The Lexus LS has been the flagship luxury sedan for Lexus since the brand was introduced to the world in 1989. With over a billion dollars spent on research and development, the first LS shocked the world and set a new standard of luxury and quality in the luxury sedan segment. Nearly 30 years later the 5th generation was announced featuring a new ground-up design that shocked the world again. But does it live up to its history? I drove the $101,905 MSRP 2019 Lexus LS500 F-Sport over 750 miles over seven days to find out.
I have personally owned a 1998 Lexus LS since it became my first car when I turned sixteen in 2010. Even with 260,000 miles at the time I was more than happy take it everywhere I had to go. Nearly a decade later it has 325,000 miles and still serves me when I don’t have press cars, or if I need to haul the dogs around town. At this point you could say I know what to expect from a Lexus LS, even 20 years newer and a few hundred thousand miles fresher, it should still follow the same recipe.
When the LS debuted its entirely new design in late 2017, it was definitely a “wow” moment for me. Second in beauty within the Lexus lineup only to the concept car-esque Lexus LC500 and LC500h, it was a huge departure from what what the LS was previously. Instead of understated luxury, the new LS is big, fluid, and aggressive. Really, it was about time. While the last generation of spindle grill felt forced, with this body and these headlights, it really works. The front is stately and gradually pushes your eyes down the lines along rest of the car. The pronounced wheel arch adds some muscularity that is appreciated. Under those front wheel arches are 20” split five spoke wheels available specifically for the F-Sport trim. Lexus has been doing a superb job in wheel design lately and, with these, the streak continues. The sloping rear gives off a slight resemblance to the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera but in styling only, as it retains a standard sedan style trunk instead of the hatchback that has been adopted by its luxury sedan brethren. This is one of only a very few cars that received compliments almost every time I drove it. Coworkers, friends, and family alike commented on just how pretty the LS500 was.
The interior of the 5th generation Lexus LS is just as good. Recently, Lexus has been designing the best interiors of any cars south of $150,000. The way the interiors all flow is nothing but beautiful. There is no tablet stuck haphazardly on the dash, plastics are kept to a minimum and the amount of leather is truly amazing. In both the LX and LS I have tested, $100,000 seemed perfectly reasonable for the quality. These are the only press cars I have gotten where even my sister, who could normally care less, commented on how nice everything in the car was. The part leather, part suede twenty eight way(!!!) adjustable seats looked fantastic and did an equal job of ensuring comfort throughout the day. Other features might have been where the LS500 lacked though.
Throughout my time with the LS500 I was somewhat concerned with the lack of features present in a $101,905 MSRP car. Yes it had heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and the simply unbelievable twenty-three speaker Mark Levinson Premium system with 12.3” displaying Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but so do an unbelievable amount of cars produced these days. The F Sport is supposed to be the more driver oriented LS, but that does not excuse Lexus from providing at least some basic luxury car features like heated rear seats I’ve even found in a Kia. While these options are available for the LS500 when the “Executive” package is selected, these are near basics in nearly every other luxury car, especially at a $100k+ price point. The other interior issue is the lack of space in relation to the smaller ES350. The LS is bigger in every way yet achieves only one more cubic square foot of passenger room. The LS even failed to hold just two ISF tires in the trunk of what is supposed to be a car that can hold everything.. It’s extremely surprising that something this big could hold so little. On the positive side, the tire guy did compliment the car, so that’s a win?
Regardless of the missing features expected in a ultra luxury car, the LS500 was loaded with tech and safety features I have had yet to see in a car. Cross traffic warning uses sensors to look for cars coming on cross streets that you might not be able to see around a corner and displays the direction at which they are traveling in your 24” heads up display(HUD). On top of the the moving dash gauge is a great gimmick and allows for Lexus to hide some setting options you normally have no need to see. The headlights are possibly the best in the industry in both brightness and color. Combined with bicyclists and pedestrian warning it might be one of the most people friendly cars too.
