In 1989 Toyota launched something the world had never seen before, a Lexus. Six years earlier, Toyota Chairman Eiji Toyoda called a secret meeting where he posed the question, Can Toyota produce a luxury vehicle that is capable of taking on the best that the world, mainly Germany, has to offer? Immediately after the team of engineers, designers and marketing professionals commenced Toyota’s billion dollar F1 program. The result of their Flagship 1 program, the Lexus LS 400 was a luxury vehicle that would expand Toyota’s product line, securing the Japanese automaker a foothold in the premium automobile segment and provide both longtime Toyota and soon to be luxury car customers an upscale offering from Japan. That same year sales figures for the German luxury automobile manufacturers BMW and Mercedes-Benz dropped 29% and 19% respectively in the U.S. market. The luxury car was widely praised for its well-appointed and ergonomic interior, engine performance, build quality and value when it was introduced stateside with a very affordable $38,000 price tag.
Twenty years have passed and the Lexus LS is still being praised. The Japanese luxury car maker now operates its own design, engineering, and manufacturing centers, solely responsible for the production of Lexus vehicles. The model that started it all, the LS, is in its fourth generation and looking better than ever.
When our Lexus LS 460 was dropped off it looked like some sort of special edition aimed directly at competing with the Mary Kay Cadillacs. The paint had a pink hue to it, the rims looked like they were finished in platinum and the interior was so white that it looked unpractical. This was an import that even Elvis would have found to be fit for the King.
To my surprise this was no special edition Lexus; the color is what the luxury car maker refers to as Opaline Pearl, and is among the standard paint options. At first glance the car appears to be white in color, but given a closer look the pink pearl pops through, and under direct sunlight can even appear to be light purple.
The rims are also a factory option over the standard 9 spoke rollers. The Teleios wheels measure 18 inches in diameter and the design gives the impression of having seven split spokes giving the Lexus LS 460 a sporty and sophisticated look. On our vehicle the wheels were covered in black chrome, the color was somewhere between liquid graphite and platinum.
The Lexus LS 460 benefits from L-Finesse, the Lexus design language that is based on three Japanese characters: the first is 純 which means "Intriguing Elegance", the second 妙 "Incisive Simplicity" and lastly 予 "Seamless Anticipation". These themes are derived from Japanese customs; and refer to the Japanese automaker’s goal of achieving elegance with simplicity while anticipating owner needs. The seamless anticipation refers to traditional Japanese hospitality, where a guest’s needs are taken care of before they arise. Like the way the vehicle lights up, the doors unlock and the side mirrors unfold at the first touch of the door handle, all in anticipation of the vehicle’s departure.
The front end of the Lexus LS 460 features a series of complex curves and sharp arrow shaped chrome pieces. The luxury sedan features a raked front windshield that seamlessly blends with the arc of the hood. The center section of the hood, the part that sits above the engine, is raised compared to the tops of the fenders on either side that create a series of steps on the front end of the vehicle.
The fourth generation Lexus LS has a lower set, swept back grill that gives the car a sportier appearance than the upright squared off piece on the older full size Lexus sedans. The headlights are also more sleek and elegant than the large rectangular units that were previously offered. The curvy shape is much more pleasing to the eye and features a crystal like lens cover and dual adaptive HID projectors that swivel to light up the road in anticipation of the vehicle making a turn.
Compared to previous generations the trunk is much shorter in length. This makes the vehicle appear as if it is in motion while sitting still, giving the four door Lexus a much sportier, aerodynamic appearance.
In order to open the trunk there is a button on the unit itself or a button that can e pressed on the key fob to do the job. Even more intriguing is the sticker inside the trunk that warns occupants to watch their fingers. With this luxury sedan the owner never has go though the process of slamming the trunk over and over again to ensure that it is closed. Simply lower until a click is heard, and then the trunk seals itself automatically.
The rear bumper is simple, using a combination of convex and concave curves to create an elegant posterior. Integrated into the bottom of the bumper are two arrow shaped metal pieces. However like the unique tips found on the Lexus IS-F these are not connected to the exhaust system either, the metal tips are more part of the bumper than the exhaust. At least this way the exhaust tips will stay clean longer.
Like a proper luxury vehicle the windows block out ambient noise thanks to two panes of glass with a laminate sandwiched in-between. This feature allows passengers to enjoy the 19 speaker 450 Watt Mark Levinson sound system. That is made up of a six disk CD/DVD changer built into the dash as well as a HDD capable of storing up to 2000 songs and an XM receiver. So much technology never sounded so good.
