Test Drive: 2020 Lexus LS 500 AWD
There are many reasons why auto buyers are choosing SUVs over sedans these days.
They include higher ride heights that increases visibility, larger interiors that provide more cargo space, and the combination of greater ground clearance and available off-wheel-drive that allows at least mild off-road driving — or serious off-road driving in the more serious ones.
But in my mind, there's one thing SUVs can't equal — the thrill a driver feels when large and powerful sedans accelerate much faster than they reasonably should, given how much they weigh, seemingly defying the laws of physics.
They don't even have to be genuine sport sedans to impress. That's why people are still buying the non-performance versions of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger.
Of course, large luxury sport sedans are even more impressive because they are so quiet and smooth. They are not trying to be muscle cars and sports cars, which can be noisy and twitchy. They remain incredibly composed, even while being ridiculously fast for something designed to carry a family. That's why so many top-of-the-line flagship models are large and powerful sedans.
An excellent example is the subject of this week's test drive, the 2020 Lexus LS 500 AWD, The longtime flagship of Toyota's luxury brand was radically redesigned in 2018. The current version is longer, lower, wider and swoopier, and more cutting edge than any of the previous generations, allowing it to directly compete against the best full size sport sedans in the world.
Give the recent remodel, there are only a few key updates for this year. The biggest news is the addition of the new LS 500 Inspiration Series, which is offered in a unique Deep Garnet exterior paint and outfitted with standard features such as 20-inch Black Vapor Chrome wheels, white semi-aniline leather interior and Kiriko glass trim, and more. It will be limited to only 300 units.
Our tester was not that version, although it did include an Executive Package with many of those features. And it came with the same twin turbocharged 2.5-liter V6 that pumps out 416 horsepower. That's the standard engine, with a hybrid version being the only option.
Mated to a 10-speed Direct-Shift Automatic Transmission with paddle shifters, the engine was more than enough to do the trick, especially when set in either of Sport modes available via a rotary knob protruding from the dash above the right side of the steering wheel. Although some competitors offer turbocharged V8s, that really overkill. Opportunities to really take advantage of the additional power are few and far between if you want to keep you license.
Inside, the current LS 500 offers flowing curved surfaces that contrast with the sharp exterior angles. The interior is more restrained and tasteful than expected, given the aggressive stance stance, huge trademark spindle grill and slashing air dam that highlights the sheetmetal styling.
On the road, our test LS 500 was as smooth as expected, easily absorbing road imperfections without transmitting the vibrations into the cabin. For owners who put a premium on handling, an available F Sport package includes a recalibrated suspension and steering tweaks for sharper handling.
Perhaps the only drawback with the LS 500 is the touchpad that controls the infotainment system. It was hard to completely learn in just a week of test driving, but would undoubtedly become familiar to use after awhile.
Some auto enthusiasts may have been puzzled when the Japanese manufacturers first launched their luxury divisions, and some of the first models did seem like fancier versions of their affordabloe family cars. But that time is long past and the 2020 Lexus LS 500 AWD is proof how far the company has come in a remarkably short time. Anyone looking for the sublime thrill of a large and powerful premium sedan should check it out.
2020 Lexus LS 500 AWD
Base price: $78,6700
Price as tested: $115,970
Style: Full size luxury sedan
Engine: Turbocharged 3.5 V6 (416 hp, 442 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 10-speed manual with paddle shifters
EPA fuel economy: 18/27
Length: 206.1 inches
Weight: 4,707 pounds
Final assembly: Tahara, Aichi, Japan
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