2020 Lexus LS 500 F Sport review (video)

Over the last 10 years, sales of these big limousine-like sedans have dropped considerably. We can probably blame the uprise of the SUV for this. Even hire car and concierge services are making the transition these days. Does the 2020 Lexus LS 500 F Sport stand a chance?

There’s no denying, the latest LS, particularly in F Sport trim, looks absolutely breathtaking. Certainly better than many SUVs in the upper end of the market. However, if we look at the sales stats compared with 10 years ago we see that during all of 2009 Lexus sold 51 examples of the then LS model. Fast forward to 2019 and Lexus sold just 36. Mind you there’s actually a wider variety of options in this ‘upper large above $100k’ class now, according to VFACTS; 13 models available by the end of 2019 compared with just 9 in 2009.

Here we’re sampling the LS 500 which debuted a brand new 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine (codenamed V35A-FTS) back when this generation launched in 2018 – this mill is rumoured to feature in the upcoming 300 series Toyota LandCruiser and potentially the next-gen Lexus IS and GS.

Of the two trim lines available in Australia this example features the F Sport pack, but buyers can also order the Sports Luxury option for even more refined motoring (higher focus on rear seat accommodation). Prices start from $190,395 for the F Sport, and from $195,795 for the LS 500 Sports Luxury (excluding on-roads). There’s also the LS 500h available featuring a V6 hybrid.

2020 Lexus LS 500 F Sport – THE SPECS

Engine: 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6
Output: 310kW@6000rpm / 600Nm@1600-4800rpm
Transmission: 10-speed auto
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
Wheels: F: 20×8.5, 245/45  R: 20×9.5, 275/40
ANCAP: Not tested
Kerb weight: 2240kg
Power-to-weight: 7.22:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 9.5L/100km
Economy during test: 8.5L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 82L/95 RON

Power efficiency: 32.63kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 2.88 seconds*
0-100km/h: 5.80 seconds*
60-110km/h: 3.84 seconds*
1/4 mile: 14.05 seconds at 166.7km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.816g
100-0km/h braking: 3.15 seconds at 39.31 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.036g
Decibel at idle: 37*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 88*
Priced from: $190,395

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2020 Lexus LS 500 F Sport – THE PACKAGE

You might first ask what’s the point of going for any sort of ‘sport’ pack with a car like this. And we’d agree. But Lexus offers the F Sport pack for all of its models now, and while the pack doesn’t usually stretch as far as serious performance gains, it does add a distinct vivaciousness and enthusiastic character to whatever model it’s applied to.

For the LS the F Sport trim consists of bespoke 20-inch alloy wheels with staggered widths front and rear (245/45 and 275/40 tyres), high-performance brakes, unique front and rear bumper bars with sporty black highlights instead of the fancier chrome trimmings on the Sports Luxury, and some pretty serious handling tweaks. There’s variable-ratio steering, dynamic rear wheel steering, and even active stabiliser bars with variable air suspension and ride height adjustment.

Despite the dynamic enhancements the LS 500 F Sport is still a limousine at heart. And this all hits with an immediate whack of copious luxury and attention to detail as soon as you open the door. Before you get in, after pulling open the reassuringly solid and hydraulic-like door, you’ll notice the exquisite door trim detailing and floating arm rest/pull handle.

This is all crafted using traditional Japanese methods by specially-skilled master craftsmen known as Takumi. Just 12 Takumi-trained staff work at the Lexus production facility in Kyushu, Japan, and they are responsible for the impeccable accuracy and detail of every stitch and fixture in the Lexus LS.

You can literally spend a decent chunk of an hour just sitting in the cabin and taking in all of the detail. And as you move around and try out each seat you’ll spot an interesting or aesthetically bewildering piece of work by these specialists. We especially love the volume knob on the dash. It feels like it rotates in a tiny pool of custard; there’s a distinctly soft and dampened feel.

Up on the dash is a huge 12.3-inch wide-screen user interface packed with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, digital radio, a surround-view camera system, lots and lots of settings and adjustments, and a 23-speaker Mark Levinson stereo surround sound system. Unfortunately, all of this is controlled by a fiddly touch pad on the centre console.

This is one of the most user-involved media systems on the market. It’s so involved that it can be quite distracting to operate when driving. Lexus obviously made a big investment to create this touch pad system, and although it is very clever and innovative, we don’t think it’s ideal for a car. You have to concentrate on every fine finger movement on the pad otherwise you’ll accidentally skip a menu or function. Don’t forget to maintain control of the car. You need to be great at multi-tasking, that’s for sure.

The F Sport seats in the front are just lovely. They offer ample support and there’s plenty of adjustment available, while the three-spoke F Sport steering wheel certainly makes for a superb driving environment. If you’re considering an LS and you are intent on being the driver, the F Sport is definitely the pick. But if you’re going to be spending more time in the back, we think the Sports Luxury is the way to go.