A first for the Lexus LS is a push button starter; the saloon can also be started by pressing a button on the key fob meaning that the driver never has to remove the keys from his or her pocket again. The steering wheel of the LS is covered in beautiful two tone leather and features a wooden rim. There are also controls carved flush into the face of the wheel. The buttons are a well thought out execution, not just an accessory that bolts to the back of the wheel like an afterthought. One particularly useful control is the HOLD button. Like on the Mercedes Benz S Class there is no need to apply pressure to the brake pedal when sitting at a traffic light, simply press hold and the vehicle will sit still until the driver asks it to go.
Up front the passenger seat also features a very user friendly feature. There are an additional set of seat position controls on the left-hand side of the backrest that allow for the driver or even a back seat passenger to adjust the passenger seat location.
The center console features the only armrest that slides back and then hinges open in one fluid motion that this automotive journalist has ever seen. Hidden inside you will find a 12 Volt outlet, USB port and plenty of storage. There is also a smaller tray to help keep certain items more readily accessible.
The Lexus LS 460’s engine has grown by .3 liters since the last generation. The unit is a modern V8, featuring 4 valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts. A technology that was launched on the Lexus LS 460 is Toyota’s VVT-iE. Designed for their luxury vehicles, this form of variable valve timing replaces the hydraulic actuator that advances and retards the intake camshaft timing with an electric motor. The switch from hydraulic to electric is much more precise, especially at lower engine speeds. All this technology produces a potent 380 HP and 367 lb-ft of torque from the 4.6 liter engine. With this much power the LS 460 never feels like it is out of breath.
The Lexus LS 460 also features the first 8 speed automatic transmission found in a production vehicle. The driver has a few options when it comes to shifting. First, the car can be driven like a traditional fully automatic vehicle. Second, with the shift lever moved over into the gate closest to the driver, the transmission will hold the engine RPM longer before shifting into the next gear, giving extra oomph whenever required. The gearbox can also be shifted manually, like a modern semi-automatic, shifting up by pushing on the gear selector and dropping gears by pulling back on it. The fact that there are now 8 gears to choose from means that the Lexus LS 460 should never be searching for power and also helps with fuel economy.
The engine and transmission work together to propel the 4300 pound luxury vehicle from 0 to 60 MPH (0-100 km/h) in only 5.4 seconds, complete the quarter mile in only 13.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 MPH. All while the luxury limousine gets and estimated fuel economy of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon while cruising at highway speeds.
Another innovative feature that has been incorporated into the Lexus LS 460 but unfortunately was left off of our test vehicle is Lexus Park Assist. LPA is program that utilizes sensors molded into the side of the vehicle in conjunction with the back up camera that allow the driver to select the desired parking space on the navigation screen and lets the Lexus LS 460 parallel park itself.
Priced at around $64,000 the base Lexus LS 460 is a bargain compared to German rivals and offers even more gadgets to aid the driver. The Mercedes Benz S Class starts at around $90,000, a new BMW 7 will cost at least $80,000 and the Audi A8 is priced around $74,000 for the base model. The Lexus LS 460 is also available with an extended wheelbase for a $10,000 premium and a rear bias all wheel drive system for only $4,000 more. Lexus also offers a luxury hybrid based on the LS, the vehicle combines a 5.0 liter gasoline burning V8 engine with an electric motor to generate a maximum output of 438 HP, the goal of this vehicle is hybrid performance and competes with 760s from BMW and V12 powered S Classes from Mercedes. The latest rumors to come out of Japan include talk of releasing a high performance F version of the LS; if the vehicle does go into production, expect Alpina and AMG owners to be caught quivering in their Gucci loafers.
The Lexus LS was the car that started it all for the Japanese luxury car builder 20 years ago, and today the LS 460 remains as their flagship model. Aside from the striking appearance of our Opaline pearl Lexus LS 460, the car had a very comfortable ride and the seating position made for a clear view of the road. The LS also has plenty of power with the 4.6 liter V8 and the 8 speed transmission has a gear for every situation. The Lexus LS comes standard with a long list of creature comforts and techno gadgets while still maintaining a reasonable price.
With the Lexus LS the buyer has options. They can choose from a regular or extended wheel base for more of a limousine feel. There is an optional AWD system for regions where snow can be a nuisance. There is even a more powerful hybrid version. There are so many variations of the LS, and they still come in at a lower price than the majority of competitors. The amazing value of this Japanese luxury vehicle coupled with the numerous awards it has received make the Lexus LS 460 the best option for a buyer who wants all of the comfort and style found in the traditional German luxury limousine without having to pay for a Maybach.