By Derek Price
It’s interesting that in full-size luxury cars, a segment known for excess, Lexus’ most expensive and sophisticated model is the one that cuts back.
I just spent a week driving the LS 500h, the hybrid version of Lexus’ flagship sedan, which makes less horsepower than the base LS but costs $13,000 more.
The reason for that is simple. Its mission is to coddle its passengers in opulent comfort while simultaneously reducing its impact on the environment, something that takes some serious technology and engineering to do well.
To be clear, nobody buying a $90,000 luxury car really needs to save gas money. The fact that the hybrid LS uses electric motors and a continuously variable transmission to get 33 mpg on the highway is more about bragging rights and ecological ethics than pinching pennies.
My tester was equipped to show off just how lavish a fuel-efficient car can be. Heated and cooled massaging seats up front, plus a reclining rear seat with its own digital touchpad, were all part of the $9,000 Luxury Package.
It also had something that came in handy during winter weather: all-wheel drive. AWD is an option on both the gasoline and hybrid LS models, and it works brilliantly on slick surfaces — especially when you put the traction control in “Snow” mode — keeping the nose pointed the right direction on sketchy, ice-covered pavement.
A new 12.3-inch touchscreen does a great job running the LS’ many digital creature comforts, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Tweaks to its suspension and cabin sound deadening get to the heart of what people really buy this car for, though: silent, smooth, reliable comfort on highway trips.
While you can put your LS in “Sport+” mode and even buy it in the flashier, harder F Sport trim, I think that defeats the purpose of a car like this. Its stiff, unflappable chassis is up to the challenge of aggressive driving, but it’s even better at wafting down the road in silent, isolated, silky serenity.
At low speeds, the hybrid LS does a great job sticking to its quiet-as-a-ghost mission. The electric motors give it a boost in city driving to keep it eerily hushed.
When you really punch the gas pedal, though, the engine winds up to an unpleasant, high-pitched drone. That one downside — an extremely common issue in cars with continuously variable transmissions — makes me prefer the cheaper, more powerful LS 500 with its traditional eight-speed automatic over the efficient 500h.
Of course, a big part of the appeal of a car like this is getting exactly what you want. People with the means for a sumptuously indulgent car with a responsibly efficient powertrain can have that mixture in today’s flagship Lexus.
Pricing starts at $76,000 for the LS 500 with rear-wheel drive or $79,250 with AWD. The hybrid LS 500h starts at $90,500.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Lexus LS 500h AWD ($93,750). Options: Lexus Safety System+ ($3,000), digital rear view mirror ($200), five-spoke 20-inch wheels ($40), head-up display ($1,200), Luxury Package ($9,000), premium paint ($595), cargo net ($75), illuminated door sills ($450), carpet trunk mat ($120), glass breakage sensor ($335). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $109,790
Wheelbase: 123 in.
Length: 206.1 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 plus electric motors (354 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 23 city, 29 highway
Why buy it?
The LS combines over-the-top comfort features with a comfortable, stylish cabin and an unmatched reputation for reliability. A hybrid version adds efficiency to that formula.