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Car reviews - Lexus - LS - LS460 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Value, performance, styling, comfort, features, utter refinement, relative economy and efficiency, Comfort mode ride, Sport mode dynamics
Room for improvement
Undependable cruise control, artificial steering feel through corners, unsettled ride in Sport mode, generic dash too Toyota for a Lexus, small boot

27 Apr 2007

WILL a heated steering wheel sway you to choose the Japanese Lexus LS460 over its German, English and Italian competition?

What about soft-close doors, an auto hill-holder function, auto-open/shut boot lid, two air-conditioning units (one especially for back-seat passengers) and radar-assisted cruise control that slows you down to the speed of the car ahead?

Not enough?

Then perhaps complete keyless entry and start, a roof-mounted DVD screen, fan-heated and cooled electrically adjustable and reclinable seating for four, proximity radar reverse parking camera, voice-activation media, Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite navigation, electronic automatic park brake and rear-side and back-window shades, sunroof, 19-inch alloys and full audio/GPS/multi-media control front and rear will lull you into the Lexus?

Still want more?

Perhaps a Mercedes-style pre-collision safety system that recognises potential dangers in advance – plus 10 airbags ensconcing all occupants should things get physical – will do it for you?

If this still fails to excite, then consider that the fourth-generation LS costs ‘only’ $184,900.

According to Lexus, you will pay around $20,000 and $70,000 more for the equivalently-equipped and powered BMW 750i and Mercedes S500 respectively, while by our calculations you will need to find about $25,000, $40,000 and $85,000 extra if you want to travel in the Audi A8 4.2 quattro, Jaguar XJ8 4.2 Supercharged and Maserati Quattroporte Automatica.

The Lexus uses an all-new 4.6-litre quad-cam V8 that sends drive to the rear wheels via the world’s first eight-speed automatic gearbox, as opposed to six speeds for most of the rivals or seven in the case of the Benz. The new auto is incredibly smooth.

There is no shortage of step-off acceleration, overtaking oomph or outright speed. This car glides along with the force of an avalanche, with an ability to reach 100km/h in 5.7 seconds.

It is majestically swift, but there isn’t the sensation of speed – until you glance at the speedo (which could really use a supporting digital readout) or spot the scary blue lights flashing behind.

Considering how effectively this car moves across the land, the 14-15.5L/100km fuel averages we recorded astounded us considering the way we drove it. If you drive the LS sedately, the claimed 11.1L/100km should be easily achieved.

The variable ratio electronic steering, which varies from 2.4 turns lock-to-lock to 3.4, is great for manoeuvring in tight spots but it feels unnaturally weighted.

If you are negotiating a tight set of corners at speed it shifts unevenly between light and heavy.

Nevertheless, you can carve through corners with surprising precision and agility, with little in the way of body roll. Find a fast snaking road and the Lexus will go where directed, gripping hard and with a more serene flow than you might expect.

The new air suspension, with a device that automatically adjusts forces at all four wheels, is part of a redesigned platform that includes a multi-link front and five-link rear suspension, as well as ‘Vehicle Posture Control’ shock absorbers that reign in body roll and pitch angles according to how the car is being driven.

A switch for Normal, Sport and Comfort modes is sited besides the gear lever to alter the damping forces for flat, firmer (by 20 per cent) or softer responses from the suspension.

Over mostly urban driving conditions, we found Comfort made the LS460 feel cumbersome dynamically, while Sport allowed too many of the smaller bumps to be heard and felt, so we kept it mostly in Normal.

The brakes do not bite with the initial eagerness of, say, an Audi’s, and for some drivers this may feel slightly disconcerting, but it did not hinder their ultimate stopping performance.

We also like the way the automatic park brake is just that – fully automatic, with no stupid foot pedals to mess around with – while the auto hill-hold function stops the car from rolling on an incline.

What annoyed us was the runaway cruise control. Even shallow downhill inclines could not keep the speed from rising dramatically.

This is unacceptable in police radar-infested Australia and is doubly disappointing because the radar-controlled function really did keep the Lexus at a safe and constant distance from the car moving ahead. A fix is needed here, and fast.

What did impress us is how even the roughest roads hardly induced any squeaking or rattling. We never tired of the car’s quietness, refinement and noise-suppression qualities.

Lexus wants more young people to buy its cars – rather than the 61 year-olds what make up the current demographic average – so out goes generic S-class styling and in comes L-finesse.

This car is smooth, with slim panel gaps, minimal protrusions and a flush underbody. It all helps keep things silent.

Heavy, solid doors that shut themselves tightly make a great first impression, as do the high-grade plastics, gapless panels, suede-like ceiling, smart cabin lighting and shiny tree slabs scattered all around, including on parts of the satisfyingly thick steering wheel.

The dash also seems expensive, with its precision-weighted controls, quality feel buttons, smooth surfaces and classy design.

However, it all looks more ‘toffee Toyota’ than ‘luxury limousine’ with the touch screen layout as found in cars as lowly as the Camry and a T-shaped fascia, though stylishly symmetrical and beautifully presented, that is also too similar to today’s Toyotas. Oh what a familial feeling!

While the LS interior equals the quality of an A8, aesthetically it is instantly dated by the BMW and Mercedes cabins’ more contemporary designs, even though they are older.

It is a pity because everything is easy to figure out and find, with large, intuitive and clearly-labelled buttons that are exactly where you expect them to be. In this regard, the LS leapfrogs BMW’s i-Drive.

And no instrument dials are clearer or crisper, while the LS460’s driving position is faultless.

Reverse parking is easy thanks to a high-resolution screen and audible warnings that help overcome the many blind spots created by the high boot and thick pillars.

If you are jumping from the old LS430, you might appreciate the 45mm longer wheelbase, but rear legroom – while sufficient – is dependent on the front passengers moving forward for the partially reclining back seat to work most effectively.

The boot is smaller than expected, with that fancy rear air-conditioning system eating at least 110 litres, resulting in just 400 litres of available space.

There is less cargo room than a Corolla.

Beyond that fancy new body, utterly luxurious interior and highly sophisticated drivetrain is a car that is utterly dependable, without the annoying little faults that affect virtually every other car.

With pretty much everything that opens and shuts, plus the service and after-sales reputation that Lexus is famous for, and the LS460 starts to look like the most complete luxury sedan experience – as opposed to drive (though it is closer in this regard than you might think) – that money can buy.

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