Lexus' largest, most comfortable executive sedan has long been a high-water mark for driving comfort and build quality, and minor adjustments for 2021 help this boat keep the course.
Perhaps the most important update in the 2021 Lexus LS 500 is the 12.3-inch infotainment display, which has been removed from its cave on the dashboard and brought much closer to the driver, enabling the use of a touchscreen for the first time. It is, to put it nicely, extremely overdue. Lexus' horrible trackpad still exists, and it still functions the same as before with its artificial detents and generally sloppy finger tracking, but I don't know why you'd use it instead of just tapping the thing you want. Lexus made a few other much needed quality-of-life updates in this arena, including a button that finally offers fast access to the heated seat and steering wheel controls.
Despite this new (to Lexus) way of fiddling with the display, I can't help but feel that the software as a whole needs to go. The graphics are way behind the times, and while functionalities like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration are always welcome, the system's offerings fall behind newer, flashier telematics from Audi, Genesis and Mercedes-Benz. A couple USB-C ports in the center armrest to match the pair of USB-A ports wouldn't hurt, either.
Just ahead of the driver is a clever little gauge display, with a large central tachometer that can shuffle sideways to expand what information is being conveyed to the driver, whether it's basic things like road speeds and revs or more ancillary stuff like fuel economy. It, too, is old, but it gets the job done. On the newer side, the optional $1,220 head-up display above the gauges offers a whopping 24 inches of real estate, more than enough to include basically every piece of pertinent information your eyes could desire. One thing I'll never get tired of seeing in the LS, or any Lexus for that matter, is the optional Mark Levinson sound system, which on my tester costs $1,940 and includes 23 speakers and 2,400 watts of power -- and yes, it sounds the absolute business.
No matter the trim, every 2021 Lexus LS 500 comes with a standard suite of active and passive safety systems that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams. Plunk down an extra $3,000 and you get my tester's enhanced safety package that adds cross-traffic warnings at intersections, the ability to reduce adaptive cruise speed in curves and active lane-change assist. As expected, all these systems work smoothly -- just keep your hands on the wheel and let the system guide you down the highway in comfort.
While luxury-forward variants of the Lexus LS let you load up the interior with five digits' worth of cut glass this and brocade that, my F Sport tester keeps things a little more down to earth, although not by much. The turned aluminum trim on the doors is interesting without being shouty, which pretty much describes the interior in general. It's a sort of conservative luxury that relies on one or two strong statements -- the metal strips that span the width of the dash and lead into some of the most interestingly styled door panels in the industry. I'm also a huge fan of the clever pattern built into the 28-way power seats that come standard in the F Sport. Everywhere my hand lands feels expensive, and the build quality is top notch.
The back seats are lovely, too, as they should be in a car that's for both drivers and the driven. You can sit three abreast, or you can ditch the hop-on and fold down the center armrest to reveal a wealth of switches for controlling everything one might need, including the position of the front passenger seat. Legroom and headroom abound, and the bench itself is just as plush as the buckets up front.
While the trunk is positively voluminous at nearly 17 cubic feet, besting most of the segment, chucking your junk isn't much more difficult in the cabin. The center console cubby under the armrest complements the sufficiently deep door pockets, although I do wish the cup holders were big enough to hold larger-format water bottles and the like.
The days of the V8-powered Lexus LS are behind us, but it doesn't really matter. The 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine under the hood does more than enough to motivate this large cruiser, sending 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels (AWD is a $3,250 upgrade) through a 10-speed automatic transmission. The engine is content to provide nearly no soundtrack in its normal operating range, owing in part to an extremely well isolated cabin, but liberal use of my right foot elicits a fairly aggressive growl as the revs rise.
However, despite its F Sport designation, I would not advise caning this rig. Moving the dashboard-mounted mode switch to Sport or Sport Plus does have an appreciable and immediate effect; the active suspension stiffens and the throttle response wakes up, but someone forgot to tell the transmission. Shifts remain prioritized for smoothness, which means the slushbox truly lives up to its moniker despite everything else acting perkier. You can blow $7,800 on the Dynamic Handling Package that adds rear-wheel steering, variable-ratio power steering and active anti-roll bars, but I don't think it's worth the effort.
The throttle also does this weird thing where a prompt lift of my right foot doesn't exactly register right away with the engine, so momentum continues to build for about a quarter of a second before the weight shifts forward and engine braking comes into play. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence in switchbacks.
But that's fine, because even in F Sport guise, the LS 500 is built for long, steady cruising, and it absolutely dominates at that task. Leave everything in Comfort mode and let this sedan coddle you all day. My tester's optional air suspension ($1,400) eradicates whatever little annoyances would have tried to make their way to the cabin, and pedal modulation makes for limo-quality starts and stops every time. It's clear how the LS prefers to operate, and it's also clear that Lexus has put an immense amount of effort into making this one of the smoothest rides in the segment, which is quite the tall order. It's just so damn comfortable.
Not using a V8 also has the neat side benefit of tolerable fuel economy. My tester's F Sport RWD setup is rated at 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, which is not too shabby for a 5,000-pound bank vault. The LS 500h hybrid has it beat at 25 city and 33 highway, but what's a couple emm-pee-gees between friends?
In the large executive luxury sedan segment, nothing is truly inexpensive, but the 2021 Lexus LS represents a decent bargain. My tester's starting price of $80,625 including destination rings in well below the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series, and it's way under the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which at the time of writing requires a six-digit cost of entry. Nearly fully loaded, the LS on my driveway carries a window sticker of $98,630. If anything, Lexus' biggest cause for concern is just across the Sea of Japan; the latest Genesis G90 is nearly as good as the LS, with aggressively similar pricing and a vastly superior infotainment system.
When change is a daily constant, it's nice to experience something that feels a little more set in place. That's the 2021 Lexus LS 500 in a nutshell; you don't need all the latest techno-doodads to make a big luxury car that's high on build quality and ride comfort. Lexus is leaning on all its strengths with the LS, and it shows. Now let's do something about that infotainment…