Craftsmanship and hand tailoring are the true marks of luxury in a world of mass consumerism, and Lexus wants to stamp its authority as an exclusive brand.
To that end, as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Lexus LS line, the 2020 Lexus LS500 Inspiration Series shows off the brand’s fastidious attention to detail.
The new edition isn’t quite as bespoke as something like a Rolls-Royce, but amongst its peers – S-Class, A8 and 7 Series – the LS500 carves its own niche as a specialised luxury product, and repeating the standout arrival made by the original LS.
Numbers for the Inspiration Series are strictly limited to less than 10 examples. The specialised model builds on the huge levels of standard equipment in the LS500 Sports Luxury with a range of bespoke colourways and styling touches.
On the outside, you’ll find the 20-inch alloy wheels have been darkened to near black (Dark Vapour, according to Lexus), and Khaki Metal green paint is available for the first time, along with three other ‘standard’ colour options like the Scarlet Crimson shown here.
Inside, the already exquisite interior layers chestnut-coloured semi-aniline leather across the seats and doors, with door inserts finished in textured novel brown fabric. To set it a little further apart, the Inspiration features interior wood trims inlaid with a laser-cut spindle grille motif and a small ‘30th anniversary’ embellisher on the illuminated dash trim.
The result is delightfully more exquisite in person than photos can convey. There’s a depth in contrasting textures. The colour choice may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is supremely plush all the same. And the craftsmanship aspect is evident, particularly in places where two pieces of trim line up, like the cupholder cover in the centre console.
It does seem a little odd, though, that Lexus doesn’t deploy a version of its unique cut glass and hand-pleated ornamentation. It’s a unique finish available as an option on the regular car, but there’s always room for another special edition, I suppose.
The LS500 Inspiration Series asks for $198,922, which seems like a relatively sharp buy against the regular LS500 Sports Luxury that is a scant $3380 less, but would need over $10K spent on it to add in laser-cut trim and semi-aniline leather seating surfaces.
What doesn’t change, however, is the high level of standard equipment offered in the LS. Regardless of the version, you’ll find 23-speaker Mark Levinson audio, a 12.3-inch infotainment display, 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, 28-way power-adjustable front seats, soft-close doors, 20-inch wheels, keyless entry and start, sunroof, and adjustable air suspension on the standard equipment list.
New additions rolled out for 2020 see Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality bundled inside (though only via the console controller, with no touchscreen functionality added). Safety tech gets a boost with lane-tracing assistance that can reduce speed through bends, and added rear- and parking-speed autonomous emergency braking.
Changes have also been made to the adaptive variable suspension system to smooth out the ride over bumps, and liquid-filled rear suspension mounts aim to quell errant body vibrations.
Some of the more exclusive features you’d usually expect to pay more for at this end of the market are part of the standard equipment list: four-zone climate control; dual 11.6-inch screen with central touchpad controller for the rear seats; heated, cooled and massaging seats in all outboard positions; a fully reclining rear seat with ottoman on the passenger-side rear; a rear drinks cooler; and powered side and rear sunshades.
Positioning like that makes Lexus somewhat more of a complete luxury buy than any of its European competitors. Walk-in, walk-out luxury in one hit. It may be less one-of-a-kind than a 7 Series stacked with options, and doesn’t quite go for the gaudy LED-lit screen-on-screen approach of an S-Class, but finely balances its tech and tradition in a suitably pleasing way.
Interior trims are either reassuringly plush where lined with leather or satisfyingly solid beneath your fingertips when hewn from wood. While the LS may lack voice recognition and gesture controls, it seems more readily liveable because of it.
Frustratingly, Lexus’s slow move on infotainment tech is the hardest pill to swallow. Using the trackpad interface is frustratingly vague and varies between functions. Want to adjust seat temp? You’ll need an exaggerated swipe from top to bottom to move through each of three stage settings. What about massage intensity? Well, here even the smallest twitch on the touchpad runs from minimum to maximum.
Getting the steps in between seems haphazard at best. It’s hard to make changes to settings while parked, and an exercise in utter futility to attempt some functions on the move. The addition of CarPlay makes audio easier to live with, but a huge amount of vehicle functions and settings live in Lexus’s own ecosystem.
Priorities lie with rear seat comfort, however, and rear passengers get a simpler touch interface to control their half of the cabin. With only one wheelbase length configured to rival the long options of competitors, there’s an abundance of space in which to stretch out.
