Lexus’s new flagship sedan proves that obsession isn’t necessarily a bad thing
OverviewLexus LS 460 – First Drive: Spend time driving around Austria and you’ll get the distinct impression you’ve been transported to a parallel universe where the pursuit of perfection is an ordinary part of everyday life. From the neatly-tended flowerboxes outside picture-perfect country chalets to the fastidiously-kept 500-year-old buildings at the heart of the historic city of Salzburg, it’s clear this is a nation of people to whom details are important. It’s precisely that quality that made Austria’s landscape a fitting backdrop for Lexus to introduce its all-new LS 460 flagship sedan.
While we’ve long been aware of this luxury brand’s reputation for quality and innovation, the more we learned about the fourth-generation LS sedan, the more we were struck by the remarkable – even obsessive – attention to detail that went into creating it. From headlight elements mocked up in genuine crystal to tuning the sound of the closing doors to mimic the solid thunk of a heavy wooden door, the men and women behind the new LS have clearly sweated over details few buyers are ever likely to notice. As a result, we think anyone who drives the LS 460 can’t help but come away with the impression that this is one very special automobile.
Model Mix The Lexus LS 460 is offered for the first time in regular- and extended-length versions, just like the major players from Europe. Next spring, a hybrid version of the new LS launches with a mouthful of a name: Lexus LS 600h L.
While the introduction of the first all-new LS model in six years is a significant event in itself, there are two unique developments that make this new-generation flagship particularly noteworthy.
For starters, 2007 marks the first time the LS will be offered in both regular (LS 460) and long-wheelbase (LS 460 L) body styles. This two-model approach is designed to allow Lexus to expand its share of the market by appealing to so-called “prestige-luxury” buyers who’d prefer to let their driver contend with the messy realities of rush hour traffic as they attend to business or pleasure in the coddling confines of their expansive back seat. The second major development comes next spring as the automaker introduces the world’s first full-size hybrid luxury sedan. Despite its unwieldy mouthful of a name, the LS 600h L will offer a gasoline-electric hybrid all-wheel-drive powertrain tuned to provide a significant boost in performance along with a number of cutting-edge amenities.
As you might expect, the standard features list for the Lexus LS 460 is extensive and includes goodies like xenon headlights, leather upholstery and genuine wood trim, and a keyless starting system that allows you to unlock the doors, start the engine, and drive away without ever removing the key from your pocket or purse. Following the company’s long-established pattern, there are no pre-packaged trim levels here, just an a la carte menu of options that includes such exotic items as heated and cooled front and rear power-adjustable seats, infrared body temperature sensors, power door and trunk closers, and an impressive 19-speaker, 450-watt Mark Levinson surround sound audio system.
We’d love to share pricing with you, so you can see if this new Lexus is going to be a bargain or not, but they were not set at this writing.
Nuts and Bolts
Nuts and Bolts Equipped with the first all-new V8 since Lexus launched in 1990, the LS 460 makes 380 horsepower. The car also gets the world’s first eight-speed automatic transmission to produce fast acceleration and good fuel economy. The run to 60 mph takes 5.4 seconds, and the LS 460 is estimated to get 27 mpg on the highway.
To create this latest LS generation, Lexus engineers spent four years developing an all-new rear-wheel drive platform with a wheelbase that’s 1.7 inches longer than the outgoing model in LS 460 trim and 4.75 inches longer in LS 460 L models. The sleek body is also nearly two inches wider, though trunk capacity shrinks a bit to a still respectable 18 cubic feet.
Powering both versions is the first all-new V8 engine in the brand’s 17-year history, an aluminum-intensive 4.6-liter number that pumps out 380 horsepower. In addition to a healthy 102 horsepower jump in output compared to the previous engine, the new V8 boasts a host of internal modifications that substantially improve efficiency. Mated to this new motor is another impressive bit of engineering in the form of the world’s first eight-speed automatic transmission. While eight gears may seem like overkill, this new design allows for better acceleration in lower gears and improved fuel economy at the top end of the range. Taken together, this new engine/tranny combo generates impressive results. Lexus claims a pretty remarkable 0-60 acceleration time of just 5.4 seconds, and estimated EPA fuel economy numbers of 19 city and 27 highway. Add the fact that this powertrain is also expected to earn an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) rating and you can enjoy all the perks this luxury sedan has to offer without a guilty conscience.
Keeping all this hardware gliding down the road is a standard suspension designed to smooth out the inevitable bumps along the road of life without the unpleasant vagaries in handling common to old-school luxury sedans. If you’re of a mind to hustle this big Lexus along that road at an enthusiastic pace, the optional Touring Package available on LS 460 L models adds a sport-tuned air suspension that should be at the top of your “must-have” list.
