What changes will make the 2020 Lexus LS different?
Probably not much after this full-size premium sedan received a clean-sheet redesign for model-year 2018, followed by new safety and convenience features for 2019. It’ll return little-changed for 2020, again offering gas and hybrid models, both available with rear-wheel driver or all-wheel drive (AWD).
LS was the launch vehicle for Toyota’s luxury Lexus division. It premiered in 1989 to take on established German rivals such as the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. First-rate build quality and reliability, red-carpet customer service, and V-8 power at six-cylinder prices made the LS and the Lexus brand upscale superstars.
Over three decades and five design generations, the big four-door’s styling grew more edgy and its driving experience more engaging without sacrificing its vault-like solidity. The current LS is the most radically styled and the most performance-oriented. At the same time, it’s taken a step backward for usability and refinement.
Evidently, buyers are unfazed. LS sales more than doubled in 2018 and were off to a great start in 2019. Still, that’s only good enough for sixth place in the 15-car premium-full-size segment, a class in which the Tesla Model S outsells the No. 2 Mercedes-Benz S-Class more than 2-1. Nonetheless, the latest Lexus flagship is at least among the gainers in a class down 8 percent for 2018 and a troubling 28 percent in early 2019.
Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the 2019 Lexus LS. Where the ’20 might be different, we’ll reserve judgment.
Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?
There’s no good reason wait. The ’20 will continue the styling, powertrains, and features that came with the 2018 redesign, and carry over the safety and connectivity gear added for 2019. Expect little more than the usual paint-color swaps — and year-over-year price inflation – for ’20.
And be aware that Lexus is likely to give the 2021 LS a midcycle refresh that’ll see it through to its next full redesign, probably for model-year 2024. The refresh isn’t apt to amount to more than subtle styling updates but buying a 2020 LS would give you just one model year before the appearance is altered.
The 2020 LS lineup should again consist of the LS 500 and the performance-themed LS 500 F Sport trim levels, each with a twin-turbocharged V-6. Also returning will be the LS 500h hybrid, which supplements its naturally aspirated V-6 gas engine with electric-motor power. All should again come with rear-wheel drive standard and traction-aiding all-wheel drive (AWD) optional.
Will the styling be different?
No. Longer, lower, and wider than the 2013-2017 generation, the ’20 LS will continue the slashed and bladed forms that came with the 2018 redesign. Its most polarizing aspect is the “spindle” grille that’s become Lexus’s signature styling feature. Arguably, the big grille looks better on the brand’s cars than on its crossovers, but it’s still largely a love-it or hate-it proposition for traditionalists who shop large premium sedans.
The ’20 LS’s cabin will remain something of a mixed bag, but with more hits than misses. Supple leather upholstery, suede-covered dashboard and door panels, and a variety of available wood and metal accents make for an inviting ambiance. Little tricks impress, such as a one-piece front-console armrest hinged as if by magic to open for access by the driver or passenger, and door armrests that seem to float free of the door panels. The cowl over the main instrument binnacle holds two “ears,” rotating knobs that control performance and low-traction drive modes. It’s a brave design decision.
Detailing is truly impressive, especially the Kiriko Glass trim included with the optional Executive Package. Kiriko is the Japanese technique of hand-carving intricate patterns into glass and Lexus uses it for a portion of the dashboard faceplate, where it produces beautiful reflections that change depending on the angle of the light and the viewer’s perspective. Pictures can’t do justice to how stunning the glass looks in person.
The main gauges are imaginative and modern without sacrificing readability. Analog fuel-level and engine-temperature needles flank a large LCD display in which the tachometer encircles a large digital speed readout. The LS 500h’s LCD display includes and Energy Monitor to show level-of-charge, gas/electric power flow and other hybrid-specific info.
Optional again on all ’20 LS models will be a head-up instrument display covering a full 24-inches of windshield. Customizable to show multiple vehicle-status, navigation, infotainment, and other data points — including front cross-traffic alerts — its projections are not directly in the driver’s line of sight, which helps keep your attention on the road. It’s an ingenious solution and one we think other automakers would do well to study.
