Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lexus LS 460 -- All New Flagship

When Toyota introduced its new luxury line in 1989, there was some skepticism. Could they really deliver a luxury car to compete with the established highline cars of the day, such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW? Didn’t Toyota build reliable economy cars?

Well, now we know. Lexus has been a huge success, and the new LS 460 is the fourth generation of the Lexus flagship sedan.

As I walked up to my Noble Spinel Mica (deep red) test vehicle, I could see that this car is completely redone. The original LS copied the Mercedes look, but now the LS joins its brethren in adopting Lexus’ L-finesse design language. Styled at Toyota’s Global Design center in Tokyo, it sports more dynamic sculpting from nose to tail while still retaining a dignified presence.

The more you look at the LS the more interesting design details pop out. The head and tail lamps bend way around the sides of the car. The taillamps protrude slightly from the sheet metal above them, and bend to follow the slight edge of the flat rear surface of the trunk. Up front, crystalline headlamps are just one upscale element. The hood line flows into the trapezoidal grille and down through the bumper for a forceful V shape.

As the LS has developed, it has become significantly more powerful. This new model uses an all-new 4.6-liter V8 that produces a mighty 380 horsepower and 367 lb.-ft. of torque. That pushes the 4,200-pound rear-wheel-drive sedan along from zero to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. And, the LS claims fuel economy of 19 City, 27 Highway. I averaged 17.1 mpg in a week of mixed driving (without zero-to-60 speed tests).

Lexus has paired this fine engine with the world’s first eight-speed automatic. Lexus claims that this ensures rapid take-off in the low gears but the best possible fuel economy and quietness in the upper gears. You never feel the gear changes with this high-tech unit, either.

The EPA rates the big Lexus at 7 for Air Pollution and 6 for Greenhouse Gases—quite good scores considering the size and power of this car. So, you can have it both ways—luxury and power combined with reasonable emissions.

The interior of the LS 460 is lovely to behold. The leather-covered seats coddle and the rich genuine-wood trim looks appropriate to a flagship. The center stack bulges with buttons that are large enough to hit correctly. Fit and finish are, of course, superb.

As is becoming increasingly common, the starter is a button. You can keep your key in your pocket and just push this button to start the car. I wasn’t able to figure out how to listen to the radio with the ignition off, however.

The most impressive feature of the interior is one you can’t see—silence. The Lexus folks spent a lot of time hunting down sources of unwanted vibrations and neutralizing them. They also made sure that the things that do make a noise, such as the power window motors, have the most pleasant sound possible. Even the door slam was put under the microscope.

The LS is filled with up-to-the-minute technology. The Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) stability system integrates and manages a batch of subsystems that monitor sensors and make adjustments automatically to keep things safe and secure. The driver and passengers receive these benefits without having to do a thing.

The Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) swivels the headlamps in the direction of a turn. The Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS) uses the backup camera, parking sonar sensors, and electric steering system to parallel park the LS for you. All you control in the process is the speed, using the brake.

For your ears, the optional Mark Levinson audio system offers an incredible 19 speakers among its many advanced features. You don’t need to go to the concert hall anymore.

The LS 460 is a grand vehicle, but if you want even more space for rear-seat passengers, opt for the new long-wheelbase LS 460 L. Besides gaining nearly five inches of legroom in back, the L model comes loaded with extras, including XM Radio with real time traffic, power door closers, and lots more.

The LS 460 starts at $61,000. My tester had about $10,000 worth of extras, including the aforementioned sensational audio system and the Comfort Plus Package. The latter package adds power rear seats with memory, a heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade, and more. The sticker stopped at $71,875.

What’s not to like with this kind of vehicle? Well, it’s hard to find a flaw. With the incredible work done to make the car perfect, Toyota may have actually succeeded. But it’s so quiet and smooth, how do you even know you’re driving it?

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