2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD: Striking and sophisticated luxury sport sedan
The 2021 Lexus LS 500 is so aggressively styled, it is hard to remember that it debuted in 1989 as a thinly-disguised knockoff of the boxy Mercedes-Benz S-class. The idea of Toyota launching a luxury car division was audacious enough at the time. So clearly asking to be compared to a top-of-the-line European road car was even riskier.
But, as Car and Driver has noted, by then American luxury cars were not well made, Europeans ones were very expensive, and Japanese companies had improved their manufacturing capabilites. Buyers accepted the challenge and decided the LS 400 was remarkably good despite costing many thousands less than the Mercedes-Benz. The standard 4.0-liter V8 produced a respectable 250 horsepower and the interior featured high quality leather and advanced technologies for the time. So even though it didn't have a pedigree — or any actual history — the LS 400 sold well and paved the way for the following wave of Lexus cars and crossover SUVs.
Then Lexus gambled again in 2012, dropping the conservative Mercedes-like styling for the swoopy lines, large grill and more flowing interior that now characterize all of the company's models. By the time the even more radically styled fifth generation debuted in 2017, the V8 engine had given way to twin-turbocharged V6 and hybrid engines, reflecting how consumer tastes had continued to evolve.
Five years later, the 2021 Lexus LS 500 is still the most striking full-size luxury car on the market. And it is still many thousands less than such key rivals as the Audi A8, BMW 7-series and current versions of the Mercedes-Benz S-class. Although not as powerful as some competitors, the 3.5-liter V6 still pumps out a healthy 416 horsepower that feels even stronger in the Sport mode. It is also available with the F Sport package that improves the handling and braking in other Lexus models.
The result is an attention-grabbing large luxury sport sedan that drives incredibly well at normal speeds and performs even better when pressed hard. Despite being older now, it still looks more advanced than most competitors while offering all the luxury and technology features that buyers expect. The 12.3-inch infotainment system introduced last year fills out the wide dash nicely, and all grades are now equipped with Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 received a such updates such as Lane Change Assist and Active Steering Assist.
In the past the touchpad that controls much of the infotainment system could be considered a drawback because it is tricky to use while driving. But the new system includes a touchscreen that gives drivers another way to manage the settings.
On the road, our test 2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD was silky smooth, even in the Sport+ mode. This is one genuine sport sedan that does not punish the driver and passengers to prove it is a high performance road car. But it is still plenty fast when pressed, which should satisfy all but the most demanding enthusiasts.
The interior was also supremely comfortable, thanks to the generous interior space. The rear seats were roomy enough for three adults, unlike those frequently found in midsize sport sedans.
The LS has been the flagship of the Lexus line for more than three decades and the current version is the most refined and sophisticated yet. All of the upgrades continue in the 2022 model with even more improvements. As always, shop and compare, but put the Lexus LS 500 AWD high on your luxury sport sedan shopping list.
2021 Lexus LS 500 AWD
Base price: $76,000 (RWD)
Price as tested: $88,885
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: 17/27
Length: 206.1 inches
Weight: 4,707 pounds
Final assembly: Tahara, Aichi, Japan
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