by Morgan Carter
It's hard to balance the sinfully sumptuous qualities of a luxury sedan with the frugal practicality of a hybrid, but Lexus has made a bold attempt to do so in the stylish Lexus LS Hybrid. The sedan looks as good as it feels, with an interior that oozes style and comfort from every soft-touch surface or upscale trimming. With an extensive list of standard features, including numerous advanced safety features, the LS doesn't come cheap, asking over $100k if you go all out with the available features. And while, in theory, the 354-horsepower hybrid powertrain should help it lower the cost of ownership, the LS is not as thrifty as even other luxury sedans like the Audi A8 or Volvo S90. But, if you're looking at the luxury segment, then saving on the hybrid's better fuel economy is just a bonus, and it's the vehicle's class-leading ride quality and tech features that keep your attention. So, save the environment and burn your money on this opulent luxury sedan instead.
First introduced to the market in its current guise in 2018, the Lexus LS Hybrid received some minor changes to its features in 2019, but nothing changed mechanically. However, for 2020, the LS 500h enters the market with no notable changes.
The hybrid sedan shares the same good looks as the standard Lexus LS, but it sports unique blue accent lighting that advertises its electric characteristics. The front fascia is dominated by the trademark hourglass-shaped spindle grille mounted with the L badge. Lightning bolt LED headlights are complemented by daytime running lights, while slim horizontal taillights bring up the rear. The 19-inch wheels don't negatively impact ride quality as they do on the non-hybrid sedan, and a power sunroof and hands-free trunk lid come standard.
The Lexus LS Hybrid is as big as you would ever want your luxury sedan to be, measuring in at 206.1 inches long with a 123-inch wheelbase. It is equally wide at 74.8 inches, meaning you will be thankful for the standard parking assistance features. The sedan isn't overly tall, though, standing only 57.5 inches high. As is common with hybrid models, the LS is heavier than its standard variant; even so, it is particularly heavy at 4,850 lbs with rear-wheel-drive and passing the 2.5-ton mark at 5,027 lbs when equipped with all-wheel-drive.
Powering the LS 500h is a 295-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine coupled with two electric motors. This combination powertrain delivers a total output of 354 hp to the sedan's rear wheels, although all-wheel-drive is available, too. As is the case in most hybrid vehicles, the power is regulated by a continuously variable transmission. While CVTs provide more fluid power management, they aren't known for their quick acceleration. The Lexus LS seems to buck this trend by boasting a 0 to 60 mph sprint time of a claimed 5.1 seconds.
Around town, the sedan has plenty of power to pull off from intersections faster than most cars on the road, thanks to the extra power of the electric motors. At highway speeds, the powertrain loses some of its zest, but passing and merging are still simple tasks with a little extra pressure on the pedal.
While not as powerful as the non-hybrid sedan, the LS 500h still manages to charm drivers with its capable handling and eager acceleration. If you want a sporty drive, then you may want to look at the LS 500 F Sport; the hybrid focuses almost entirely on comfort, with the adaptive suspension absorbing road imperfections without any fuss. Normally, 19-inch wheels would be a con on a luxury sedan, as they negatively impact ride quality, but the Lexus Hybrid manages to make them work, partially thanks to eco-friendly tires.
The steering is light and responsive, especially at lower speeds. This is also where acceleration thrives, with the electric assistance launching the sedan forward with surprising quickness. You'll get up to 60 mph in a short five seconds, but the power does taper off at higher revs due to the thrifty CVT, which emphasizes economy over fun. At higher speeds, the steering will lose some of its playfulness, and you will need to apply gas more aggressively to pass faster cars on the road.
The hybrid handles remarkably well too, sticking to the road well around bends or over bumps, but it will never offer the thrill of sportier sedans like the Audi A8 or Volvo S90. Still, with good road manners, predictable steering and braking responses, and an unquestionably comfortable ride, the Lexus LS Hybrid ticks all the right boxes if luxurious cruising is your primary concern.
