2020 Lexus LS makes for the ideal road tripper

My kids might be spoiled. In this case, the blame falls squarely on the 2020 Lexus LS 500h. 

In a long weekend away, spanning more than 700 rain-splattered Midwestern miles to and from Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the luxury hybrid sedan swaddled its teenage passengers in such comfort that they napped for the first time in a decade. For hours. 

The quiet cabin, a smooth ride, and executive-level features such as massaging front seats and reclining rear seats are the main reasons the 2020 LS 500 earns a TCC Rating of 7.0 out of 10. Another reason is the hybrid powertrain that gave us more than 500 miles between stops for gas. The only thing holding back the hybrid is limited trunk space and an aggravating infotainment and climate control interface. 

Hit: I’m So Tired

The full-size flagship sedan has ceded a lot of ground to SUVs in recent years, but they still matter in certain areas named China. For the North American market, Lexus accommodates both driver and rear-seat poobahs with sumptuous 16-way power heated and ventilated seats and plenty of stretch-out room. 

The tester showcased Lexus’ finery with a $12,250 Luxury package that added quilted semi-aniline leather, 28-way power front seats with massagers, power seat belts that retract when put in gear. 

The rear seats bask in the Luxury package as well, with 18-way power reclining seats, power sunshades, four-zone climate control, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen controller in the arm rest console that can override the main controls. After the initial assertion of alpha status, the kids stopped fiddling so much. And they slept up to three hours both ways. That level of natural sedation is worth the package price. Only the Mercedes-Maybach had that level of rear-seat comfort for my prima don and donna, at twice the price. 

Miss: Helter-Skelter infotainment

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

The 7.0-inch touchscreen in the rear was easier to operate than the 12.3-inch display screen up front. Lexus has heard the complaints about the touchpad that makes activating submenus a chore, if not a safety threat. For 2021, the LS 500 mounts the touchscreen above the vents and closer to the driver. The touchpad remains, however. There’s no pinch and zoom function on the map, even with AppleCarPlay, but the split screen option enables audio controls or an energy monitor to be visible along with the navigation map. The side menus, bottom menu, and occasional menu up top are too much for that touchpad to handle. 

Miss: Fixing a Hole climate control

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

It appears the 2021 model resolves one of the biggest issues with the 2020: terrible climate control functions. Temperature dials flank a few select buttons for climate control, such as the defroster and fan speed. But changing the air flow requires using the touchpad, hitting the menu button, finding the climate section, then scrolling over to a diagram of the front seats and pressing somewhere on that. A single button in the console acts as a shortcut to get the heated seat and steering wheel page on the display. It’s not just unnecessarily complicated and aggravating to adjust cabin comfort; it’s dangerous. The new model has buttons in the console for the heated seats and heated steering wheel, at least. 

Hit: Baby, You Can Drive My Car

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

2020 Lexus LS 500h

The tester came equipped with Lexus Safety System+ for $3,000. It adds pedestrian detection to the standard automatic emergency braking system and an advanced adaptive cruise control that changes lanes automatically once you activate the indicator. The adaptive cruise control tends to the slow and smooth side instead of some of the jerkier motions of other systems, and it does a reasonably good job of staying centered in the lane. You can only go hands-free for  about 15 seconds, but that’s good enough to stretch the arms or crack open a crab leg.

Hit: Carry that Weight 

With a 22.2-gallon fuel tank, and an EPA-rated 31 mpg highway, the Lexus LS 500h can go for miles and miles between fill-ups, 505 miles by one count. That’s exceptional for a 5,104-pound car with all-wheel drive powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 with, a 1.1-kwh battery, and two motors that make 354 horsepower. I averaged about 27 mpg with the trunk and cabin loaded.

Miss: Two of Us

The hybrid battery carves out a couple of feet of trunk space to go from 17 cubic feet in the gas model to 15.2 cubes in the hybrid. My daughter’s goalie hockey bag took up most of that space. If two couples were going on a long holiday weekend, trunk space might be limited, especially if one of the passengers packed like Princess Vespa from “Spaceballs.”

For frequent roadtrippers, to visit far away kids at college or dispersed grandkids, the LS 500h is exceptional, especially if you can take a nap in the rear seats. Keep an eye out for the 2021 model to relieve some of the frustrations from buried climate controls. 

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2020 Lexus LS 500h AWD

Base price: $83,180, including $1,025 destination

Price as tested: $107,605

Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V-6 with a 1.1-kwh battery and two motors for 354 horsepower with all-wheel drive.

EPA fuel economy: 23/31/26 mpg

The hits: Lots of fuel capacity, great road tripper, Luxury package

The misses: Touchpad infotainment, buried climate controls, limited trunk space, pricey options.

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