Car Review: Lexus gives its luxury LS 500 sedan a sporty makeover

WASHINGTON — It’s hard to believe that Lexus has been around since 1989. That was the year its flagship LS really put the market on notice with a competitive large luxury sedan that was top quality, but less expensive than a BMW or Mercedes.

Fast-forward to 2019 and Lexus offers a full line of luxury vehicles. Plus, it offers a new take on the sedan that put it on the map.

The LS 500 is the fifth generation of Lexus’ large luxury sedan, and it sheds its conservative styling with this makeover. If you want something even sportier, check out the F Sport model, which makes its way to this model for the first time.

The LS 500 F Sport’s styling is edgy with a longer, wider and lower stance than ever before. Like previous Lexus models, the front sees the biggest departure with an extra-large and wide grille that reminds you of an egg crate. In an informal Facebook poll, it seems that some people think the grille size and styling is a little much.

Looking at the rest of the exterior from the side, the new LS 500 has lots of curves and sharp angles, and its large, sporty, 20-inch wheels living under the flared fenders stand out. The long, low cabin is sleek and tapers to a more coupe-like sloping roofline before blending into a shorter rear trunk. The rear-end styling is a bit more conservative than the rest of the car, but there are still some interesting angles around the edges of the lower bumper that meet wide dual exhaust tips.

While the exterior is updated, the interior maintains a luxurious look and feel with a little more flare due to the F Sport package. There are the F Sport front seats that are covered in semi-aniline leather and have 26-way power adjustments, so you should be able to find a comfortable position.

Passengers up front have plenty of space, and those in the back have decent space, but don’t expect as much as a Mercedes S Class or Hyundai Genesis G90.

That high quality leather from the seats also covers the dash, and the driver has a high-tech look, with a cool moving gauge cluster. It’s a neat little trick.

The F Sport also comes with a handsome aluminum gas and brake pedal, and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. A large 12.3-inch screen has good resolution and graphics, but the touch-pad interface was finicky and distracting at first.

While the LS 500 F Sport comes nicely equipped at around $85,000, I would spend an extra $1,940 on the Mark Levinson 2400 watt QLI Reference sound system. It really is worth the price for high-quality sound.

For a big luxury sedan, the LS 500 F Sport really does drive like a smaller car, especially in the Sport-plus mode, taking turns unlike any LS sedan I’ve driven before. However, it allows more road feel and imperfections in the cabin, a departure from past LS sedans. I recommend leaving the suspension in normal or comfort, so it rides like a luxury sedan during the commute.

The V-8 engine is gone, replaced by a new twin-turbo V6 that isn’t lacking for power, making 416 horsepower and a healthy 442 lb-ft of torque. That’s plenty to help the LS 500 F Sport keep up, but it’s the same power as other LS sedans. Note to Lexus: give the next LS 500 F Sport a few more ponies under the hood.

There is a new 10-speed automatic that’s very smooth. I tried using the paddle shifters, but let the transmission shift for itself most of the time. Fuel economy with the new engine and transmission wasn’t terrific. The sticker said it ought to be 21 mpg for mixed driving, but I managed just 16.7 mpg.

Lexus did a quality job remaking the LS sedan into a modern flagship with new looks that standout for 2019. Inside the big sedan, the high quality and tasteful interior continues with plenty of luxury, and, the LS 500 F Sport does it all for less, without feeling like it. It’s the Lexus way, a throwback to 1989, after all.

Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by DriveShop, FMI or Motus One for the purpose of this review.

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