Passenger comfort is outstanding, with plush seats front and rear. Oddly for such a large car, however, larger folk might wish for longer cushions in front and more headroom in back, and nobody will be comfortable on the hard center rear-seat section. Ordering the optional Luxury Package ups opulence quotient with 28-way power front seats with multi-stage massage, power side- and rear-window sunshades, and four-zone automatic climate control. The Executive Package includes all this plus a reclining seat for the right-rear passenger that includes a leg rest and multi-function massage. It’s truly a first-class experience.
We’d urge Lexus to fine-tune the LS’s climate and infotainment interface for 2020. Most interaction takes place by running your finger over a laptop-style trackpad on the center console. This moves a cursor around the high-resolution 12.3-inch widescreen central-dashboard display that’s your portal to most audio and climate functions and to the imbedded navigation system that’s standard. Too bad the setup doesn’t lend itself to the automobile-in-motion environment. On 2019 models we tested, the trackpad control was imprecise, exacerbated by some type of pointer acceleration that frequently caused us to overshoot our desired selection. The cursor was indistinct, as well. In all, it has the negative effect of forcing your eyes away from the road.
Less critical but annoying anyway, many climate adjustments, including controls for the heated/ventilated seats and heated steering wheel, must be done through the infotainment screen. This requires drilling through several menus, with the cursor fighting you nearly every step of the way. At least Lexus added Apple CarPlay support as standard equipment on the 2019 LS. Unfortunately, as of early 2019, such capability is not being offered as a software update for owners of the 2018 LS.
Trunk volume for the LS500 and LS500 F Sport is slightly above the class average, at 17.0 cubic feet. The LS500h’s hybrid hardware steals enough space to cut its volume to 15.1 cubic feet.
Any mechanical changes?
No. Lexus loyalists may despair that today’s fifth-gen LS is the first without a V-8 engine, especially since nearly every competitor offers at least one. They may have a point. The ’20 LS 500 and LS500 F Sport will return with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6. It’ll again make 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, 30 more horsepower and a substantial 75 more pound-feet of torque than the fourth-generation’s 4.6-liter V-8. The engine teams with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Lexus claims 0-60-mph in 4.6 seconds with rear-drive and 4.8 with AWD. That’s certainly not slow but doesn’t tell the full story. We tested a rear-drive LS500 F Sport and an AWD LS 500 and neither mustered the buttery smoothness or linear power of any previous V-8 LS. Off the line and from light-throttle cruising, it takes a half beat for the turbos to kick in. Once boost is delivered, the big sedan shows more than adequate dispatch. Overall, though, combine the transmission’s tendency to clunk into gear – particularly in cold weather before its fully warmed up – and you have a powertrain that looks sophisticated on paper feels less so in practice.
The 2020 LS 500h will also reprise a 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 and again trade turbochargers for the assist of two electric motor/generators powered by a lithium-ion battery. Net output should remain 354 horsepower; Lexus does not list total torque output. Marketed as Lexus’s Multi Stage Hybrid System, its innovative transmission can be described as a combination of a four-speed automatic and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The intent is to replicate the shift action of a 10-speed automatic while taking advantage of the CVT’s ability to maximize fuel economy and minimize engine noise in high-speed cruising. Lexus says the LS 500h does 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds with rear-drive and in 5.2 with AWD. The automaker has not made an LS 500h available for testing.
This fifth-generation LS is the most driver-focused to date but still suffers a remote, digital feel. The steering is light but linear and easy to live with – unless you order an F Sport with the optional Performance Package. Its variable-ratio steering results darting reactions to inputs and a troublingly artificial feel.
The 2018 LS ushered in the Lexus Global Architecture – Luxury (GA-L) platform, an underskin structure it shares with the brand’s LC premium coupe. It’s a very rigid shell that helps these cars resist any hint of flexing and, on the standard 19-inch wheels and tires, helps the LS absorb bad pavement with little intrusion into the passenger compartment. Twenty-inch wheels with lower-profile tires are optional and included on F Sports. They look sexy but reduce ride quality noticeably; if you drive where potholes proliferate, think twice before committing.
There’s a bit more body lean in fast turns than you’ll find in a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Still, cornering in the LS was confident and predictable, with the adaptive suspension and subtle rear-wheel steering included in the Performance Package giving our rear-drive F Sport exceptional grip through corners. If you live where it snows, the extra traction provided by the AWD system is reassuring and a highly recommended option.
