Lexus has updated its flagship LS sedan for the Japanese home market—so while it’s not exactly the model we’re sure to be sent soon, it offers a good preview of the forthcoming refreshed U.S.-market LS luxury four-door. Of note, the LS is not an all-new model, but rather the sort of honing of an existing product typical of a mid-cycle update.
The LS’s changes may be minor, but Lexus’s focus on details, particularly the interior materials (and the techniques used to create those materials) is so specific that you’d think the automaker was honing a traditionally-made katana. Speaking of, we sure hope Lexus is using a (rhetorical) katana to slice some of the rough edges off of the LS, which has given us mixed messages of late. Is it a luxury car or a large, luxurious sport sedan? The last time we drove it, it seemed like its engineers weren’t quite sure which way to go, and put out a product that accomplished neither task particularly well. Let’s take a closer look at the refreshed LS and see if Lexus has cracked the code on what its big, sleek sedan should be.
2021 Lexus LS: Handling and Suspension Changes
Much of our ire has been directed at the F Sport suspension, which we last experienced on our 2019 Car of the Year–contending 2018 Lexus LS test car. The setup makes the big sedan impressively agile but “ruins the magic-carpet ride of past Lexuses, allowing impacts to harshly penetrate the cabin,” as we put it previously. We also felt the F Sport trim was more performative than performance-oriented, attempting to impress the driver with a very palpable switch between suspension modes rather than optimal suspension tuning in every mode.
It seems possible that Lexus engineers heard these complaints because the refreshed Japanese model features revised Adaptive Variable Suspension. The refined system reduces damping forces but increases the stiffness and roll bar rigidity, which should provide similar handling with less harshness from big bump impacts. It’s likely the U.S. model will adopt this overall change, but with a unique specific calibration tailored to our (largely messed-up) roads.
2021 Lexus LS: Engine and Drivetrain
Japan will still get two powertrain options, denoted by the LS 500 and LS 500h badges, and they’re largely the same as before. The 500h hybrid’s electric motors get slightly more battery assistance during acceleration, while at the same time reducing its gas engine’s revs when setting off from a stop. The overall effect should reduce noise and vibration from the 3.5-liter V-6.
Meanwhile, the twin-turbo V-6 found in the LS 500 gets similarly incremental tweaks. Lexus says it increased torque slightly at speeds seen in normal driving for better throttle response and tweaked shift timing on the transmission to reduce the incidence of downshifts.
Engineers also redoubled efforts to tune the Active Noise Control and Engine Sound Enhancement (Lexus terms for noise-canceling and artificial engine noises sent into the cabin, respectively) to make each better. We’d complained in the past about the LS 500’s artificial noise enhancement, in particular. Sounds like Lexus took our feedback to heart.
All of these revisions seem common-sense and easily implemented, and we have no reason to think they won’t percolate over to the U.S.-market LS.
2021 Lexus LS: Interior and Exterior Design
Here’s where things get a little trickier. The exterior design should carry over from Japan to the U.S. with only minor changes—and more to the point, the exterior design changes are slight. A character line in the front bumper has been changed, and some chrome trim in the taillamps switches to piano black. Nothing groundbreaking there.
Inside, accent panels get a new look called “Nishijin & Haku,” which delivers the visual effect of moonlight on ocean waves. Turning a poetic image into a uniquely patterned material is just about as Japanese as things get in the car world. And outside, there’s a new paint color called Gin-ei Luster, a metallic silver finish that Lexus claims is smooth and mirror-like, to accentuate the curves of the LS’s sheet metal. There’s no word as to whether either element will make it Stateside.
2021 Lexus LS: Technology and Safety
Without specific information about the U.S.-market LS, there’s little guarantee that any of the LS’s new safety tech will make it here. For one, the LS gets the adaptive high-beam headlight system first seen on the 2020 Lexus RX. We already know this system isn’t yet available in the U.S., so consider it unlikely, for now. More importantly, the LS welcomes a touchscreen infotainment system to its cabin. No longer must users resort to fiddling with the brand’s finicky touchpad controller when interacting with the car’s 12.3-inch center screen.
The same goes for the car’s so-called Teammate system, a driver assistance suite that includes automatic lane-keeping and allows the vehicle to follow others and complete lane changes, and overtake slower traffic on roads supported by the system. Teammate also includes an automated parking system. We don’t expect to see this system here, but we’re interested to learn how it operates in regions where it’s supported—first in Japan, and later in unspecified other markets.
2021 Lexus LS: On-Sale Date and Pricing
Since Lexus’ latest communication doesn’t cover our market, we’re not sure exactly what to expect for the next LS we can buy here. But a company representative tells us that U.S.-specific information will drop later this summer, including feature content and an on-sale date, at which point we’ll know how much of the JDM LS trickles over to our model.
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