by Jay Traugott
The Lexus LS 500h is the very epitome of a prestige vehicle. Stunning in its modern exterior design, high-quality build, and sublime interior, this hybrid elite sedan offers impressive fuel economy and reliability ratings to boot, making this one of the most respected full-size sedans on the market. Still, it has a few drawbacks, which include the distracting touch-based infotainment system controller, a surprisingly average drive experience, and limited rear-seat space. Offering an interesting comparison between the BMW 7 Series and the all-new avant-garde Mercedes-Benz S Class S 560e, the LS 500h is fitted with a 3.5-liter V6 gas/electric hybrid engine with dual electric motors and a compact lithium-ion battery that generates a total of 354 horsepower. Available in both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, the powertrain is paired to a multistage ECVT and automatic transmission (simulated ten-speed auto transmission) and ranges in price from $79, 960 to $83,180.
For 2019 the infotainment system in the Lexus LS 500h now comes with Apple CarPlay functionality and Amazon Alexa integration as standard; the lack of Android compatibility remains a glaring oversight. The optional Lexus Safety System + A package has received the addition of a semi-automated lane-change advanced driver assist feature. In all other aspects, the LS remains the same, still benefiting from the new suspension system and elongated body from the previous year's redesign.
With an arresting front profile, the LS 500h has an almost over-the-top, assertive grille design that serves the purpose of making this vehicle stand out. It features triple-projector ultra-compact LED headlights with cornering lamps and turn signals, rain-sensing windshield wipers and electrochromic auto-dimming mirrors with puddle lamps. The slender, languid body lines culminate in contemporary LED taillamps in the rear; a hands-free power open/close trunk and automatic power-closing doors are standard. This large sedan is fitted with 19-inch split-ten-spoke aluminum noise-reduction wheels, which can be upgraded to 20-inch optionally.
The LS 500h stretches 206.1 inches in length, much like the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes S-Class. Both rivals have wheelbase measurements similar to the 123 inches of the Lexus, and all three share similar total widths of 74.8 inches. The rear-wheel-drive model stands 57.5 inches in height with an impressive ground clearance of 6.6 inches. Heavier than most competitors, the LS 500h has a curb weight of 4,850 pounds. The all-wheel-drive variant is a little taller at 57.9 inches with a ground clearance of 6.3 inches, and is heavier still, weighing in at 5,027 lbs.
There are a total of ten cost-inclusive exterior color options available for the LS 500h, including Eminent White Pearl, Liquid Platinum, Atomic Silver, Manganese Luster, Caviar, Obsidian, Matador Red Mica, Satin Cashmere Metallic, Autumn Shimmer, and Nightfall Mica; the latter two choices are paired with select interior options only. The Matador Red Mica shade accentuates the sleek, sporty body design and metallic silver exterior accents of the coupe, while the Satin Cashmere Metallic color works well for the more conservative and executive buyer.
The hybrid sedan is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 gas/electric hybrid Atkinson cycle engine with dual electric motors and a compact lithium-ion battery, geared to generate a total of 354 hp. Power is forwarded via an integrated multistage ECVT and four-speed ratio automatic transmission which simulates a ten-speed automatic transmission and can be configured either as a rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. This all sounds slightly convoluted, and it is thus no surprise that this amalgamation of complex underpinnings results in an incohesive and inconsistent powertrain. By cause of the incoherent V6 engine and efficiency-minded electronics, power delivery is mostly unaligned with driver input. Modest accelerator inputs move the LS 500h to a maximum of 15 mph from a standstill on pure electric power, after which the unrefined gas engine takes over.
Excellent ride comfort is a matter of course with the Lexus LS; comfort is prioritized over performance, and opulent levels of luxury are evidenced throughout the cabin with seemingly no expense spared. The suspension maintains stability over rough roads, all the while the cabin remains completely tranquil. Unfortunately, the standard adaptive variable suspension does convey a firmer ride for the driver than is warranted from a high-end luxury sedan, which can, however, be rectified by opting for the optional air suspension which noticeably smooths things out. The steering and brakes are adequately responsive but, by the fault of the disconnected engine feel and passive, lack of engagement, road feel and wheel position are not substantially communicated. Though the LS 500h's lengthy body and heavy chassis make for laborious handling around bends and sharper corners, body control and stability are kept adequate throughout.
