2018 Lexus LS 500h: Stunning hybrid luxury
Six years ago, I got into an argument with a green car advocate at the launch of the Prius V, the stationwagon version of the Toyota's compact hybrid. He insisted that within a few years, all new cars would be all-electric, even though the Nissan Leaf was the only mass produced one on the market at the time. I countered that all-electric cars are not practical for everyone, including owners in apartment buildings who don't have access to secure charging stations.
We compromised by agreeing that before too long, many different cars would be "electrified," meaning both all-electric like that Leaf or gas-electric hybrid, like the Prius. But we were both thinking electrification would be used to save gas and reduce greenhouse emissions. Neither of us envisioned anything like the 2019 Lexus 500h, a full-size luxury sedan whose hybrid system is used to produce performance while getting only slightly better mileage that the base turbocharged V6 model.
Welcome to the real world, where automakers are now offering a wide range of electrified vehicles for a variety purposes. Toyota still makes the Prius, now in its second generation, but without a wagon version. And it also offers hybrid versions in its luxury Lexus line, including its flagship LS 500h, which can cost over $100,000 and offer an EPA estimated average 28 miles per gallon — only about five miles per gallon better than the V6 version.
But if you're thinking that's a lot of money for not terribly great mileage, you're missing the point. The 2019 Lexus LS 500h is more about showcasing technology than saving the planet. The drivetrain is incredibly complicated, incorporating a 3.5-liter V6, two water-cooled electric motors, 84 lithium-ion cells, and a Multi Stage Hybrid transmission that uses a four-speed planetary gearbox coupled with the a continuously variable transmission programmed to simulate a 10-speed automatic transmission with four different drive modes.
The fact that it works at all is remarkable. But more than that, in a week of daily driving, we found the new LS 500h delivered dazzling performance, including breathtaking acceleration when pressed. While the slight increase in mileage over the twin-turbo 3.5 V6 version is not going to stop global warming, we considered it a fringe benefit.
The exterior of the LS 500h is boldly styled for a sedan, with a larger-than-usual corporate spindal grill and lines that take give its 206.1-inch length a sleek and sexy look.
Inside, the LS 500h is everything that buyers have some to expect from top-of-the-line luxury sedans these days, which means incredible amounts of room, the highest quality materials, and the most up-to-date available infotainment and safety technologies. Our test model included an astonhsing $25,000 in optional equipment, pushing the price from just over $79,000 to more than $104,000. Yes, that's a lot of money, but not for the most advanced, premium full-size cars on the market today.
So if you're still think that hybrids are only meant to save gas and reduce greenhouse emissions, Toyota has you covered with the second generation Prius, which is also available as a plug-in version that can go about 25 miles on electricty alone. Toyota also offers hybrid versions of Camry and Avalon sedans, as well as its RAV4 crossover and Highlander SUV.
But if you're in the market for a genuine luxury vehice that is pushing the technology envelope, step up to the Lexus brand and check out the completely redesigned LS 500h. An even sportier LC 500h coupe is also available.
2018 Lexus LS 500h
Base price: $79,510
Price as tested: $104,720
Style: Full-size sedan
Engine: 3.5 V6 and two electric motors (354 hp)
Transmission: E-CVT Hybrid Transmission with Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport-plus modes
EPA fuel economy: 25/33
Length: 206.1 inches
Weight: 4,850 to 5,027 pounds
Final assembly: Tahara, Aichi, Japan