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9.1 / 10

Thirty years ago, the Lexus LS 400 put the luxury sedan world on notice, offering full-size comfort with mid-size pricing (and better reliability and craftsmanship than any BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class of the era). Now, however, those competitors have caught up and others, like the Genesis G90 and Audi A8, have joined the party. All of a sudden, the contemporary LS isn’t the obvious, logical choice that some of its predecessors were.

But even if it’s not quite as relevant as it was in 1990, the big Lexus sedan is still an important standard-bearer for the company, representing its best effort at incorporating comfort and performance with quality and efficiency. The 2021 Lexus LS 500 F Sport seen here, resplendent in Matador Red Mica, falls short in a few ways that many luxury buyers will value, but it still offers a compelling blend of style and craftsmanship, all at a surprisingly reasonable price. The spirit of the LS 400 lives on.

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Quick Stats 2021 Lexus LS 500 F Sport
Engine:  Twin-Turbocharged 3.5-Liter V6
Output: 416 Horsepower / 442 Pound-Feet
Fuel Economy: 18 City / 29 Highway / 22 Combined
Base Price: $76,000 + $1,025 Destination
As-Tested Price: $98,990



Far and away, the Lexus LS’ most distinguishing feature is its styling. While the company’s spindle grille was polarizing at first, designers have hit their stride and incorporated the front end onto everything from the lowly UX to the gorgeous LC with great success. The LS 500 is no exception, with base models getting an attractive diamond-starburst grille texture and this F Sport tester receiving an unusual mesh pattern. Reshaped headlamps arrive for 2021 with a cleaner design than the old lightning-bolt units, and the F Sport’s front bumper is creased instead of bulged, as on the 2020 model.

A long hood and short rear deck give the current LS more athletic proportions than any of its predecessors, and the narrow side window openings are far more aggressive too. That distinctive cab-rearward stance isn’t common in this class, reserved primarily for smaller sedans like the IS 500 and BMW 3 Series, but it imparts an undeniably aggressive mien to the full-size Lexus. F Sport styling additions are tastefully limited to a sharper front bumper, the aforementioned grille texture, and some dark-finished, 20-inch wheels.

Thanks in part to the glorious red paint, the Lexus was a head-turner, even inspiring an anonymous neighbor to give it an unsolicited application of high-gloss tire shine – “Everything about this car is so beautiful, it should have tires to match,” read the note they left on the windshield. I appreciated the sentiment, even if I prefer a matte black look to my rubber.

The cabin is likewise special to behold. A high, nearly vertical windshield cowl – á la LC coupe – dominates the design, devolving into an artfully curved dashboard in front of the passenger and a bulging gauge binnacle in front of the driver. Stability controls and drive mode selectors sprout from alien-looking antennae on each side of the instrument cluster and flowing metallic trim spans the width of the dash, giving the LS a modern, futuristic vibe that we won’t tire of looking at for years.

Inside, the F Sport treatment is more comprehensive, comprising an LFA-inspired sliding gauge cluster, perforated leather seats with trim-specific stitching, an Ultrasuede headliner, and aluminum pedals. Soft-touch surfaces coat nearly everything, while genuine metal appears on the volume knob and start button, helping the LS 500 feel premium and expensive. This sedan’s only downfall is a cheap panel of black plastic on the center console, hiding the cupholders under a flimsy-feeling trap door.

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  • Seating Capacity: 5
  • Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
  • Cargo Capacity: 17.0 Cubic Feet

Those leather-upholstered F Sport seats are incredibly supportive, with 28-way adjustability that includes the thigh bolster, hip and shoulder bolsters, seatback angle, upper back angle, lumbar support, and pelvic support. Dialing in all of those parameters is a bit of a trick since some functions live in the infotainment center instead of the seat buttons, but driver and front passenger will have no cause for complaint, as long as they’re under 6 feet tall – others will balk at the limited headroom.