Both available drivetrains are comprised of a 3.5-liter V6 gas/electric hybrid Atkinson cycle engine with dual electric motors and a compact lithium-ion battery. The EPA has estimated that the rear-wheel-drive LS 500h should manage 25/33/28 mpg in city/highway/combined driving cycles, while the AWD model performs slightly less economically with 23/31/26 mpg. These fuel economy estimates are some of the best in the class, comparing especially well against the Mercedes-Benz S Class. Premium unleaded fuel is required for use in the LS 500h, which holds a total of 22.2 gallons in its tank. Filled up, the rear-wheel-drive LS 500h can traverse a maximum range of 621.6 miles, while the all-wheel-drive variant can manage 577.2 miles.
As a large luxury sedan, a maximum of five occupants can be accommodated on standard leather upholstery. The seats are wide and well-cushioned for a comfortable and plush experience, even on daily commutes. Extended road trips would be effortless. Headroom and legroom are ample upfront, though room in the rear can become tight for exceptionally tall adults; the center seat in the back is really too narrow for most occupants. Ingress and egress are easy to live with on a daily basis with wide door openings. For the driver, an optimal driving position is easy to find thanks to extensive seat adjustments, big windows, and generally ample visibility. Ergonomically everything is well within reach, and in terms of space, the LS 500h has slightly more room than the Mercedes in certain areas but is not quite as spacious as the BMW overall.
Trunk space in the LS 500h is moderately sizeable at 15.2 cubic-feet; two large travel bags and a set of golf clubs would just about fit. For added convenience, the trunk lid opens widely for easy cargo loading and features hands-free access activated by swiping your foot across a sensor located beneath the bumper. The rear seats do not fold down to expand trunk space, so versatility is somewhat limited (not that one buys such a sedan for regular loading of cargo exclusively).
There is an ample amount of in-cabin small-item storage compartments too, including a spacious front cabin center console and glovebox, and useful door side pockets throughout. In the rear, the center seat backrest folds down to present a decently sized armrest center console, thoughtfully positioned for maximum comfort.
At its base level, the LS 500h comes with a comprehensive list of features which include comfort and convenience items such as SmartAccess with push-button Start/Stop, a power moonroof, power rear sunshade, automatic door closer, hands-free power trunk, heated leather-trimmed steering wheel with paddle shifters, 16-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats with power-adjustable headrests, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The luxury sedan also incorporates a range of safety and advanced driver assists as well, including the Lexus Safety System + 2.0, along with Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross-traffic Alert, Intuitive Parking Assist with auto braking and a rearview backup camera.
Featured in the LS 500h is an infotainment system with a 12.3-inch color LCD multimedia display, integrated with a trackpad-style interface and a Lexus 12-speaker premium audio system. The setup runs the Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 with Enform Dynamic Navigation with a complimentary three-year subscription. Apple CarPlay comes as standard in the LS 500h for 2019, and Amazon Alexa integration is supported - sadly, Android Auto remains excluded. The system offers dynamic voice command with Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity, and there is WiFi hotspot capability with a 4GB/one-year complimentary trial included. The Enform Remote app and Amazon Alexa compatibility are also complimentary for one year. The LS 500h infotainment system utilizes Active Sound Control and Active Noise Cancellation as well, for a truly superb experience.
The 2019 Lexus LS 500h received a superb predicted reliability rating of 4.5 out of five from JD Power. This is underscored by a complimentary maintenance plan for one year/10,000 miles, while the manufacturer offers a basic warranty for four years/50,000 miles, and covers the drivetrain with a six-year/70,000-mile warranty. Furthermore, the hybrid component is covered for eight years/100,000 miles, and a four-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance plan is also included.
