The point of a luxury vehicle is to shelter passengers from life’s harsh realities.
Smooth and quiet. That’s the ticket.
But modern luxury sedans are also expected to possess superior driving dynamics. Credit the rise of imported European sedans in the 1950s.
They were smaller, more efficient and more engaging than the big, softly suspended domestic sedans that had ruled the luxury roost.
With their refined chassis, taut suspensions and precise steering and braking systems, the Germans introduced performance to the luxury segments. They pioneered such advances as disc brakes, radial-ply tires and, more recently, automated manual transmissions.
Infotainment controls updated
Today’s tester, the 2021 Lexus LS 500 ($76,000), is an artful Asian interpretation of the modern luxury sedan. Its four-passenger cabin is beautifully designed, elegantly appointed and whisper-quiet. It spoils passengers with terrific seats, abundant soft-touch surfaces and an outstanding audio system.
Our tester included the remarkable 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, but even the base 12-speaker system offers quite good sound.
For 2021, the LS receives new headlamps and trim surrounds. Lexus tweaked the active noise-cancellation system to reduce cabin noise.
And, after years of relying on an awkward infotainment system called Remote Touch, Lexus finally introduces a functional touchscreen. The 12.3-inch unit eliminates the need for the Remote Touch system, though Remote Touch remains intact.
The touchscreen is a bit of a reach and most users are likely to use some combination of Remote Touch and touchscreen inputs.
Unfortunately, Lexus crams too many functions into the infotainment system. Adjusting the cabin temp or the heated seats requires dipping into the complicated menu system. Audio system controls are needlessly complex as well.
Sold in a single trim
The LS is sold in a single trim, with several available options packages. Aside from a hybrid version ($89,010), there are no upscale powertrains.
All LS’s but the hybrid are powered by a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine that makes 416 horsepower and is paired with a flawless 10-speed automatic transmission.
The powertrain delivers torque to the rear wheels (AWD is available) with enough urgency, says Lexus, to power a 4,700-pound rear-drive LS from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds.
The engine is smooth and strong. It produces a hearty growl under acceleration, then goes inaudible at speed.
Every LS is equipped with LED exterior lighting; 19-inch wheels; a hands-free power trunk; soft-close doors; sunroof; leather upholstery; heated, ventilated and power-adjustable front seats, power rear sunshade; the 12.3-inch touchscreen; navigation; Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility; and a proximity key with push-button ignition.
Standard safety and driver-assist features include automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and blindspot monitoring.
F Sport upgrades
We tested a 2021 LS 500 equipped with all-wheel-drive and Lexus’s F Sport package ($79,600). F Sport adds unique exterior styling, 20-inch alloy wheels, perforated leather seats, ultra-suede headliner, heated steering wheel, 28-way powered front seats and aluminum pedals and interior trim.
Performance-wise, F Sport has a sport-tuned suspension with adaptive dampers and six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers.
A Dynamic Handling Package, available only on RWD F Sport models, adds variable gear-ratio steering, rear steering and active stabilizers.
F SPORT interior touches include wave-like patterning on seating surfaces and Naguri aluminum trim.
There’s a downside to the push to isolate riders from the outside world also means isolating the driver from the car itself. In the LS, it’s possible to locate the machine beneath the algorithms by dialing up the Sport S+ drive mode.
Responsive, engaging and vigorous
The suspension and steering immediately tighten up, the turbocharged six takes on a note of urgency and the automatic transmission sharpens its shifts and holds gears longer.
What has been a pleasant driving experience grows vigorous. The LS is no faster in Sport+ mode, but it is more responsive and engaging.
The LS is a wide car, though, and body lean is ever-present. Consequently, it’s not a serious corner-carver.
Stacked up against its mostly German competitors, the LS 500 is a value play. Its dynamics should be sharper, but it does a fine job of keeping the outside world outside. Just like a luxury sedan must.
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2021 Lexus LS 500 F Sport AWD
Vehicle base price: $76,000
Trim level base price: $79,600
As tested: $88,885 (includes destination and handling)
Options: 24-inch heads-up display; Mark Levinson audio system; panoramic glass roof; all-weather floor liners with cargo tray; rear bumper appliqué; door edge guards; trunk mat; cargo net; wheel locks; key gloves
EPA ratings: 21 combined/17 city/27 highway
Premium gas specified