The year, 1989; the subject; the 1990 model year Lexus LS sedan, the first product debuting from Toyota’s newly formed luxury division. During the same time period, fellow Asian automakers were busy introducing their own upscale brands, Acura (Honda’s answer) and Infiniti (Nissans’ choice). All took close aim at Germany’s big three (BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi) but with value pricing added to the mix.
After 30-some-odd years, Lexus sales surpassed those of its two worthy rivals while setting the industry standard for interior quietness and product reliability. The 2021 LS pays all this forward.
The 1989 Lexus LS sported a sizeable 4.0-liter V-8 delivering ample, rear drive power within a full-size sedan enclosure. Fast forward and the full-size 2021 LS 500’s engine compartment swaps the naturally-aspirated (non-turbo charged) V-8 for a more potent 3.5-liter V-6 twin turbo blasting 416 horsepower and connected to an advanced, 10-speed automatic transmission with smooth-shifting ‘shift logic’’ revisions delivering quicker response. Along the way, LS added an all-wheel option and a gas-electric hybrid powertrain.
The V-6 twin turbo technology ups horsepower output without adding additional weight associated with V-8s. Turbochargers run off of recycled exhaust gases spinning a pinwheel-inspired turbine pumping higher air concentration into the engine. Twin turbos, employing two smaller yet faster spools, ensure quicker air pressure build-up, goosing up performance, while taming ‘turbo lag,’ a pause sometimes encountered when aggressively summoning accelerator pedals. For 2021, LS updates the wastegate control improving performance efficiency.
The 2021 LS 500 is based on the fifth-generation platform introduced in the 2018 model year. During the Pandemic inspired 2020 model year, 3,617 units sold nationwide.
Another 2021 tweak centers around suspension upgrades refining ride quality, an added value to an already smooth experience. Specifically, larger front and rear liquid-filled bushings. Optional adaptive variable air suspension ($1,400) lowers ground clearance about a half inch while offering a floaty experience contrasting to a conventional sports car’s feel-all-the-bumps ride. When unlocking via the key fob, air suspension gently raises LS ever so slightly for an easier step inside.
Other content news involves a sound update revolving around the audio system. While the cumbersome remote touch interface remains, it’s now a secondary option since Lexus retired a deep-set non-touch screen for a sizeable 12.3-inch touch-sensitive flat screen closer to the driver’s reach. If drivers so desire, they may still utilize a right-hand fingertip to skate up, down and all around a flat square 3-inch by 3-inch surface/rink between front buckets to operate an in-screen curser.
Push down on the flat surface with minimal finger pressure to select a highlighted screen category. Three quick-select push buttons reside outside the rink speeding the process along. The volume knob with station-select ring along the bottom relocates to the dashboard enhancing an available 23-speaker Mark Levinson system ($1,940). Lexus announced in 2021 an audio interface upgrade across its entire lineup, eventually retiring remote touch interface pads and wiggle knob with an easier-to-manage touch screen, and not a moment too soon
Popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Smartphone compatibility come standard while a single-feed, old-school compact disc player stands ready. Occupants may also “Ask Amazon’s Alexa” to access thousands of queries when paired correctly.
Dual beverage holders and electronic 10-speed transmission shifter also locate between the front buckets. A stubby square grab knob maneuvers through transmission options; push up for reverse and down for drive. A push right allows manual shifting of gears sans a foot clutch, also achieved via steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Park requires a push of a “P” button set apart from the gear select.
A rear-drive 2021 LS 500 starts at an even $76,000 with all-wheel variants listing at $79,250. This price includes such upscale niceties as power sunshades, windshield deicer and headlamp washers. The fun only goes north from there as Lexus added numerous nuances for a bottom line reaching $110,225 including a $1,025 destination charge.
In addition to extras already mentioned, our Matador Red Mica sedan included $920 for larger 20-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, $1,200 for a windshield projected heads-up display, a $1,000 panoramic glass roof and a $17,580 Executive Package sporting a reclining back seat with sliding ottoman, power rear sunshade, upgraded white seating leather, butterfly headrests, messaging driver’s seat and a passenger-side bucket reclining up to 48 degrees.
All Lexus 2021 vehicles come standard with Lexus Safety System “+” 2.0 including blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, parking assist with auto braking, pre-collision/pedestrian detection, lane departure alert and radar-distancing cruise control.
Our tester added a $3,000 “A” safety system upgrade. Soon-to-arrive 22 model year Lexus products promote the system to a 3.0 version.
An eye-pleasing instrument panel includes two small corner alcoves in the lower corners highlighting remaining fuel and temperature in analog gauge design flanking a larger center orb of digital info. Immediately left of the updated flat touch screen: a returning, distinctive and always visually welcome analog clock, the old-school anatomically correct type with face and arms.
Outside of the IP alcove housing two bolt-like twist knobs jet out from each side; the right one selects multiple drive modes while the left one deactivates traction control if desired. A bi-hinged arm rest/storage bin resides behind the finger skating pad, allowing both front seat occupants an equal chance to open and grab.
The soft-touch serpentine-like dash includes two vent levels, with the corner pair higher than the narrow center pair. A row of horizontal pinstripe speed lines race across the width, narrowing in certain areas and creating an in-motion optic.
Open the driver’s door and the steering column powers inward while the 16-way heated/ventilated front bucket seat with revised springs and thicker cushioning materials motors back, making ingress enjoyable especially for long-in-seamed pilots. While listed as a five-seater, our tester boasted a sizeable fold-down center console/storage bin with a pair of built-in cupholders and touch screen allowing access of power-folding second row seats, back zone climate control, side window sunshades and audio specification. This sections the back row nicely into a recommended two-seat experience. Fixed seatbacks don’t fold down.
The large 21.7 fuel tank requires 91-octane premium fuel. The sizeable 17-cubic-foot trunk includes a power-operated lid and also operating hands-free via a kick sensor below. Under the trunk, two inboard chrome-tipped exhausts add to its upscale look. Chrome also adorns window framing.
Up front, the Lexus signature grille cinches in the middle resembling a truncated sand-filled hourglass with black hashtag filling. Checkmark-like LED lighting flanks the narrowing waste underscored with a row of tiny amber-colored LED turn-signal blinkers. The long hood, narrow A and C pillars along with stout trunk lid add up to a conservatively posh silhouette.
Every new Lexus purchased from qualified dealerships receives a complimentary maintenance overview at six-month/5,000-mile and 12-month/100,000-mile intervals including tire rotation, fluid level check, brake inspection, road test and oil/filter change (at one-year interval). The powertrain warranty covers six years or 70,000 miles, besting Mercedes-Benz and BMW. 2021 Lexus LS
Price as Tested: $110,225
Engine: Twin turbo 3.5-liter V-6
Wheelbase: 123 inches
Overall Length: 206.1 inches
Overall Width: 64.3 inches
Overall Height: 57.1 inches
Fuel economy: 17 mpg/ 27 mpg