Lexus LS mid-cycle refresh to restore V8-powered LS 600h hybrid?

Jonathon Ramsey

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When Lexus launched the fifth-generation LS at the end of 2017, the Japanese luxury maker predicted its once-brand-defining sedan would sell 12,000 units per year in the U.S., a threshold the model hadn't reached since 2010. The LS managed 9,301 transactions here in 2018, its first full year on sale, falling back to 5,528 units in 2019. Through the first three coronavirus-affected months of this year, Lexus dealers have sold 801 LS sedans, compared to 1,404 units in Q1 2019. There's a mid-cycle refresh supposedly due for release in the fall of 2021, and the June issue of Japanese magazine Mag-X (translated), via Lexus Enthusiast, claims we're due for a couple of big surprises that could jolt the sales figures. The first shock is that Lexus is supposedly bringing back the LS 600h moniker for an LS with a V8 hybrid powertrain. 

Lexus debuted the LS 600h L in 2007 for the 2008 model year, retiring the hybrid trim in 2016. Its heart was a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8, and when combined with an electric motor, combined output came to 439 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. The fifth generation introduced the LS 500h that switched to a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, producing a combined 354 hp and 369 lb-ft., taking second place in output to the twin-turbo V6 in the non-hybrid LS 500 with 416 hp and 442 lb-ft.

If Lexus were to double back to a V8 after experimenting with a V6 hybrid for four years, some question which V8 would get the nod. The old V8, codenamed 2UR-FSE and still in use in the Lexus LC as the 2UR-GSE, dates back 14 years and is scheduled to retire in two years when the LC-F introduces Lexus' new twin-turbo V8. According to leaked dealer information, that's the same year Toyota and Lexus will stop offering V8 engines in any model with an MSRP under $90,000. Toyota has shied away from turbocharged hybrids, but the next-generation Tundra could change that if rumors of the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 i-Force Max engine come true. A twin-turbo V8 LS hybrid would rocket the model back to the top of the range in performance and price, and we could see it breaking the "F" seal on the LS lineup, since it would run counter to everything the German competitors are doing with their standard flagship sedans. Or Lexus could remove the turbos for a better compromise of potency and frugality. That is, again, if the V8 rumor comes true. 

The second surprise from Mag-X claims Lexus will put a four-cylinder in the LS, which "may be aimed to fill the position of the Lexus GS," the smaller sport sedan confirmed to end production in August. If this happens, it's almost certain the four-cylinder is aimed at overseas markets where BMW and Mercedes sell four-cylinder versions of their biggest executive sedans. 

The magazine showed a picture of an LS wearing a touch of camouflage on the front fascia and fenders. We can see slight changes at the base of the spindle grille and edges of the lower bumper, and tweaked daytime driving lights. It looks like there's a new sensor housing in the middle of the grille mesh at the bottom. It's suspected that these are sensors enabling Level 2 autonomy on the refreshed LS, a feature actually predicted for debut later this year on an unnamed Lexus model.

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