Unfortunately, the rear seat is a bit less redeemable. Headroom suffers as a result of the LS sedan’s swoopiness, and toe room under the front row is non-existent due to a thick panel hiding the seat track and adjustment mechanisms. Call me crazy, but I’d rather have to look at a few nuts and bolts if it meant being able to rest my legs and feet at a comfortable angle. Those needing to transport VIPs would probably be better served by the more spacious and similarly priced Genesis G90. At least Lexus treats all passengers to the same level of fit and finish – hard plastics are hard to find, even on the rear doors and center console.

Helping matters still is the impressively controlled noise, vibration, and harshness that we’ve come to expect of Toyota’s luxury brand. Even with its adaptive variable dampers set to their harshest Sport Plus setting, the Lexus LS is a hushed, serene place to spend time. In fact, Sport felt more comfortable on the highway than, erm, Comfort because the softer setting allowed a bit too much wallow and float over imperfections at speed. In any setting, noise intrusions were minor, with only a small amount of grittiness making its way through the structure on grooved concrete.

Technology & Connectivity

  • Center Display: 12.3-inch Touchscreen
  • Head-Up Display: 24.0-inch
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: No

Lexus’ tech suite is a mixed bag. Plaudits go to the 12.3-inch touchscreen display’s size, resolution, and responsiveness, and the optional 24.0-inch head-up display is detailed without being distracting. But Lexus continues to saddle this hardware with unintuitive software, and the console-mounted trackpad persists in its hypersensitivity and imprecise operation – at least there’s new-for-2021 touchscreen redundancy on the LS (even if it is a bit of a reach).

As frustrating as the infotainment software is, the screen size and standard smartphone mirroring compensate somewhat. Apple CarPlay’s split-screen mode, for example, still allows a very large map display to coexist with streaming audio controls, phone functions, and turn-by-turn directions. Other vehicles with smaller screens are harder to use in that way. Speaking of audio, the optional Mark Levinson 23-speaker sound system in the LS is among the best in the business, rendering Bach, "Baba O’Riley," and Britney with aplomb. That said, fans of house or heavy metal might find the bass somewhat muddy.

Performance & Handling

  • Engine: Twin-Turbocharged 3.5-Liter V6
  • Output: 416 Horsepower
  • Transmission: 10-Speed Automatic

Powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, the current Lexus LS is the first in history not to offer a V8 engine. It compensates with lag-free turbo boost, giving it 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. That grunt can’t match some competitors’ eight-cylinder engines – the BMW 750i makes 445 hp, while the Mercedes S580 corrals 496 – but the LS 500 offers 81 more ponies than the inline-six 740i and more power than the Genesis G90’s optional V8. A 10-speed automatic transmission dispatches shifts well in normal driving, although it’s neither telepathic nor responsive to paddle inputs enough for spirited runs up the canyon.

That relaxed approach to driving extends to the chassis as well. The robust platform is good for NVH, but not even the adaptive dampers’ sportiest setting can compensate for the LS’ 4,916-pound curb weight. Understeer is the order of the day if you overcook a corner. The brakes are responsive and fade-free, and the steering is accurate and easy to dial in (if a bit too light). Overall, not even the F Sport package inspires the LS 500 to go chasing an Audi S8 or M-package BMW. It’s best to relax and let the Lexus waft along instead.


  • Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 (Hands-On)
  • NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
  • IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick Plus

Every Lexus LS comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-trace assistance, blind spot monitoring, and radar-based cruise control, as well as a full complement of airbags and stability systems. To that list, my weekend tester added the $3,000 Lexus Safety System+ A, which includes active steering assistance during lane-change maneuvers and improved functionality for the adaptive cruise control.

The systems work to keep the big sedan centered in the lane and well away from other vehicles, and the lane change assist feature worked as expected in most scenarios. Merge points and exit ramps occasionally confused the safety technology, but that’s somewhat common. Fully self-driving vehicles seem a long way off whenever we experience little tech gremlins like that. But among currently available driver-assistance systems, Lexus Safety System+ A is one of the best, and the automaker’s forthcoming Teammate hands-off tech will only improve on its predecessor.