Even with these most mundane of components you’ll find evidence of the lengths the company will go to in its pursuit of perfection. Every engine that rolls off the production line – yes, every engine – is hooked up to a test stand and put through its paces by a master technician whose job it is to check for the smallest traces of unwanted noise and vibration. Each finished car is also evaluated by an experienced test driver to make sure the entire package meets the engineers’ high standards of refinement.
Like we said, all this is probably a little obsessive. But it does go a long way toward explaining why the Lexus brand enjoys perennially high rankings in customer satisfaction surveys.
Design As plush as the Lexus LS 460’s front seats might be, when equipped with the Executive Class Seating Package the place to sit is in back on individually heated and cooled, massaging and reclining buckets. The one on the right side even has a power foot rest.
Beyond all these new mechanical bits, the LS 460 and LS 460 L represent the latest expressions of the brand’s “L-finesse” design direction. Lexus says its designers’ goal was to give its flagship model noticeably more expressive styling, no doubt in an effort to counter the common and, in our opinion, wholly undeserved criticism that previous LS generations looked a bit too stodgy. And they’ve largely succeeded, creating a sleeker profile with a long hood, short rear deck, and subtly altered one-third glass to two-thirds sheetmetal proportions similar to those on the latest generation of the carmaker’s midsize GS sedan.
To our eye, these details go a long way toward disguising the big sedan’s substantial proportions. The unbroken line that runs the length of the car just beneath the windows gives the LS 460 a clean and uncluttered look, while eye-catching details like swept-back crystal-look headlights and trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips frenched in beneath the rear bumper keep things interesting. All that said, our first impressions of the new design are that the car has lost some of the commanding visual presence we so admired in the previous generation. After spending some time staring at it, we’d describe this dynamic new look as sporty rather than stately, a design that says “I’m going places” rather than “I’ve already arrived.”
These same sleek design cues are also carried through to the car’s beautifully-crafted interior. The supple leathers and radiant woods are top quality and are liberally applied in a way that might look more at home in the cabin of a private jet than in an earthbound automobile. And while that analogy certainly applies to the regular wheelbase model, nowhere is this high-flying impression stronger than in the rear seat of the LS 460 L. With the four-place Executive Class Seating Package, the two lucky rear seat passengers can enjoy individually heated and cooled reclining seats with vibrating massage (the right rear seat also includes a power-operated leg rest), power-operated rear window and side door sunshades, and a wood- and leather-trimmed center console with a retractable table. Add the rear beverage cooler and rear seat DVD entertainment system with a big nine-inch monitor and, well, let’s just say we’d definitely be tempted to let the better half drive more often.
While all this available luxury is impressive, there’s more to this new body than is readily apparent to the eye. From the multiple coats of hand-sanded paint to the church-like silence of the passenger cabin, Lexus engineers have toiled over every aspect of this car to achieve a level of refinement only a handful of cars can match.
Safety and Technology
Safety and Technology The Lexus LS 460 is loaded with the latest safety equipment and technology gizmos, ranging from eight standard airbags and a Pre-Collision System to a stunning Mark Levinson audio system and an Advanced Guidance Parking System.
In the hyper-competitive full-size luxury sedan segment, carmakers pull out all the stops to design, engineer, and build vehicles that truly advance the state of the automotive art. Trouble is, as the players in this segment have continued to seek some slight edge over the competition, the cars themselves have essentially become rolling computer platforms. In watching this war of whiz-bang features escalate in recent years, things appear to have gotten out of hand as automakers have introduced a dizzying array of high-tech bells-and-whistles that seem to have less to do with improving the actual driving experience than they do with some frenzied quest to outdo the engineers at competing brands. With this new LS, Lexus has clearly tried to walk a fine line between adding enough new electronic wizardry to remain competitive and creating a car that doesn’t take an engineering degree to figure out. And, for the most part, we think they’ve done a great job deploying cutting-edge doo-dads that operate in either a completely transparent or very intuitive manner.
For starters, Lexus engineers have fitted the new LS 460 with a full-compliment of advanced accident avoidance features including antilock disc brakes, a tire pressure monitor, and a sophisticated electronic stability control system designed to stop an impending skid before it starts. Standard adaptive headlights with individual elements that automatically pivot to illuminate around corners, daytime running lights, and bright LED tail and brake lights also help the driver see and be seen.
If a crash is unavoidable, eight standard airbags are standing by to cushion the blow. In addition to the dual-stage front airbags, the driver and front seat passenger are protected by knee airbags and side-impact airbags. Side-curtain airbags, designed to protect the heads of outboard occupants in the front and rear seats, are also standard, and rear-seat side-impact airbags are available as an option. Lexus’s Pre-Collision System is also available on the LS 460. The system, which uses input from the optional radar cruise control to detect an impending crash, adds an additional measure of protection by cinching up the driver and front passenger’s seatbelts and priming the car’s Brake Assist system so it’s ready to apply maximum braking force the moment the driver touches the pedal.