Despite being a hybrid, the LS doesn't offer the most impressive fuel economy figures on the market. With 25/33/28 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles in its rear-wheel-drive guise, the hybrid is certainly more efficient than the non-hybrid, but even other luxury hybrids deliver much better figures. Furthermore, the all-wheel-drive LS sacrifices two mpg across the board. By comparison, the Volvo S90 plug-in gets 30 mpg in the combined cycle with only the gasoline engine, and 60 MPGe when considering the combination powertrain. Economy sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord can achieve a combined mileage figure of 52 mpg. With its 22.2-gallon tank of gas, the Lexus LS can cover up to 622 miles before needing to refuel. This only sounds impressive because of the size of the tank, and refilling it will be shockingly expensive as it requires premium unleaded gasoline.
Upholstered in leather, the seating can accommodate up to five inside the cabin of the luxury sedan, but the back row is unlikely to seat more than two adults comfortably. Headroom is adequate, but hardly generous, but at least the legroom is ample all-around. The front seats offer 16-way power adjustment and offer heating and cooling functions. The rear seats can also be upgraded with the same features if you install the Luxury Package. Thus, finding a perfect driving position is easy enough, and visibility is pretty good despite the low roofline. The rearview camera, parking sensors, and blind-spot monitor pick up the slack when your eyes can't cut it. The power-closing doors and low seat height make getting into and out of the LS easy, but tight spaces can be a problem for the large doors. The interior can be dressed in a variety of colors with complementing trims, including Black, Parchment, or Chateau leather and Art Wood Organic, Kiriko Class, or Laser Special trim.
Cargo capacity is seldom the strength of a hybrid vehicle, and the Lexus LS Hybrid is no different. Losing about two cubic feet of space when compared to the standard LS, the hybrid sedan only supplies 15.2 cubic feet in the trunk. While you won't be stowing the family's luggage for a weekend getaway, it should be enough space for your weekly groceries. Compared to rival hybrid sedans like the Toyota Camry or Honda Insight, the Lexus is on par, if not superior, in terms of trunk space, but both of these are substantially smaller, and a rival S-Class Hybrid will leave the LS for dead.
Around the cabin, you will find a standard glove compartment, a center armrest cubby, and an assortment of trays and bins nestled within the dash to store all your pocket change, cellphones, spare keys, water bottles. Cupholders and door pockets are offered, too, and all the storage compartments show the same degree of care as the rest of the cabin, with elegant trimming and soft-touch materials.
There is no shortage of features on the LS, especially when it comes to comfort and safety. Standard equipment comprises dual-zone climate control, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power doors, a power rear sunshade, and a power moonroof. The front seats are heated and ventilated and allow for 16-way power-adjustability. Factory-installed safety features comprise a rearview camera, rear and front parking sensors, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, lane departure alert, blind-spot monitoring, and pedestrian detection. While there are no other trim levels, the features can be expanded upon by adding packages. Available features include 28-way power front seats, 18-way power heated rear seats, quad-zone climate control, a surround-view camera, front cross-traffic alert, a head-up display, and semi-autonomous driving assistance.
As high-tech and comprehensive as the infotainment suite is, we can only wonder at the decision to opt for touchpad navigation instead of conventional touchscreen interaction. This qualm aside, however, the infotainment is as upscale as you'd expect from a sedan in this price bracket. The 12.3-inch display is controlled via the touchpad and grants access to BlueTooth, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, Lexus Enform services, and navigation. Two USB ports are offered to interface or charge your smart devices, and 12-speaker Lexus premium sound system plays the audio from your AM/FM Radio, MP3 player, or connected smart devices.
The luxury sedan has not been rated for reliability by an independent body and has not received many complaints. This can probably be attributed to the low sales volumes of luxury vehicles. However, the Lexus LS non-hybrid was recalled for faulty stability control/brake assist, a feature shared with the hybrid variant. Lexus offers the luxury hybrid sedan with a 50,000-mile/48-month limited warranty and a 70,000-mile/72-month powertrain warranty. The hybrid components are covered for 100,000 miles/96 months.
Low-volume luxury vehicles are seldom comprehensively crash-tested, if at all. The Lexus LS follows this trend, with no safety score from the NHTSA or IIHS. However, the list of safety features that come standard on the hybrid sedan is truly extensive. These include a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, front and rear parking sensors, and automatic high beams. Ten airbags come standard: including front, front knee, front side, and side curtain. Available advanced safety features include front cross-traffic alert, a surround-view camera, and semi-autonomous driving assistance, as well as two additional airbags for the knees of the rear occupants.