Rear seat comfort is pleasant and pampering. You have heated outer seats, an electric blind for the rear windscreen, and dual 2.1A USB charge ports under the centre armrest. However, if you go for the Sports Luxury you also get reclining rear seats with an electric ottoman-style leg rest on the passenger side. A special button even slides the front passenger seat forward so you can fully recline and relax. It also comes with massage seats with seven different programs, and a rear seat entertainment package, not offered with the F Sport. Boot space is measured at 480 litres for both the LS 500 and 500h hybrid.

2020 Lexus LS 500 F Sport – THE DRIVE

We shouldn’t really be talking about ‘handling’ and ‘performance’ with vehicles like this, however, Lexus is pitching the latest LS as somewhat of a driver’s car. Especially the F Sport version. All of that gear mentioned earlier about active suspension and rear-wheel steering means it, inadvertently or not, is a really nice car to drive.

You have a bunch of driving modes to choose from, spanning from Eco and up to Sport+. In the Eco mode the throttle sensitivity is appropriately lazy, with soft and cushy suspension making it feel like bumps are made from pillows. In this setting the car can feel a bit bouncy over low-pitch undulations and country roads. We’d recommend you switch over to the Sport or Sport+ setting for that.

Don’t worry about things getting too serious in these modes. The suspension is merely firmed up to better respond to bumps and reduce lateral movements. Body roll is drastically decreased thanks to the active stabiliser bars. Throttle response is also sharpen up, but it’s far from over the top. In our opinion the accelerator pedal feels like a normal car in this mode.

The current Lexus LS is underpinned by the Toyota New Global Architecture (TGNA), albeit in its largest form. This means the handling and steering are superb. You get ample communication through the steering wheel, and the car, in general, seems like it wants to take on and enjoys taking on corners and spirited roads.

Obviously faster switchback corners and tight hairpins are not its main expertise. This does weigh 2240kg after all. But if not the agility, the eagerness to at least pursue such conditions is a pleasant surprise. We also think the staggered tyre widths front and rear help to enhance its overall balance and make it feel somewhat playful and encouraging.

As for the 310kW/600Nm twin-turbo V6 and the 10-speed automatic? Lexus claims 0-100km/h comes up in 5.0 seconds. The best we saw, using a Vbox Sport, was 5.80 seconds. These are some impressive figures for this class, particularly compared with any six-cylinder rival. During our testing the LS 500h hybrid actually produced a fractionally quicker time, in very similar conditions (separate review and video of that coming soon).

If you do want outright acceleration the LS 500h just nudges ahead. We think this is mainly due to its CVT transmission which seems to provide a broader powerband for the 264kW hybrid. The LS 500h F Sport is 40kg heavier, but uses a snappier 3.615:1 final drive ratio as well, compared with the twin-turbo 500’s longer-legged 2.764 gearing.

There isn’t much noise from this engine, suitably. But it would be nice to hear what it really sounds like if Lexus decides to use it in sportier applications in the future. We also found this engine to be surprisingly economical. The official average is listed as 9.5L/100km, but during our week of testing (around 700km, made up of performance testing and lots of highway driving) the trip computer showed 8.5L/100km.

2020 Lexus LS 500 F Sport – THE VIDEO

2020 Lexus LS 500 F Sport – THE VERDICT

These cars are usually designed for being driven in rather than being driven. However, the F Sport version is adequately sporty and engaging to drive without tarnishing the ultra-refined character the LS is renowned for. The twin-turbo V6 engine is suitably smooth and quiet, yet pulls to the horizon with satisfying force and energy. What’s the pick of the bunch, though?

It’s essentially this; if you want to drive and enjoy driving, go for the LS 500 F Sport. If you prefer to sit in the back and let your butler manage the controls, we’d recommend you go for the LS 500h hybrid in Sports Luxury trim. The hybrid is just as quick yet your staff won’t have to pop to the fuel station as often – not that the twin-turbo V6 is overly thirsty – while you can enjoy the full rear-seat entertainment and comfort experience.

PROS:
– Impeccable build quality
– Attention to detail and painstaking design measures
– Very, very pleasant drive experience
– Nice big fuel tank to optimise range (82L/863km theoretical average)
– New-ish 3.5L twin-turbo V6 is creamy smooth, great real-world economy

CONS:
– Not as quick as Lexus claims
– Fiddly touch-pad control is very distracting
– F Sport pack looks stunning, but Sports Luxury is the pick for this style of vehicle

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

Brett is the editor and founder of PerformanceDrive. He's obsessed with driving, having played with Matchbox cars until he was tall enough to drive a real one. After initially working as a mechanic, Brett earned a degree in journalism and entered media as an editorial assistant at Top Gear Australia magazine. He then worked at CarAdvice.com.au. His dream is to live next door to the Nurburgring in Germany.