2020 Lexus LS

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2020 Lexus LS 500 Test Drive Review: Japan's Ultimate Limo

The first Lexus LS debuted in 1990, taking the world by storm as Japan's first legitimate answer to the dominant German options like the BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Not only was the LS properly luxurious, but that luster didn't fizzle out over the course of its ownership period. Unlike the German cars, which required heavy maintenance and expensive parts, the LS was built to stand the test of time.

30 years on and the LS now lives in its fifth generation. Called the LS 500, it arrived on the scene for the 2017 model year and remains mostly unchanged for 2020. Even though not much is new, the LS now faces stiff competition from a new Audi A8, facelifted BMW 7 Series and Genesis G90, and the looming threat of an all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. We tested a 2020 LS 500 AWD to see if Lexus remains competitive in the world of full-size, executive luxury sedans.

Read in this review:

  • Exterior Design 8 /10
  • Performance 8 /10
  • Fuel Economy 8 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 9 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 8 /10
  • Reliability 10 /10
  • Safety 10 /10
  • Value For Money 10 /10
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2020 Lexus LS Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2019 LS?

Lexus' flagship luxury sedan arrives in the new decade with only a few updates to keep things fresh, the biggest change being the addition of a new Inspiration Series to the LS 500 lineup. Limited to just 300 units, Inspiration Series models get a unique Deep Garnet exterior paint, standard white leather upholstery, unique interior trim, 20-inch alloy wheels (now optional on other LS trims), and a 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system as standard. Also new for 2020, the LS 500 F Sport gets new brake pads as well as the options of a white interior. Autumn Shimmer has been cut from the exterior paint palette, with Liquid Platinum and Satin Cashmere to follow suit in February.

Pros and Cons

  • Smooth powertrain
  • Sumptuous interior
  • If you say Lexus slowly, it sounds like 'reliability'
  • More fun than you'd expect
  • It's full of awesome toys
  • The touchpad-based infotainment system still sucks
  • Passengers in rear seats can't stretch out as much as in rivals
  • Rivals provide sportier alternatives
  • Alien styling not to everyone's taste
  • It isn't as soft as we remember

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2020 Lexus LS Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
LS 500
3.5L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
LS 500h
3.5L V6 Hybrid
4-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
3.5L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
LS 500 Inspiration Series
3.5L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
See All 2020 Lexus LS Trims and Specs

Handling and Driving Impressions

Let's not mince words, the LS is a big beast. It weighs just under 5,000 pounds with AWD, but it never feels quite so portly. The steering is shockingly direct and the adaptive variable air suspension settles down when you chuck it into a corner. Yes, there will be plenty of body lean, but once the suspension settles, the LS hustles around corners as if it were a much smaller sedan. Lexus has included an abundance of drive modes ranging from Eco to Sport+, most of which feel nearly identical to each other. Sport+ unlocks some piped-in engine noise, which provides some additional thrill to the driver.

If we are being honest, it feels like Lexus was confused with what it wanted the LS 500 to be. Every LS prior to this felt like they had one purpose only: to provide unmatched luxury and comfort with no regard for driving pleasure. With the LS 500, it feels like Lexus took a turn to the German side by trying to engineer in some driving enjoyment. And while this helps the LS 500 feel like less of a snoozer from behind the wheel, we aren't sure if it was worth the trade-off.

Don't hear what we aren't saying. The LS 500 is still an exquisitely quiet and comfortable car. But taking it over some of Florida's torn up highways, we could feel the chassis and suspension struggle to keep our and our passenger's heads from bouncing around. This would be fine in a BMW or a Mercedes. Those are supposed to be somewhat sporty. But the LS is supposed to be a sofa on wheels - a bastion for drivers who'd prefer all traces of road feel be erased from existence. This is by far the most "fun" LS Lexus has ever built, but we aren't sure if that's such a good thing.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2020 Lexus LS a good car?

Objectively speaking, the 2020 Lexus LS 500 is an outstanding car. It is only when the car is viewed against other high-dollar luxury sedans that you begin to see chinks in the LS's armor. Unlike its predecessors, the LS 500 is not devoid of driving feel and is now one of the more enjoyable vehicles in its segment. We would like to see Lexus introduce a faster version to fully flesh out this experience, and this desire could be rectified with the upcoming LS F.

On the flip side of this argument, we wonder what the LS 500 might have been like if Lexus didn't attempt to make it sporty at all. The LS 500 is, crucially, not so comfortable that it eliminates all imperfections in the road, nor is it so fun that we'd ever want to blast down a canyon road in it. It feels like the engineers were torn with what they wanted the new LS to be and it ended up falling somewhere between plush cruiser and executive sport sedan. Since the LS still has the built-in advantage of Lexus reliability, we would still recommend it as a long-term ownership experience over a comparable German sedan.

Check out other Lexus LS Styles

2020 Lexus LS Comparisons

Lexus ES Lexus
Lexus GS Lexus

2020 Lexus LS vs Lexus ES

Starting at nearly half the price of the Lexus LS, the ES is a more traditional full-size sedan, albeit one riding on a FWD chassis with a shorter wheelbase, and much less tech. It also gets a less powerful V6 engine sans turbochargers, developing 302 hp to the LS 500's 416 hp. However, despite being born of a completely different ethos, the ES is wonderfully plush, rides sublimely, and has masses of rear-seat legroom. It has an almost identical trunk to that of the LS, making it practical, too, while the weaker engine rewards you at the pumps with 26 mpg compared to the 23 from the LS. But for the extra money, the LS is vastly more luxurious, with more comfortable reclining, heated, ventilated, and massaging seats, and more opulence, despite similar legroom in the rear of the cabin. It's better in almost every metric; however, if you can't afford the LS, the ES feels vastly more luxurious than its lowly $40k price tag might suggest. Think of the ES as an LS on a budget.

See Lexus ES Review

2020 Lexus LS vs Lexus GS

While the ES is an anomaly in the Lexus lineup, the GS is a more traditional take on being the junior sibling of the LS, riding on a RWD platform with optional AWD, and fitting in more with the rest of the established executive committee made up of the E-Class and 5 Series. But it makes do with a naturally aspirated V6 that only develops 311 hp, it's slower to 60 mph, and it consumes the same 23 mpg as the larger LS. It's substantially smaller, and rear-seat passengers will be far more cramped in the GS, while in the LS they can stretch out and enjoy the ride. That's really the crux of it, as the GS is built for those sitting in the front seats, while the LS is built for those who like to be chauffeured about in utmost luxury. If you'll be behind the wheel more often, then the GS is a much better choice, and one that's $24,000 cheaper, too; but if you've got a personal driver and you like the finer things in life, the LS is leagues ahead of the GS.

See Lexus GS Review
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