Lexus built its reputation in large measure on the uncanny refinement of its cars. But its efforts to make them less isolating overall results in poorer noise suppression than you’d have a right to expect from an LS. Engine growl and tire roar are the culprits here and would be ripe targets for some tweaking for model-year 2020.
Will fuel economy improve?
Unlikely. For a car that can weigh more than 5,000 pounds, the LS’s EPA ratings are quite good. With rear-wheel drive, the LS 500 rates 19/30/23 mpg city/highway/combined while the LS 500h rates 25/33/28 mpg. Adding AWD lowers ratings to 18/27/21 mpg for the LS 500 and 23/31/26 mpg for the hybrid.
In an uncharacteristic lapse, the fuel door on one of our LS 500 review samples failed to open. This was very disconcerting given Lexus’ sterling reputation for reliability. As such, we were unable to measure fuel economy. All models require premium-grade 91-octane gasoline.
Will there be new features?
Most likely not since Toyota added safety and convenience gear for 2019. CarPlay and Amazon Alexa were joined by the new Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+) 2.0. They’ll return for 2020 as a suite of driver-assistance features that includes the expected, such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, and automatic high-beam headlights.
Unique to the LS, however, is “Front Cross Traffic Alert,” designed to warn you of vehicles coming from the left or right when you’re stopped at an intersection. We found this system behaved inconsistently, and when it activated, its beeping was very annoying, so we shut it off. Again Specific to LSS+ for 2020 will be daytime cyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection, which can activate the emergency braking system if sensors detect you might collide with a bicycle rider or pedestrian. Also part of LSS+ are road-sign detection and Lane Tracing Assist, which is designed to help keep the car centered in its lane. LTA in other Toyota and Lexus vehicles was of dubious value because the system tended to steer the car toward the inside edge of its lane. None of our LS 500 test cars suffered from such issues.
Other standard features returning for ’20 will include full LED exterior lighting, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, active noise cancellation, hands-free power open/close trunk, front- and rear-obstacle detection, auto soft-close doors, power sunroof, heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, 16-way power heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, imbedded GPS navigation and WiFi hotspot, and power rear sunshade.
The ’20 F Sport would again add unique exterior trim, sport wheels, larger brake rotors, adaptive sport suspension, perforated leather upholstery, aluminum pedals and interior trim, and 28-way power adjustable front seats.
Will 2020 prices be different?
They’ll likely increase but you can anticipate that the 2020 LS will again have starting prices that undercut its primary German-brand competitors. Still, this won’t be an inexpensive purchase: our heavily optioned rear-drive 2019 F Sport, for example, stickered for nearly $102,000.
Note, however, that in a sign of troubling times for all cars, Lexus was offering factory incentives on the 2019 LS that resulted in transaction prices at or below dealer invoice. Don’t be surprised to find deals like that available on the 2020 LS. Base-price estimates here include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $1,025 on the 2019 LS.
With rear-wheel drive, 2020 LS estimated base prices are $77,000 for an LS 500, $81,000 for an LS 500h, and $81,000 for an LS 500 F Sport. AWD should continue to demand a relatively steep $3,220 price premium across the board.
LS should continue to offer several very expensive option packages. The dollar figures we list here are for the 2019 model.
For the LS 500 and 500h, the $12,270 Luxury Package adds a power rear headrest with memory positioning, heated outboard rear seats, power side-window sunshades, suede headliner, rear side-impact airbags, power rear-seat adjuster, and four-zone climate control. The $17,080 Executive Package includes all this plus the power rear-passenger-side seat adjuster with ottoman, upgraded interior trim, and acoustic rear quarter glass. Adding the Kiriko glass interior trim raises the price of the Executive Package to an eye-watering $23,080.
You must order either the Luxury or Executive package to the LS 500 and 500h to add the $3,000 Lexus Advanced Safety System + Advanced Package, which includes front cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist. This package is available by itself on the F Sport.
Among standalone extras should be an adaptive air suspension ($1,500), various 20-inch wheel designs ($1,200-$2,450), panoramic sunroof ($1,000), 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio system ($1,940), and premium paint colors ($595).
The F Sport Performance Package is $9,700 and is only available on rear-drive models.
When does it come out?
Expect the 2020 Lexus LS to start arriving at dealers in the fall of 2019.
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