When we last met the Lexus LS 500, it was back in 2018, when we invited it to a special three way dance to see which flagship sedan could indeed emerge as the best of the best. While the F-Sport we had at the time lost out to the Genesis G90 and the first place Cadillac CT6, it also helped play a supporting role in a very key life moment for this writer (the proposal to my fiancée Emily.) With a bundle of subtle updates for the 2020 model year, we were eager to catch up with this very special four door to see if it still has what it takes to wow the masses, while still being the go to supporting actor for the special roles in life.
Elegant Styling Is Vehicular Origami:
When Lexus designers set about rethinking the LS 500, they were keen on making the big four door the last word on elegant styling cues that could also channel their inner sportiness out to potential buyers. Our F-Sport tester traded its black paint for an elegant shade of grey, but the canvas still retains many of the traits that we came to love during our last exposure to the LS 500. This includes the sculpted headlights, the side profile that features sculpted curves and creases, as well as a hatchback-esque rear end that features futuristic taillights. The massive spindle style front grille is still here, and like before it is a love it or hate it affair. Some observers will like the way it manages to mesh with the lower front bumper and the headlights, while others will think its too big and projects too much chrome on what is otherwise a very purposeful and sinister face.
However, unlike the last time it visited our office, things have changed quite a bit in the flagship sedan race. The Cadillac CT6 (which won our three way comparison test) is living on borrowed time, and the Genesis G90 recently received a bold and somewhat controversial redesign. Back then we placed the Lexus third place in terms of aesthetics, but when one considers how the game has changed over the past couple of years, we would be inclined to raise the LS 500 a notch or two above its competitors in this particular category. This also solidifies the amount of restraint that Lexus designers had when it came to updates for 2020, with Lexus designers largely leaving the basic shape and look alone. We are glad, since the Lexus still has a high degree of futurism in its design, and it even managed to once again help me and Emily at a key phase of our wedding planning where the big Lexus played a supporting role in creating more life moments.
Sport Flavored Interior Still Has The Goods:
While the exterior has been largely left alone for 2020, Lexus did make some subtle updates for the 2020 model year. For example, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now part of the package, and are a massive improvement over the domestic system that Lexus used. This is especially apparent during our time with it, which saw us extensively use the Android Auto side of the equation for certain functions. Menu presentation was seamless, and we experienced no lag when accessing select Android related features.
When Android Auto is not in use, the rest of the system does perform commendably. While the screen is still not a formal touchscreen unit, the images are still very crisp, and we noticed very minimal load times with the system. However, the track pad (as is the case with other Lexus models) is still a frustrating instrument to use, with the track pad causing us to overshoot icons and menus when out on the move due to its increased levels of sensitivity. This is a system that is still best used when the LS is in park, and we also hope that Lexus will eventually adopt a formal rotary knob like some of its rivals. The knob has always been the best solution to navigating around digital menus, and we hope that the addition of such a piece will help improve the LS’s technology game.
A big change for 2020 is that the LS will receive an all new Inspiration model. While our tester did not receive such garnishments, the Inspiration model itself takes a very big swing into the upper reaches of the flagship luxury car segment. For instance, the Inspiration features a new color called Deep Garnet and that is paired with 20-inch wheels that are slathered in a very attractive black chrome finish. The interior is where the bulk of the changes are found, with a two-tone leather combination being used (white/black and even the addition of Kiriko glass inserts on the door panels. The Kiriko treatment was once reserved for models equipped with the Executive package, so it is very nice to see it make its apperance once again in an LS. Buyers will have to act quickly, since the Inspiration treatment is only available to the first 300 buyers.
While our F-Sport tester did not recieve this opulent trim suite, the cabin still manages to creat an air of purpose and elegance. The leather seats are buttery smooth, and provide occupants with a very good balance of support and comfort. The steering wheel still falls crisply into the hands, and we really liked the way that some of the more artistic touches work together to provide a high octane environment. This includes the metal finish panels on the doors, which actually compliment the floating door handles nicely. Many buttons and switches have a high quality feel to them, and ergonomics is quite good (minus the annoying track pad of course.) Visibility is also good for the most part, but the sloping roof line and the thick pillars do create potent blindspots in the rear of the car. Thankfully, that is largely forgotten about once you fully indulge in the copious amounts of room that is on hand, with occupants having cavernous amounts of head and leg room. The rear seats also have plenty of room for passengers to stretch out and relax, but buyers looking to take advantage of the full amount of coddling offered by the LS will have to step up to higher packages like the Executive to fully relish in their corporate fantasies.
