally safe in our F SPORT, thanks in part to the optional Lexus Safety System+ A, with Pre-Collision with Active Braking, Active Steering Assist, Pedestrian Alert, Front Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist. This is a long vehicle, and pulling out of a crowded shopping center, the rear cross traffic system saved our bacon a few times, even stopping automatically when someone was zipping by at a stupid speed as we backed out.
Another option we wouldn’t do without, the Panoramic View Monitor gave and excellent 360-degree view, making it easy to park the big sedan with precision.
Well, it’s all relative. This is Lexus’ flagship sedan, and starts at $81,200. The F SPORT package adds $9,700. Our tester included some other fine choices, including the Safety System+ A ($3,000), Adaptive Air Suspension ($1,500), Heads-up Display ($1,220), LED headlamps with Adaptive Front Lighting ($300), Mark Levinson Audio ($1,940), Panorama Glass Roof ($1,000), and Panoramic View Monitor ($800). Add in Delivery ($1,025) and our tester carried an out-the-door price of $101,685.
While that sounds like it might induce altitude sickness, it’s Base Camp compared to the Audi and BMW. A comparable BMW 740i is $108,000. (If you like, there’s a BMW M760i AWD that starts at a jaw-dropping $157, 000.) The comparable Audi A8 came in at $106,045. So, the Lexus is the value play in the $100K+ segment.
The LS500 F SPORT is the driver’s LS. It’s got the looks, the performance, that undeniable feeling that you’re in something special. It’s a Lexus first, and Sport second.
A wonderful, all-around flagship sedan.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.