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Car reviews - Lexus - LS - LS460 sedan

Launch Story

Lexus logo27 Apr 2007

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

WITH the latest LS, Lexus is set to strike the biggest blow to the booming upper luxury sedan segment since the first model arrived three generations and 17 years ago. Far from being just another Mercedes S-class clone, the LS460 forges its own style and identity, while delivering the sort of performance and dynamics buyers in this sector now demand, as well as setting new standards for refinement. Feature-for-feature, the Lexus makes a highly compelling value argument. But that you might actually want one for its looks is an LS first.

We like:
Styling, refinement, quietness, value, performance, relative economy, comfort, reliability, dynamic strides

We don't like:
Steering still not sharp enough, no head-up display option, lingering OAP image

UNTIL now, the spectre of the S-class loomed large over the LS, like a drugs scandal sticks to a professional athlete. It seemed that the Lexus could not have achieved its place in life without its little "inspiration" to draw upon.

While many might see this as perhaps a tad unfair, pointing to the original's hitherto unparalleled levels of quality, customer service, refinement and reliability, only a Lexus disciple would deny that all three previous editions bore a striking visual affinity to Mercedes-Benz’s long-running flagship model.

There is little doubt as to what Toyota’s alleged (and unproven) "Luxury Export US" program was aiming at. It’s not like the Audi A8 or BMW 7 Series could ever be mistaken for a rival.

But that’s all changed now that Lexus is serious about gaining younger and cooler buyers with the fourth-generation version.

Sitting on large 19-inch alloy wheels, the LS460 looks more muscular, toned and trimmer than any of its portly predecessors, with a smoother surface tension and a far prettier (of somewhat anonymous) face and posterior.

Open the reassuringly weighty doors and the interior presentation is superbly executed and wonderfully easy and intuitive to use.

It has a fit, finish and presentation to make Audi sit up and take notice, thanks to the delicate stitching, tactile feel and high quality materials employed.

Sumptuous sums up the seating for all four outboard places, with the soft-feel leather and suitably upmarket aroma working with the cone-of-silence ambience to confirm that Lexus sure knows what it is doing with interiors these days.

Unless you actually expect a kitchen sink, there is nothing missing from the supernaturally cocooned cabin either.

Special kudos goes to the clever automatic electronic handbrake and hill-hold function.

If we are picky, we might want the lane-change indicator function that is increasingly appearing on (mostly German) Euros. We’re also fans of head-up display. Sadly that’s AWOL.

After being initially awestruck by the sheer salubriousness of the interior, we would also probably have appreciated a more high-tech appearance. An iDrive controller/scroller, or at the very least a less conventional layout to the everyday ‘T’ design, might have added the freshness that is somehow missing from the latest Lexus.

It seems that, according to LS program chief engineer Moritaka Yoshida, the average age has to drop in order for this to be adopted. He says that older people are not as technology savvy as the younger generation, but that the next model may get it.

Maybe that’s when steering wheel-mounted paddles for the unbelievably slick-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox will also appear. It seems like an amazing omission in a model seeking the Baby Boomer and X-Gen demographic.

There’s nothing wrong with the way the silky V8 delivers its considerable power and torque outputs either, and there’s a nice snarl to the soundtrack that is quite unexpected.

We’re keen drivers here at GoAuto, and we think that the latest S-class – while very much a driver’s car – is lacking for not approaching the class-leading BMW 7 Series for steering feel, sharpness and response.

So don’t be surprised to learn that we are disappointed the Lexus trails the Mercedes. It is far better than any previous LS, and most buyers will probably think that no better steering system exists due to its smoothness, linearity and solidity, but sharper tillers are out there.

Mind you, pressing ‘Sport’ mode besides the Tiptronic-style gear lever does seem to firm up the dynamics usefully. You might find yourself hurtling the surprisingly responsive LS460 through sharp corners more often than the car’s reputation suggests.

Of course, thrashing about in the flagship Lexus isn’t really the done thing, particularly in a vehicle as stupendously quiet, comfortable and refined as this.

On the other hand, the ride feels a tad too busy on urban surfaces in the firmest setting, but a return to ‘Normal’ soon has that fixed, which is just as well as ‘Soft’ is just too queasy for us.

There is no way that any upper luxury sedan buyer should feel short-changed in the LS460.

It has performance on tap, seems agreeably frugal and is fitted with all the safety and security devices a paranoid conspiracy theorist could ever pray for.

With this in mind, and the fact that the price includes many goodies for which the others charge plenty, the LS460 just has to be on your test-drive list. It is that good.

Finally, the largest Lexus has stepped out of the Mercedes S-class's shadow.

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