Smooth V6 Still Plays The Right Notes:
With the minor updates scattered here an there, Lexus engineers left the mechanical heart of it all untouched which is very pleasing indeed. Our tester allowed us to get reacquainted with the 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6 that is good for 416 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. These figures allow the LS to sprint its way to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, and the engine has a very high degree of poise and confidence. These two traits were on full display during the weekend portion of our time with it, when our tester would continue the LS’s streak of being a key figure in big life moments. Where our first tester helped play a key role in my proposal to Emily, this time, it was to be a big help once again at another key moment, shooting our engagement photos.
The photo shoot required travel between sections of Metro Detroit, as well as the city of Detroit with the Lexus being exposed to the rigors of a typical daily commute in the process. The 10-speed automatic did a good job slinking its way through the gears, and the trek down the freeway towards Detroit revealed a luxury laden cocoon that did a good job silencing the bulk of wind and road noise. Only occasional tire noise perculates into the cabin, but that is a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme of things. We do wish that more engine noise could be heard in the cabin, but the excellent steering and suspension does a commendable job communicating road conditions to the driver. As expected from a big luxury car, the steering has a bit too much boost, but switching things to one of the available sport modes helps alleviate this problem somewhat.
The second half of our trek took us into Detroit itself, where the narrow city streets are a formidable challenge for bigger cars to navigate especially when it comes to parking. Our destination was a parking garage that was near the Detroit Opera House, and the LS did an admirable job weaving its way through some of the tight corners and pockmarked terrain that defined our route. Parking the LS can be a chore occasionally due to its size, but the trick camera system gives the driver a wide range of views to choose from which helps alleviate some of the anxiety especially in parallel parking as well as backing out of a parking space. Our tester also managed to draw a few stares from some of the Detroit locals who had plenty to say about the car (with the bulk of the discussion being centered around the concept car-esque styling.
When viewed against some of its rivals, the BMW 7-Series still has an edge when it comes to infusing more driving fun into its flanks, and it has a broader pool of engines to choose from (including a V12.) The Lexus also comes up a bit short when viewed against the benchmark Mercedes Benz S-Class which also has a higher range of engines available, and it even has a better interior design as well. However, it makes up for it by being a step ahead of the Audi A8 which adopts a more function focused motif but sacrifices some of its inner elegance in the process.
Pricing for the 2020 Lexus LS 500 rides the same of luxury line that defines other flagship luxury entries, with the base rear wheel drive model starting at $75,450. Step up to the all-wheel drive version of the F-Sport like our tester, and you are greeted with a $84,670 sticker. Our car arrived with over $3,000 in options, and the final sticker checked in at $90,450. This is just under the $100,000 barrier, but opting for F-sport also limits the buyer in terms of adding more luxury related items to the car. Buyers looking to maximize the amounts of coddling on board will have to loop back to the base LS 500 which is where the bulk of the luxury focused packages are found. This naturally can cause the price to surpass the $100,000 barrier, but the novel equipment that can be had is certainly worth it. Moving back to the F-Sport, and this particular flavor of Lexus does suffer from having less standard equipment than equivalent German benchmarks, as well as having an infotainment system that is a step behind entries like I-Drive and Mercede’s COMAND system. This is a shame, since the Lexus does have driving dynamics that allows it to stay firmly in the mix with the segment’s best.
In short, the 2020 Lexus LS 500 still has what it takes to be an excellent flagship sedan offering. While we look forward to seeing what happens when Lexus engineers finally give the infotainment system the much needed love it deserves, the rest of the package is still first rate especially when one considers the masterful blend of materials, performance, and elegance that is baked into the basic design. With the 2020 model year bringing relatively minor updates to the car, look for 2021 and 2022 to be key dates for the LS where a more comprehensive suite of updates is expected.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.