No existing model of the LS 500h has been crash-tested or evaluated for safety by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This is generally the case when it comes to high-end luxury vehicles in this price range. However, a comprehensive list of safety features are incorporated into the vehicle, and the lack of actively lodged recalls are indicative of good results thus far.
Within its class, the 2019 Lexus LS 500h is a well-respected luxury sedan that has been expertly crafted. The overall quality of this prestigious vehicle is evident in the extravagant cabin design and use of upscale interior materials. It has been designed with an executive and opulent focus in mind, and delivers on all fronts - bar one. The troublesome trackpad-style interface on the infotainment system really detracts from an otherwise brilliant vehicle. The inclusion of Apple CarPlay functionality and Amazon Alexa integration has also added to the modern feel. The unique, yet complex, powertrain offers swift acceleration and responsive handling, though driving engagement and overall drive is rather average: this is not a sport-sedan. In arriving at a verdict, the class-leading fuel economy estimates and predicted reliability rating of the LS 500h place it as one of the top luxury sedans available on the market.
For the rear-wheel-drive LS 500h, buyers can expect a starting MSRP of $79,960 whereas the all-wheel-drive model is priced at $83,180. Within this price range, the LS 500h is a value-packed choice amongst rivals who are often more expensive without the benefit of all the standard features. These prices are exclusive of Lexus' delivery, processing and handling fee of $1,025, and excludes taxes, title and license fees. Dealership prices may vary, and dealer-specific incentives are available, including price-altering accessory options.
3.5-liter V6 Hybrid
We recommend the rear-wheel-drive LS 500h as it offers the best fuel-efficiency while still maintaining the same level of standard features and optional packages as the all-wheel-drive variant. At its base level, it is also $3,220 cheaper than the all-wheel-drive model. To further benefit from the LS 500h, we recommend adding the $1,500 adaptive variable air suspension system with rapid height function to improve overall ride comfort. Additionally, the $3,000 Lexus Safety System + A package that includes all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and lane change assist, pre-collision warning system with front cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, active steering assist, and head-up display integration, is a worthy investment.
The BMW xDrive 740e features a less powerful but adequate turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor to produce a combined 322 horsepower, which is 22 less ponies than the Lexus LS 500h. Although with a smaller engine, the BMW still isn't able to quite match up to the Lexus in terms of fuel economy, with 27 mpg as opposed to the 28 mpg of the Lexus. It has a smaller gas tank capacity as well, meaning more regular stops at the pump. In comparison to the Lexus, the BMW is equipped with a more refined eight-speed automatic transmission, which delivers superior shift responses while the Lexus' gearbox feels confused or slightly hesitant at the best of times. Technology in the BMW is also preferable, easy-to-use and state-of-the-art, and it is here where the BMW tops the class in general. Ride and vehicle comfort is otherwise on par between both sedans, and the feature-rich cabins are both ritzy, being exceptional places to spend extended periods of time. The Lexus LS 500h is, however, the better hybrid overall, and at its price range offers true value for money.
The Mercedes-Benz S 560e is an all-new plug-in hybrid, debuted as part of the 2019 S Class lineup. It features a turbocharged V6 engine paired with an electric motor to generate a superior combined 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. The S560e can travel up to 25 miles on the electric motor and large 13.5-kWh battery alone, and up to 80 mph before the internal-combustion engine engages. The large battery pack elicits some drawbacks, however, as it limits cargo capacity considerably; furthermore, fuel economy is expected to be no different than a conventionally powered S-Class once the battery runs out. This renders the 560e more suited towards shorter, daily commutes than long journeys, whereas the Lexus manages both scenarios with aplomb. In terms of standard technology and safety features, the 560e takes the lead in this comparison, utilizing state-of-the-art infotainment and supporting a host of features including both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality which is lacking in the Lexus. The 560e is expected to be around $10,000 more expensive than the LS 500h, but seems a worthy hike in price for the extra tech, modernity and general Mercedez charisma that makes this the better sedan between the two.