2020 Lexus LS 500h AWD Review - Quietly Being Green

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Lexus LS 500h Fast Facts

3.5-liter V6 with hybrid battery pack and electric motors (295 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 354 hp total system, torque n/a as of press time)
Four-speed hybrid automatic combined with power-split device and planetary gearset that can replicate 10-speed feel, all-wheel drive
23 city / 31 highway / 26 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)
10.3 city, 7.7 highway, 9.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$83,180 (U.S) / $134,200 (Canada)
As Tested
$107,605 (U.S.) / $134,200 (Canada)
Prices include $1,025 destination charge in the United States and $2,195 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

Hey there, Mr. or Mrs. CEO who just got charged with making your company more “green”. Lexus has a car for you.

It carries a hybrid powertrain and boasts features meant to coddle.

You just have to get past the styling. This LS is curvy and bears a large “spindle” grille that has become a hallmark of Lexus of late — and that grille is quite polarizing.

Ostensibly meant to save fuel, the LS 500h still retains some of the sport characteristics of the “regular” LS, though it’s no F Sport. Yet luxury isn’t sacrificed at the altar of fuel economy.

Nor is acceleration. This is a heavy car – over 5,000 pounds with all-wheel drive – but there’s enough torque (Lexus’ press materials don’t list an exact figure, and I didn’t get a response by press time when I queried the brand) on tap to get you going with urgency. As for horsepower, the 3.5-liter V6 makes 295 horsepower on its own, and the hybrid system makes 354 total. One electric motor serves as a generator and engine starter and controls engine speed, the other drives the rear wheels. The battery pack is lithium-ion.

As for the tranny, it’s a weird one: It’s a four-speed automatic, but can drive like a 10-speed, thanks to the magic of tech. Lexus materials also say it is coupled to a CVT, but the four gears are at the output stage. (Ed. Note: A couple commenters pointed out that I got the facts about the transmission and electric motors incorrect. And I did! There is only one electric motor driving the rear wheels, I simply misread the spec sheet. As for the transmission, well, it’s not really a CVT, no matter how Lexus phrases it. It’s a power-split device using a planetary gearset. I regret the errors, and have updated our fast facts accordingly.)

[Get Lexus LS pricing here!]

As might be expected, highway miles disappear with ease. Smooth and quiet are applicable keywords here.

Lexus steering is often light and artificial, with the ability to tighten up in certain drive modes, and that’s the case here. You can wring a bit of driving fun out of this thing in the sporty modes, but only a bit – it’s a 5,000-pound luxury hybrid. Keep expectations low. Use the sporty modes for passing/merging and be happy.

Inside, there’s a lot going on, and not all is good. I like the integration of the infotainment screen and the curves on the top and bottom of the dash look nice. The minimalist HVAC controls don’t sacrifice function for form.

But like with other Lexus models, there are control stalks sprouting off the side of the gauge cluster, and that look has never really worked. The oddly-shaped shifter looks low-rent for a six-figure ride, and the reviled touchpad control for the infotainment system is present. It does work a bit better than you’d expect, but it still overcomplicates controls that should be simple. It can also distract from the task at hand.

You know, driving.

If you can excuse some of the more questionable design elements, the rest of the cabin is typical for Lexus – quiet, comfortable, and mostly well-appointed. Any material that’s downmarket is relatively hidden from judging eyes. If it’s cheap(ish), it’s not applied to a common touchpoint.

Like most Toyota/Lexus hybrids, transitions from one mode to another tend to be seamless.

Six figures buys you a lot of car, and in this case, one option package alone is worth five figures itself. This really is a car for the CEO.

Just getting in the door requires you to drop 83 large. That gets you going with Apple CarPlay, navigation, the hybrid powertrain, 19-inch wheels, Lexus Safety System + 2.0 (pre-collision system w/pedestrian detection, lane-tracing assist, lane-departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and intelligent high beams), blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, parking assist with automatic braking, auto start/stop, keyless entry and starting, rearview camera, LED lighting, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, moonroof, power rear sunshade, hands-free power open/close trunk, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, windshield de-icer, headlamp washers, 12.3-inch infotainment screen, voice command, Lexus Enform communications suite, Wi-Fi, premium audio, smartwatch/Alexa integration, premium audio, and satellite radio.

We’re just getting warmed up.

Options included Lexus Safety System + A (pre-collision with active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, front cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, $3,000), adaptive air suspension ($1,500), 20-inch chrome wheels to replace the 19s ($1,200), head-up display ($1,200), adaptive LED headlights ($300), Luxury Package (aniline leather seats, 28-way driver and passenger seat with massage function, ultrasuede headliner, power front seat buckles, heated rear seats, power outboard rear seats with recline, four-zone climate control, power side-window sunshades, and touchscreen controller, $12,250), Mark Levinson audio ($1,940), panoramic view monitor ($800), premium wood trim ($800), and heated wood and leather steering wheel ($410).

The total package offers up the luxury that’s expected, and the 31 mpg highway isn’t something to sneeze at, especially given this car’s weight. This version of the LS does exactly what it’s supposed to do – be a comfortable cruiser that eats miles without a huge penalty at the pump, while offering some passing punch and being just competent enough when it comes to handling to avoid being a complete snooze.

If you’re the boss, and you want to be pampered while being green, this is for you.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 26 comments
  • Redapple Redapple on Sep 05, 2020

    Yes X 10 on the Chrysler 300 ! Dollar for dollar - a great car.

  • Ttacgreg Ttacgreg on Sep 06, 2020

    It looks like they have duplicated here, one of the main bitches I have about my 2020 RAV4. The console is so wide, there is no room to lean my right knee out when on long cruise control drives. As best as I can tell looking at the interior picture here, the accelerator pedal hinges on the floor like me RAV does, which further limits foot placement options. In my past vehicles, with shoes off, I could sneak my foot under accelerator pedal. A carved out leg space in the center console with a dead pedal to the right of the accelerator would a serious comfort enhancement on long drives. Come one car makers, where is a driver supposed to rest their right foot when running on cruise control?

  • Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
  • Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.
  • Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.
  • CEastwood If it wasn't for the senior property tax freeze in NJ I might complain about this raising my property taxes since most of that tax goes to the schools . I'm not totally against EVs , but since I don't drive huge miles and like to maintain my own vehicles they are not practical especially since I keep a new vehicle long term and nobody has of yet run into the cost of replacing the battery on an EV .
  • Aquaticko Problem with PHEV is that, like EVs, they still require a behavioral change over ICE/HEV cars to be worth their expense and abate emissions (whichever is your goal). Studies in the past have shown that a lot of PHEV drivers don't regularly plug-in, meaning they're just less-efficient HEVs.I'm left to wonder how big a battery a regular HEV could have without needing to be a PHEV.