2023 Lexus LS 500 AWD F SPORT review by Ben Lewis

All manufacturers have what is called a “flagship” – the top-of-the-line model that shows off what the brand is all about. And for Lexus sedans, that means the LS 500. The LS has the longest history with the brand, it was the LS 400 that started the legend in 1990, taking on all comers from luxury brands like BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac. Yes, there was also an ES model, but that was a fancy Camry.

So, 33 years later, does the Lexus still have the stuff to take on the high-end Europeans? Let’s take a look!

Aging Passionately

We recently reviewed the LS 500 sedan’s sibling the LC coupe and were thrilled. But we haven’t spent some serious time in an LS for 5 years. Even though, as we look at it, little seems to have changed. That’s ok, because you don’t want your flagship to be a whim of fashion, and it was gorgeous to begin with.

This is a large vehicle that makes a big first impression. In fact, we were surprised to find that it was longer than the Hyundai Palisade 3-row SUV we recently tested! Up front, there’s the massive Lexus “spindle” grille, and we’ve grown to love the look – much like a predatorial shark getting ready to take a bite out of smaller traffic! The stacked triple projector headlights with signature LED lights look impressive and bold.

Helping the boldness factor, our tester was an F SPORT model, which includes a unique front fascia, including a dedicated color for the spindle grille, and a garnish of the sub-radiator grilles that wraps around to the sides to give a wider stance.

We think the profile is the most thrilling part of the LS design – the overall length creates some real presence, while fender flares, and a scalloped cut-ins on the lower doors give an athletic, yes graceful line. And we just love the F SPORT’s unique 20-inch alloy wheels in a tone Lexus calls Dark Vapor Chrome. Simply stunning. For those playing at home, the small F SPORT logo on the front fender shows you’re driving something special.

Like the front, the rear stays simple, but makes an impression with cool L-shaped LED taillights that wrap around, while a lower garnish shows off two nicely sized exhaust outlets.

Updated Intelligently

Inside, the LS makes a bold statement, especially in F SPORT form.

Let’s start by what the F SPORT doesn’t have – mostly because it shows the incredible craftsmanship that Lexus puts into the LS.  

Luxury or Executive Packages offer available Haku appointments. Haku foil is a Japanese technique that has been passed down over 400 years, meticulously flattening a piece of metal until it becomes as thin as one ten-thousandths of a millimeter. The Haku foil is so extremely thin that it must be applied by hand achieving a delicate shine reminiscent of moonlight reflecting over ocean waves. Wow.

On Executive models, there’s available Kiriko Glass ornamentation that draws inspiration from Japanese Kiriko glassware. Traditional Kiriko patterns are created using a technique that involves hand-cutting clear colors and delicate lines in a piece of glass, which are then repeatedly polished to a soft glow. Wow 2.0!

More you say? There are options for both heating and massage in addition to the Executive Package which adds a passenger-side seat which can be reclined, when the vehicle is parked, up to 48 degrees, an angle chosen for its precise level of comfort. Incredible.

Ok, so our tester had none of the above, but we didn’t feel left out. We enjoyed a perforated-grill pattern on seating surfaces and Naguri aluminum trim elements. Dressed in bold red and black, we settled into the perforated leather F SPORT 28-way electric/pneumatic seats with passenger-seat power cushion-length extenders. Snug enough for aggressive driving, yet comfy for the long haul.

You also get an F SPORT unique leather-wrapped wheel, and special F SPORT instrumentation that glides the center tachometer over to reveal additional information inspired by the LFA Supercar. Those in the know, will know.

You don’t have to be an insider to see the improvements to the info-tainment system. Replacing the previous 12.3-inch built-in display is a new tablet-style 12.3-inch display. While the look is slightly less integrated than before, now that it’s a touchscreen, Lexus has gotten rid of that touchy mousepad that we never really liked. Yay. We also love that Lexus not only includes a volume knob, but encircling it is a knurled knob that lets you tune as well. A super elegant solution!  And where that touchpad was are now easy switches for heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, and power rear window shade. Double yay.

And that’s not all. The display itself is higher resolution and smartphone style anti-glare technology. There’s also a Voice Assistant – just say “Hey Lexus” and you have control over media, phone, and everyday things like climate control. There’s also a suite of connective goodies through Drive Connect that allows cloud-based technologies to help with navigation, weather and location-based services. If that’s all too much, we found that standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto worked great.

While those in front may be enamored with the tech, those in back will enjoy the limo-like comfort with plenty of stretch-out legroom. Trunk space is expansive, too.

Is it Sporty Spice?

It starts out with some impressive numbers. Under that long hood is an a 3.4-liter, twin-turbo V6 pumping out a jaw-dropping 416 horsepower and 442 lb.-ft. of torque. Doling out that power is a quick-shifting 10-speed automatic that also manages to be as smooth as you’d expect from a Lexus. A 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds shows this big boat can really hustle when you want.

Handling gets an upgrade in the F SPORT with a unique Adaptive Variable Suspension as well as larger front and rear brakes — six-piston aluminum monoblock calipers with ventilated 15.7-inch rotors in front and four-piston calipers with 14.1-inch rotors in back — assure confident stopping power. Like we said, the number, they are good.

While our tester had optional AWD that can add grip in corners and the slick stuff, we’d think twice, since rear wheel drive models offer an available Dynamic Handling Package that adds Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) system, Active Rear Steering and an Active Stabilizer Suspension.

That might be the sweet spot for those seeking real performance out of their LS. We loved the power and the smoothness, but it always felt like our tester wanted more to be a luxury sedan with sporty flavor, then a sport sedan with luxury accoutrements. Then again Lexus knows its buyers. Understanding the luxury leanings, the LS is superb, smooth, quiet and refined, able to drive quickly and responsively. The gentlemen’s (and gentlewoman’s) express then.

How Much to Get Aboard this Flagship?

Here the numbers are also pleasing.

You can get into an LS 500 starting at $78,735. For a powerful handsome uber-lux sedan, quite reasonable. Opting for AWD gets you to. $81,985.

Which makes our tester also quite good, the LS 500 F SPORT AWD starting at just $82,235 is a no brainer for us, for the handsome looks and sporty interior and enhanced driving experience.

Our tester was modestly optioned, with Head-up Display ($1,220), 23-speaker Mark Levinson Audio ($1,940) and Panorama Moonroof ($1,000). Add in $1,150 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $88,545. This is actually a great value in an LS 500. We’ve seen fully loaded, full-boat models eclipse $110,000!

You’ll also see the value compared to the Europeans. A similar BMW 7 series came in at a cool $109,000. And the new hotness, the Genesis G90 is certainly enticing, but to match the Lexus power, you’ll be at $101,000. Suddenly $88,000 for the LS 500 F SPORT comes off as a bargain!

Elegant, fast, beautifully built and offering strong value, the Lexus LS 500 flagship keeps moving at full steam ahead!

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.

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