There are equally sophisticated convenience items here too, not the least of which is the available Advanced Parking Guidance System. This nifty bit of smoke-and-mirrors combines the ultrasonic parking assist sensors, rearview camera, and electric power steering to make parallel parking a snap. Simply push a button, line the car up, and control your speed with the brake pedal as the car all but parks itself. The process is really quite slick as it eliminates all the guesswork and trial-and-error that typically comes with trying to snag a curbside parking spot.
Driving Impressions Sophisticated and refined, the Lexus LS 460 deftly blends performance and comfort, technology with user-friendly interfaces, all while adding a dash of style that some felt was lacking in previous versions of this flagship luxury sedan.
It should be obvious by now that a lot of thought has gone into creating this new LS 460. And, we’re pleased to report that all that effort has paid off in a car that’s an absolute pleasure to drive. From the moment you touch the dash-mounted “Start” button, the strengths of the LS’s new V8 are readily apparent. For one thing, this sophisticated motor is so smooth and quiet that you’ll find yourself stealing a look at the tachometer just to make sure it’s running. Head out on the road and put your foot into it, however, and the new engine jumps to life with brisk acceleration that makes the company’s 5.4-second 0-to-60 acceleration estimate feel just about right. To add a hint of character, there’s even a nice subdued growl when you get on the gas hard.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is equally refined, with shifts so smooth as to be nearly imperceptible. Should you long for a little more involvement in the gear-changing process, the manual shift feature provides quick gear changes via a slap of the shift lever.
Keeping things pointed in the right direction is easy enough thanks to electric power steering that feels surprisingly responsive, though like most such units it lacks some of the weight and direct feedback we’ve come to expect from the best European sedans. The same can be said for the brakes which provide very effective stopping power, albeit with a somewhat softer pedal feel than we’d like.
The LS 460’s base suspension provides an endlessly comfortable ride quality that made us head out in search of really bad pavement to laugh at. We also found this suspension offered very stable and predictable handling, though we preferred the somewhat crisper quality of the sport-tuned air suspension that comes with the LS 460 L’s optional Touring Package.
In the final measure, we’d say this new LS offers a more composed and pleasurable alternative to the edgier driving character of some competing luxury sedans. Add the car’s beautiful craftsmanship, top-quality materials, long list of top-drawer standard and available features, and the user-friendly integration of technology, and we think these two new LS models will be enormously popular with luxury sedan shoppers. And while we remain convinced that perfection will always remain just beyond the grasp of us mere mortals, we can tell you the Lexus LS 460 and LS 460 L are proof that a little obsession in pursuit of that goal can yield impressive results.
FAQs Though the Lexus LS 460 might not offer the same sporting edge found in models such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class that just makes it a better choice for the typical luxury sedan buyer.
Would you recommend this new Lexus LS 460 over top-of-the-line models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz?
Well, that depends on you. If the German sedans’ ever-so-slightly sportier driving character is important to you and you don’t mind dealing with their overly complex user interfaces, then by all means have at ‘em. Based on our time behind the wheel of all four cars, however, we think the Lexus is definitely a better choice for the typical luxury sedan buyer.
What else can you tell me about the new LS 600h L hybrid model?
Given that the debut of this 2008 model isn’t scheduled until sometime in the spring of 2007, Lexus hasn’t released many details. That said, here’s what we’ve been able to piece together:
Is the optional Mark Levinson audio system really worth the extra dough?
If you’re a Dr. Laura-listening AM radio die-hard, we’re pretty sure you wouldn’t even be asking this question. So let’s assume you enjoy actual music. And if that’s the case, we think this system is a must-have. Pop in a CD and you’ll feel like the musicians are right there in the car with you.
Specifications The 2007 Lexus LS 460’s primary competitors include the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Test Vehicle: 2007 Lexus LS 460/LS 460 L
Base Price Range: $57,000 – $75,000 (estimated)
Engine Size and Type: 4.6-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 380 at 6,400 rpm
Engine Torque: 367 lb.-ft. at 4,100 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift feature
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4,244/4,332
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/27 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 21.2 mpg
Length: 198.0/202.8 inches
Width: 73.8 inches
Wheelbase: 116.9/121.7 inches
Height: 58.1/57.7 inches
Legroom (front/rear): N/A
Headroom (front/rear): 38.0/38.0 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 18.0 cu.-ft. (12.0 cu.-ft. with rear A/C)
Competitors: Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Photos courtesy of Lexus