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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Tuesday, October 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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2020 Lexus LS 500h AWD: Lexus’s full-size flagship proves frugality need not be painful

Not all that long ago, most of us thought we’d have to suffer to be frugal.

You know; hair-shirt stuff. Tinny cars, noisy cabins, weakling powertrains. 

But once again the auto industry has proven us wrong. Our tester, the 2020 Lexus LS 500h, is the hybrid version of the company’s full-size LS flagship sedan. It is shamelessly luxurious, beyond merely comfortable and strong enough to deliver sports-car quick acceleration.

Granted, the LS is not inexpensive — pricing for the LS starts at $75,450 and for the hybrid at $79,950 — but that cost of entry seriously undercuts the competitions’. 

The current, fifth-generation LS dropped in 2018. Longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, Its sweeping, coupe-like profile makes for a dashing presence but limits headroom, especially in the rear seats.

The LS is available with rear-wheel drive, AWD is available.

Sumptuous materials, creative design

The cockpit exudes elegance. It sustains passengers with first-class seating and surrounds them with sumptuous materials and creative design. 

Designers prototyped the elaborate door panels using origami techniques. The sparkling, cut-glass accents that frame the floating door handles are derived from the Kiriko ornamental glass tradition. 

Leather covers all seating surfaces and a variety of wood trims allows buyers to personalize the look and feel of the forward cabin. Air conditioning vents are concealed within the handsome wood-and-metal grates that span the width of the dashboard.

Casual cabin storage is limited to a cell-phone slot, a driver-side fold-out coin holder and a large, covered bin under the padded armrest between the seats.

The heated and cooled front seats are 16-way adjustable; 28-way seats, with massage, are available. The outboard rear seats can be heated and fitted with 18-way power adjustments.

Abundant tech

The 500h is a rolling showcase of automotive technology, of which significant parts feel not ready for prime time.

Take Lexus’s new Multi Stage Hybrid System. Powerful and efficient, it combines a 3.5-liter V-6 with two electric motors to make 354 horsepower. In a truly innovative touch, the V-6 is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that is in turn paired with a conventional four-speed automatic. 

The goal is to simulate a 10-speed gear box and minimize the elastic responses to which CVTs are prone. However, the real-world effects include erratic shifts and a powerplant that’s coarse and raspy under acceleration.

At cruising speeds, the system is smooth and silent.

The non-hybrid LS runs a twin-turbocharged V-6 that makes 416 horsepower and propels the 5,000-pound sedan from 0-60 in a sports-car-quick 5.1 seconds. The hybrid is two clicks slower to 60 but delivers 28 mpg in combined driving versus the non-hybrid’s 23 mpg.

Both engines require premium unleaded.

Ride firm, less plush

Fifth-generation suspension tweaks improve handling but produce a ride that’s a bit firmer and less plush than before. Our tester included the available air suspension that helps counter ride stiffness. However, as if to offset those gains, our tester wore the optional 20-inch wheels, which struggled to smooth out potholes.

Cabin tech includes Lexus’s comprehensive infotainment system, with navigation, and a full array of driver assistance features. A 12.3-inch display is located high in the dash and is controlled by a track-pad-based device that is difficult to use in the best of circumstances and nearly impossible with the car in motion.

The system’s menus are convoluted and confusing. Many basic functions — i.e., the seat heaters and heated steering wheel — are hidden behind too many screens and require too many swipes of the console-mounted trackpad. 

Apple CarPlay is now standard, as are Siri Eyes Free and Google Assistant.

Also standard is Lexus Safety Systems Plus, which includes forward-collision warning and automatic braking with pedestrian detection; lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights. 

The Luxury package adds the adaptive air suspension, upgraded front seats with quilted leather upholstery, power-reclining rear seats and more.

This is how luxury rolls as we head into the second decade of the new millennium. Are we suffering yet?

Questions or comments? Contact Don at

2020 Lexus LS 500h AWD
Vehicle base price: $75,450
Trim level base price: $83,180
As tested: $108,525
Options included Lexus Safety System + A; adaptive variable air suspension; quilted semi-aniline leather upholstery; 28-way power adjustable front seats, with massage; heated power-adjustable and reclining rear seats; Mark Levinson 2,400-watt sound system; premium wood trim and more
EPA ratings: 26 combined/23 city/31 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.