Lexus LS and RX 350h
Two lovely summer weeks. Two fully loaded Lexus on the driveway. Could life be better?
This sounds odd to say, but yes. Driving a Lexus is always both charming and comforting, but we could not shake the sense that in terms of performance, fuel economy, safety, and UX – the user experience of switchgear and technology – somewhere along the line Toyota’s luxury arm lost a step.
Case in point is the LS, the fifth generation of the car that heralded the entry of a Japanese-built luxury automobile into the American market in 1989. Remember when they said the Japanese could not build a luxury sedan? Quick, name a production American luxury sedan. Give yourself a hearty slap on the back if you said Lucid Air and Tesla Model S.
The 2023 LS 500, a refreshed version of an iteration introduced in 2017, still displays the sedan’s trademarks, a luxurious interior, smooth ride, powerful engine, flawless fit and finish. On the other hand, a Mercedes S-Class offers all of that, plus more standard safety gear and better-sorted electronics.
Indeed, for the same $103,000 as our tester, one could acquire a stronger, quieter, better-driving entry-level Mercedes EQS, an electric vehicle that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and is more technologically advanced than the LS, with features like a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 15.7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It comes standard with lane-keep assist that, unlike Lexus’ version, can keep the vehicle in its lane.
Similarly, we had high hopes for the fifth generation RX, which in 1998 created the luxury crossover market. Last week, Toyota sent out a high-output 500h F Sport Performance AWD model.
In general, F Sport trims are a bad idea on a Lexus. They do not significantly improve performance; indeed, features like larger wheels make the Lexus ride more harshly, the opposite of its primary strength.
We were surprised to discover the latest hybrid version delivers around 26 mpg in combined driving. That is sub-par in the third decade of the 21st century when hybrids attain 35-50 or more mpg. Our 2007 Highlander Hybrid – the Toyota version of the first RX model, after 160,000 trouble-free miles, still delivers 27 mpg.
Remember when Toyota/Lexus dominated fuel economy? With a federal income tax credit, one can spend $10,000 less than our RX 500h F Sport and purchase a Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Plug-In Hybrid that the EPA says will deliver 54 mpg city.
For a little more than the Lexus RX 500h, the BMW iX delivers the equivalent of 86 mpg and runs rings around the Lexus in terms of handling, safety technology and digital prowess. To be sure, Lexus offers a plug-in electric RX, but good luck finding one on a dealer lot. The closest one we could locate was in Kansas.
LS – your grandfather’s Lexus
OK, when not flying around in patrol cars, my grandfather, a police chief, preferred a Caddie, but he wouldn’t much cotton to today’s Cadillacs.
The buttery 416 horses that flow from a Lexus LS twin-turbo V6 mated to a refined transmission would suit his tastes just fine.
He was also a fan of fine engineering and would approve of the LS suspension with balanced spring and damper rates for precise damping performance. For added suppleness and enhanced handling stability, Adaptive Variable Suspension employs solenoids and control valves to provide low damping.
Mostly what Grandpa loved about his Cadillacs was the touch, look, and feel of quality. The LS excels at that, with exquisite craftsmanship and handcrafted materials throughout. One certainly has the feel of riding in the lap of luxury.
A gas-powered LS 500 achieves a not-impressive 22 mpg, according to the EPA. That is almost exactly what we achieved while burning through a tank-and-a-half of gas just hanging around town. A step up to an LS 500 hybrid jumps the base price from $76,885 to $112,785, which includes Advanced Drive, an autonomous driving system designed to be used on limited access highways to plan and execute acceleration, braking, and steering commands to maintain the vehicle within the lane, follow other vehicles, change lanes, navigate certain interchanges and traffic jams, and help to overtake slower vehicles.
It also can provide hands-free parking.
LS sales peaked at 35,226 in 2007 and have declined since. Last year, 2,670 were sold. Customers purchased 799 through the first four months of 2023, according to goodcarbadcar.net.
Our biggest problem with the LS500 is that is no match for the BMW 7 Series or Genesis G90, which drives better, rides better, and is light years ahead in UX.
RX a fading leader
Once dominant, the Lexus RX 500h F Sport is a luxury SUV that has been praised for its performance, fuel efficiency, and luxurious interior. However, it has also been criticized for its high price tag and lack of third-row seating.
The interior is one of its best features. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the materials are top-notch. The cabin is also very quiet, making it a great place to relax and enjoy a long drive, which we did, taking it on an overnight journey that included a stop at the Lost Oak Winery in Burleson, Texas.
This required us to traverse the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a journey made far more difficult by the SUV’s glitchy infotainment system. For travel, I prefer the Waze app on my phone because it is interactive. Users post accidents, traffic jams, and other hazards in real-time.
So I put my phone in the wireless charger, flipped on Apple Car Play, and headed to the big city. About 40 miles from Rockwall, the car told me the phone was overheating and had to be shut down. So I pulled over and reentered our navigation coordinates into the car’s SatNav and went onward.
Very soon, we learned the Lexus system was dumb as a corn cob, a fact we discovered because we were stuck in the middle of a traffic slowdown, for what we had received no warning. Soon, the system shut down entirely. As rush hour traffic began to build, we found ourselves flying blind.
One was struck by the prospect that a company that has willfully fallen behind in electrifying cars is also lagging in the digitizing of them as well.
That is not an attempt to demean the value of the RX, long one of our favorite vehicles and by all measures one of the most reliable on America’s highways.
Its major competitors are the Acura MDX and the Lincoln Aviator.
The MDX is the most affordable of the three. It starts at $47,000, which is $27,000 less than the RX 500h F Sport. However, the MDX does not offer the same level of performance or luxury as the RX 500h F Sport.
The Lincoln Aviator is the most luxurious of the three. It has a more opulent interior and a more advanced infotainment system. However, it is also the most expensive.
The Lexus RX 500h F Sport is the best all-around car of the three. It is not as affordable as the Acura MDX, and it is not as luxurious as the Lincoln Aviator. However, it offers a great balance of performance, fuel efficiency, luxury, and reliability.