In a market that is becoming increasingly competitive, as going green becomes more popular, it's harder and harder for hybrid vehicles to stand out. It's easy to rationalize that the overall cost of ownership is lower even if the initial outlay is significantly higher, but when looking at hybrid luxury sedans, is that still the case?
The Lexus LS is not a cheap car, to begin with, and installing a hybrid powertrain can see the bill skyrocket up to $100k, if you really can't live without all the bells and whistles. But are the sacrifices worth it? The LS Hybrid has a smaller trunk than its standard counterpart. But, to be fair, it is on par with most similarly sized hybrid sedans. Still, the Lexus is eminently luxurious and has so many features, it's a wonder they all fit.
Overlooking the finicky interface, the infotainment system is extensive and incorporates most, if not all, of the modern applications you'd expect from a luxury vehicle. On top of that, the safety suite is extensive, with many advanced safety features that most rivals only offer as options or lock behind their top-tier trim levels. The icing on top is the supremely comfortable and upscale interior that pairs perfectly with the sedan's quiet and smooth ride quality. In all these areas, the Lexus excels.
However, as a hybrid, it doesn't impress. The LS gets quite poor fuel economy - only moderately better than its non-hybrid variant. If you have money to burn, the LS Hybrid is certainly a more responsible buy than the standard LS, and it offers all the same comforts without losing too much in terms of performance. But, at the end of the day, there are smarter buys out there, with many non-hybrid rivals offering comparable performance and luxury without such exorbitant price tags.
Even among luxury vehicles, the Lexus LS Hybrid is quite pricey. With only a single trim on offer, you can pick up the well-equipped 500h for $79,960 if you are happy with the rear-wheel drivetrain. If you want the extra control of permanent all-wheel-drive, you will need to shell out $83,180. The Luxury Package asks for an extra investment of $12,270, while the Executive Package can add as much as $23,080 to your final bill, pushing the price past the $100k mark. These prices do not include tax, registration, licensing, or Lexus' $1,025 destination charge.
3.5-liter V6 Hybrid
Only one trim level is offered, so there is little choice here. But how you customize your 500h. Most of the packages are exorbitantly expensive, so we can't recommend them unless you really have the cash to burn, in which case you can pick up the Executive Package. This adds
hand-pleated interior door trimming, semi-aniline leather upholstery, 28-way power front seats with multifunction massage functions, and 22-way power rear seats. Some more reasonable options include premium LED headlights ($300), a surround-view camera ($800), or a 24-inch head-up display ($1,200).
The BMW 745e plug-in hybrid is no cheaper than the Lexus LS, with a starting MSRP of $95,550, but it does get a stronger powertrain than its previous iterations, with a combined 280 hp at its disposal. This isn't as potent as the engine under the hood of the Lexus, yet the BMW is still able to make the 0 to 60 mph sprint in the same five seconds. Similarly, it doesn't offer more passenger or trunk space than the LS. Considering it costs about $20k more than the base LS 500h, and doesn't come equipped with quite as many features as standard, the BMW hybrid falls quite short in the luxury department. But, it makes up for this in performance, offering a far more athletic and engaging driving experience. It also has significantly better fuel consumption figures and allows for all-electric driving by virtue of its plug-in architecture, even if it still relies on premium gasoline. Nonetheless, the Lexus LS Hybrid is the smarter buy here, since you don't buy a hybrid for the thrill of the drive.
A brand new addition to the market for 2020, the Mercedes S 560e still has to make a name for itself. But, with a potent 469-hp powertrain under the hood and comparable mileage figures to the LS (even better when you look at the 58 MPGe combined ratings), the German hybrid will certainly draw its share of attention. However, if you think the Lexus LS 500h is expensive, the S 560e will shock you with its $109,750 price tag - and, it relies on premium gasoline, so the cost of running the vehicle won't be much better than the Lexus. The Merc does offer better passenger and trunk space, though, with 16.3 cubic feet available. But, it doesn't have as many features as standard when compared to the Lexus. As with the BMW, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid is the more premium vehicle, delivering a more thrilling driving experience as well as an all-electric range of 30 miles, but if you want to match everything offered in the Lexus LS Hybrid, you will need to pony up even more cash over the $100k purchase price. Ultimately, the LS 500h is the more reasonable buy.