Re-wind the clock to 1989. Gas was 97 cents a gallon, Driving Miss Daisy was at the movies, and Lexus had just rocked the automotive world with its ground-breaking LS 400 flagship.
I still remember piloting it for the first time and being awed by its stealthy silence. It really felt as if some invisible mute button had been hit while you were driving. Cruising at 70mph was like listening to sleeping kittens through Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
OK, design-wise it resembled a blob of melting Jell-O, and carving curves was a little like helming a UPS truck with worn shocks.
But the LS raised the bar way high in flagship refinement, hedonistic comfort and quality. For the first time, here was a car that offered luxury buyers a real alternative to the cold, clinical Tuetonic-ness of BMW, Mercedes and Audi.
Fast-forward 28 years to 2018 and, to great fanfare, Lexus introduced an all-new, fifth-generation LS. It was a jaw-dropper.
Of course the world had changed since ’89. These days, more buyers prefer their luxury rides to sit two feet off the ground. Or to have all-electric power instead of a gas-guzzling V8.
But having just spent a week with a 2020 Lexus LS 500 all-wheel drive — base price $78,670 or $115,970 staggeringly well-equipped — I found there’s still so much to love about a super-luxury sedan.
Unlike that very first LS, this newest version is all about bold, dramatic design. That sleek, coupe-like silhouette, that mile-long hood, raked-backed windshield and swoopy roof line still stands out in a sea of boxy sport-utes.
OK — that huge, love-it-or-loathe-it spindle-shaped grille is still pretty polarizing. I’m still no fan; to my eyes, it has all the elegance of a largemouth bass. Or Mick Jagger getting no satisfaction. But it’s a look that’s guaranteed to spin heads.
But what sets the new LS apart from the ever-shrinking luxury sedan pack is its spectacular cabin.
Here Lexus has gone all out to take back the lead in terms of comfort and class, quality and craftsmanship. And after years of trying to out-German the Germans, Lexus is embracing many of the old-world Japanese traditions.
Take the stunning Kiriko hand-cut glass that’s used to jazz up the door panels. Or the door panels themselves, which use a single cloth sheet that’s folded, origami-style, to give a pleated three-dimensional look. It’s nothing less than automotive art.
Perhaps the pièce de resistance, however, is the available Executive package — an eye-watering $23,000 option.
It features Barcalounger-like rear seats that can recline up to 48 degrees and come with levitating foot rests and a built-in Shiatsu massage function. Sink down into them and you might never want to leave.
While I think a flagship like this deserves a muscley V8, it’s hard to argue against the potency of this twin-turbo V6. With 30 more horseys than the previous 4.6-liter V8, the new twin-turbo V6 packs a mighty punch, rocketing the LS from standstill to 60mph in just 4.6 seconds.
And while you’d never call the new LS “sporty,” the car feels surprisingly nimble and athletic through the curves, helped by steering that has heft and precision. If you’re looking for a more focused drive, the sharper-handing LS500 F Sport should fit the bill.
To me, big SUVs are great when it comes to practicality. But the smoothness, the refinement, the meticulous craftsmanship and the total decadence of being transported in an LS 500 is just hard to beat.
To test drive an LS 500, call-up Lexus of Tampa Bay in Tampa, Lexus of Clearwater, or Lexus of Wesley Chapel.