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Mission Impossible: Driving our Long-Term Lexus LS500 on Curvy Roads

We said we wouldn’t do it… and then we did.

Aaron GoldWriter, Photographer

When we added a Lexus LS500 to our long-term Four Seasons fleet, we made it very clear that we were looking at the comfort-and-luxury aspect of this comfortable luxury car. We intentionally opted for the softer version of the LS500, as opposed to the more athletic F-Sport version. "We decided from the get-go what we weren't after a sporty (or even a pseudo sporty) ride," were the words we published.

Three largely unrelated factors have turned us into hypocrites.

First, there's the LS500's ride, which—despite the use of air springs—is a firmer than we expected. The car wafts and floats, yes, but there's an undercurrent of busy jitters that might, we thought, just might, hint at something a little sportier. (Or just might be poor calibration.)

Second is our experience with a GS450h from a couple of years ago. The GS has never really made the grade as a BMW 5-Series competitor (though, given the conclusions at the end of our BMW M550i Four Seasons test, perhaps the 5-Series isn't making the grade as a 5-Series competitor nowadays), and yet we found the GS to be surprisingly agile on some of LA's twisty canyon roads, even —dare we say it?—kind of fun.

Third, we were bored out of our skulls.

So we took the LS500 up to Malibu, specifically to Decker Canyon, one of our favorite roads for self-isolation. Once there, we may or may not have switched the LS into Sport mode and jumped on the throttle like we were demon-possessed, purely with the intention of ensuring of finding better ways for our readers to keep themselves safe at home.

Since our LS500 has the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension, it has two Sport modes, labeled Sport S and Sport +, and we tried them both. First and foremost, switching out of comfort and into Sport sharpens up the suspension. That firmness we felt doesn't get any firmer, but the magic-carpet floatiness goes away as if by—well, by magic.

Second is the switcheroo on the powertrain, which is actually much more effective than we expected. The LS 500's 416-hp twin-turbo V-6 is largely a silent servant that provides a refined torque wave of 442 lb-ft when called upon, and then disappears into the background. Sport mode provides a more aggressive transmission program that keep the revs up, even when we lift off the throttle. It downshifts rapidly as speed drops, to the point that we didn't bother to grab for the Lexus' lovely-feeling metal shift paddles. Ripping through the corners brought pangs of guilt for overlooking the good work this engine can do when it's kept at the boiling point.

Turning the mode dial one more notch to Sport+ introduces a new element: Noise. We're told it's electronic sound enhancement (basically, engine noises piped in through the speakers), but it's good noise—the V-6 sings with a voice we didn't even realize it possessed (though we suppose if the enhancement is electronic, it may not actually possess such a voice).

Sport mode supposedly changes the steering feel, but the chances were so subtle that we barely noticed. Even so, we found that the LS500 was willing to sail through the curves with grace and composure and a minimum of tire noise. We weren't making particularly great time, and we were conscious of the LS500's bulk on the narrow bits of the road, but the Lexus managed to string the bends together with a grace befitting its luxury-yacht status.

Would we call it fun? As compared to sitting on the couch and re-reading Alfred Sloan's My Years With General Motors, yes, definitely. Perhaps not in the sense we usually use the word, however, that sense being Four Seasons cars like the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai Veloster N. But the Lexus was definitely competent, and given how well it does day-to-day comfort, that's better than we expected. We're content to let the LS500 fulfill the mission for which it was ordered, which is to waft us along in isolation. But if such isolation just happens to involve a few sharp curves, well, "hypocrite" isn't the worst thing we've been called.

Our 2020 Lexus LS500
Overview
PRICE $76,475/$106,645 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.5-liter twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/416 @ 6,000 rpm, 442 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
Chassis
CONSTRUCTION Unibody
STEERING Electric speed-sensing power assisted
TURNING CIRCLE 37.4 ft
SUSPENSION, F/R Multilink/multilink
BRAKES, F/R Vented disc/vented disc
WHEELS, F/R 20-inch/20-inch
TIRES Bridgestone Turanza EL450, 245/45RF20 99V
Measurements
L X W X H 206.1 x 74.8 x 57.1 in
WHEELBASE 123.0 in
TRACK, F/R 64.2/64.4 in
HEADROOM, F/R 36.8/36.4 in
LEGROOM, F/R 41.0/38.9 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 58.8/56/4 in
CARGO CAPACITY 17.0 cu ft
WEIGHT 4,949 lb
WEIGHT DIST F/R 53%/47%
EPA MILEAGE 19/30/23 (city/hwy/combined)
FUEL CAPACITY 22.2 gal
FUEL RANGE 666 miles (est)
FUEL GRADE Premium
0-60 MPH 5.1 sec (mfr)
TOP SPEED 136 mph (mfr)