Driving the 5000lb Lexus LS500 F-Sport should not be as fun as it is either. During my time with the LS500, the wife and I made a trip to Knoxville to participate in the 6th Annual Cars & Coffee Poker Run supporting Variety, the Children’s Charity in Knoxville, Tennessee. The drive to Knoxville was very Lexus like. With nearly no effort the Lexus allegedly had us at very ticketable pace. The 3.5L Twin-turbo V6 is quite a lovely engine and while not as smooth as the V8s before it, felt like an acceptable replacement. With 40 more horsepower and an incredible 100 lb-ft torque more, it passed effortlessly. If not for the speedometer and slower moving traffic, there is no reason why you would think the car was cruising at the speeds it was. While the size can seem nearly unmanageably large in some parking lots, the Lexus gives the feeling of shrinking around it occupants at speed. It’s no longer like driving a luxury car longer than a Land Cruiser, but like scooting around in something much smaller.
The next day we got up early, made our way to Cars & Coffee where the event would start, and enjoyed all the various automobiles from the East Tennessee area. The poker run route took us to five checkpoints over 160 miles of gorgeous East Tennessee Countryside and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the country. Two of the main attractions of this run were climbing the Foothills Parkway, a gorgeous sweeping ridge road where the LS loved to play. As we came around these long corners the only complaint came from the Bridgestone Turanza T005 tires, which squealed through nearly every turn as they were brought to their baking point by the massive sedan. The car was composed though and the transmission and traction control more than happy to comply. Before I was even halfway through the Parkway, I had decided it was in the top five of roads I had ever driven.
At the end of the Foothills Parkway though is a monster. The infamous Tail of the Dragon. The Tail of the Dragon is one of the more popular and dangerous driving roads in North America. In just eleven miles there are an incredible 318 turns and in just a 10 year stretch, there were 27 fatalities. A turn every 60 yards would usually not bow well for a 5000 lb luxury sedan but the LS500 held its own. In sport plus the exhaust opens up, the engine and transmission are remapped, the traction control backs off, and the suspension gets firmer. For the first four miles the LS500 F-Sport was an absolute last, it did not act like a 5000lb car as it chased down the Mustang and Porsche in front of it. The only issue became the constant fight against the weight as understeer tried to claw its way out of the car. While a fight, the car was able to stay inside its lines as it paced the normally snail pace of 30 mph that is actually lightning fast on the Dragon. Eventually the sheer mass and increasingly tighter turns caught up to the LS500 though as the traction control kicked on at nearly every corner completely, upshifting the car and deflating all boost from the two turbos. In order to conserve the car the last part was taken much slower, something I definitely would have not had to worry about in my personal Lexus ISF driven by my parents in the same event. It was a bit of a letdown but something I completely expected much earlier in the run as hard as I was running it. By the end of the run I was more than ready to cool down a bit and enjoy the myriad of cars coming into the North Carolina rest stop at the end of the Dragon. The adrenaline and sheer length of the day at this point had taken its toll. The ISF caught up and after grabbing some water and a snack we made our way back down the Gap. the LS was definitely more lively as it had cooled down but a couple Harleys clogging up the road were much appreciated by the car. As the road finally straightened up I changed it back to Comfort mode and the Lexus transformed back into the Lexus everyone has come to know over the decades.
The verdict. Is this vehicle fitting of its historic luxury. After the seven days in it I can absolutely say yes. While the F-Sport is lacking in options with its more driver focused intent, I have sat in Executive package cars not costing too much more and it is absolutely one of the best vehicles in its segment. Smooth, quiet and relaxing it is very much what you expect. The only problem with the Ls is not as much of the LS being bad, but the 2019 ES being so good. Unless you are getting the to the moon Executive Package or Executive Package Plus Kiriko Glass with all four seats that recline, heat, ventilate and massage it’s just not worth it for double the price of the ES350 I tested this year. The ES350 F-Sport has 85% of the looks, 90% of the options, 99% of the passenger space, 113% of the fuel economy only 75% of the power but it has 75% of the weight. All of this for under 50% of the cost. IF you want all the feature and can shell out roughly $109,000, the the LS500 Executive is the one to get, otherwise the ES350 is going to save you a lot of money and be most of the car you want. Maybe Lexus is just making cars too good these days.