Taller occupants may find the roof a little low to get in and out from under, and won’t always have clear head room with the seats in their most upright position. Absolutely no complaints were uttered with massage functions running and seats reclined, however.
Aircraft business-class seats have nothing on the left-rear seat of the LS500. Able to be laid near flat, with the (unoccupied, obviously) front passenger seat pushed fully forward, tilted out of the way, and with leg rest in place, there are few other automobiles as relaxing to ride in.
Boot space is only a middling 440L, meaning plenty of smaller cars offer a larger boot, but given the role the LS will play in most private garages, the SUV alongside is probably the better bet for ultimate carrying capacity.
In keeping with its luxurious appeal, the LS500’s on-road demeanour is utterly delightful. Minor though the suspension changes may be compared to the car’s 2018 launch form, they do make a difference to comfort.
Amongst the multiple drive modes, there seems little point spoiling the ambience with Sport S and Sport S+ modes, though they are available. Generally speaking, the Normal mode does most things well, but can feel the barest touch jiggly over road ripples.
Dial in Comfort mode, however, and the LS500 feels more like it's travelling on a cushion of air, blotting out almost everything the road surface can throw at it. All the while, road noise is minimal and the engine only makes itself heard when truly pushed.
When the LS was fresh to market, one of our few criticisms centred on how the ride was too fidgety in Normal and too loose in Comfort. Both issues appear to have been greatly improved upon.
There’s no real need to work the LS500 hard, though. With a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 under the bonnet, 310kW at 6000rpm and 600Nm from 1600 to 4800rpm, linked to a 10-speed automatic, there are very few situations where the big Lexus limo needs to be pushed into action.
The transmission is smooth, and its ratio count means it's very rarely, if ever, stuck in the wrong gear for the situation, using its torque to carry it forward in a graceful but substantial fashion. If you’re playing a numbers game, the LS500 also manages to better the outputs of BMW and Mercedes-Benz turbo sixes and can run from 0–100km/h in a claimed 5.0 seconds, just a whisker ahead of the Euro pair.
Conversely, the TTV6 isn’t as eco-minded as some of its competitors seem to be. Official consumption is rated at 9.5 litres per 100km, which is hilariously optimistic. After a week of mixed driving the trip computer settled at 17.4L/100km, but alarmingly in pure urban driving the LS500 stopped just shy of 21.0L/100km.
There is an engine start/stop system to trim fuel use when the car is at a standstill, and it too has come in for revision to be smoother and calmer when it operates, but it’s not enough to make a meaningful difference.
Given the difference in purchase price between the LS and almost anything else specced to the same level, you could simply offset your running costs with the savings, of course.
Lexus has revised its ownership plans, as the Encore customer care program now comes with capped-price servicing that sees the first three visits to the dealer (at 12-month or 15,000km intervals) capped at $495 apiece. Owners also have access to a complimentary loan car delivered to their home or office (within distance limits). Warranty coverage is one of the longest amongst prestige brands at four years, but is capped at 100,000km.
Tech may well be the new battleground for luxury limos like this one, as self-driving smarts matter (in terms of image, if not execution) at this end of the market. Lexus has been left a little short.
New lane-trace functions help a little, but the system tends to bounce the car between lane markings if left to itself. The self-steering will often find itself unable to detect lane markings (and warns the driver accordingly), even though clear lines exist. Cruise control, despite its adaptive function, had a habit of running way over the posted limit, too – a potentially expensive foible in places like Victoria.
The technology isn’t completely absent, though. In variable traffic, the adaptive cruise works well, and the car slows comfortably for curves in the road with the system set, too. Expanded autonomous braking is handy to have, and there’s enough protection in the form of lane departure, blind spot, and front and rear cross-traffic alerts.
Multi-view cameras, 360-degree views, and quick one-button access take the pain out of parking, but again, there’s no function to have the car park itself if that’s what you’re after.
In all honesty, the cutting-edge tech Lexus is missing could be a step in the right direction. Traditionalists, or those wary of too much driver-assist tech, get a plain-driving, comfortable and lush car brimming with quality fittings.
Value is about as strong as it can be in the realm of circa $200,000 luxo-barges. While there’s no new or exclusive equipment applied to the Inspiration Series, there doesn’t much need to be.
Lexus is resolute in its brand positioning, and nowhere does the Japanese brand’s unwavering focus on passenger contentment show more succinctly than within the confines of the LS500’s charming and cosseting cabin.