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Lexus LS500 2019 Car of the Year review

By Byron Mathioudakis, 02 May 2019 COTY

Lexus LS500 2019 Car of the Year review

Japan once again smashes the smug German luxo-barge axis

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THE LEGACY of late-’80s Japanese heroes, such as the COTY-conquering Mazda MX-5, Honda NSX and Lexus LS400, continues. But three decades on, is this fifth-generation LS sufficiently bold, progressive and luxurious to make the perception-changing original proud? 

Longer and wider, yet lower and sleeker than ever before, the Lexus limo flagship returns in single-wheelbase guise, joining its LC coupe cousin in adopting the ‘GAL’ global longitudinal-drive ‘luxury’ version of the Toyota New Global Architecture. That means a switch to an all-new, far more rigid yet lighter aluminium/steel structure, offering a lower centre of gravity, better front/rear weight distribution and improved packaging.

READ NEXT: Lexus LC F to debut potent new 4.0L twin-turbo V8 in 2019

With no V8s in sight, the 310kW LS500 introduces a fresh twin-turbo V6 and 10-speed auto to boost performance (0-100km/h in 5.0sec) yet slash consumption, while the 264kW LS500h pairs an atmo V6 and four-speed auto/CVT combo (true!) with an electric motor. Though 0.4s tardier to 100, it averages 6.6L/100km. In a 2.2-tonne limo.

The better-selling LS500 continues with the peerless refinement the series is renowned for, but lacks the gnarly exhaust growl of old. Such serenity might be an issue, as the twin-turbo V6 leaps off the line and into triple-digits almost imperceptibly; your chauffeur better have a clean licence handy. Sadly, Lexus couldn’t lend us the hybrid for scrutiny.

With multi-links at each corner and standard air suspension running on 20s, the Lexus’s ride also meets expectations, providing a cushy, rolly softness in Comfort, and planted, poised control in Sport+, revealing an unexpected bandwidth.

Unfortunately, the first corner brings a letdown. While measured and responsive, with pleasingly accurate handling and imperturbable roadholding, there’s zero steering feel, eroding the LS’s dynamic appeal. Even with our base F-Sport’s variable-gear-ratio helm, well-calibrated four-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars, feedback is limited.

READ NEXT: Lexus LC: 2018 Car of the Year review

Oh well. There’s always the gorgeous, distinctive interior – arguably Lexus’s best yet – with daring, flowing shapes, extensive, exquisite detailing, bank-vault build, and gadgets galore. It's spacious too, even with that lower roofline.

Needless to say, the cabin is a micro-climate of opulence and solitude from the outside world. And the $5K optional Sport Luxury ushers in a Shiatsu massage function and spot heaters, as part of the 22-way airliner-style rear recliners with ottomans. Rock-star spec!

Conversely, the multimedia graphics look dated, and some of the latest semi-autonomous tech isn’t available (yet). But the LS500h is $50K cheaper than the previous hybrid, as well as costing appreciably less than most rivals, spec-for-spec.

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While 2019’s LS can’t boast the E-Class-eclipsing obsessive quality, cabin hush or kit of the silken V8-powered original, European manufacturers of full-sized luxury sedans need to sleep with their eyes wide open once more.