New models - Lexus - LS
Lexus launches new flagship
Lexus has launched its all-new LS430 flagship
5 Nov 2000
By BRUCE NEWTON
LEXUS enters its second decade of existence - still in pursuit of Mercedes-Benz and BMW - armed with its new generation LS430 flagship.
Laden with features, technical trickery and impressive engineering achievements, the LS430, like the LS400 before it, significantly undercuts the rival models from the Mercedes-Benz S-class and BMW 7 Series range on price.
While it debuts at $171,500, $9100 up on its predecessor, compared to the relevant S-class and 7 Series it is up to 15 per cent cheaper. Lexus also claims significant standard equipment advantages over its rivals.
Encouragingly, Lexus Australia says that price should be held until the first significant upgrade of the car comes. That should be in about 12 months when the obvious hole in the LS430's armoury - lack of satellite navigation - should be filled in.
The appropriate software will not be available until then from VDO. Unfortunately, because of the complex nature of the LS430's electronics, it will not be possible to retrofit the system.
The super-expensive Mark Levinson audio option does not make it to Australia either because there is no service support.
About 400 customers will miss out on sat-nav that's how many LS430s Lexus expects to sell between now and the end of 2001.
It is a big task, considering the LS400 has not managed more than 152 sales in a calendar year since 1996.
Lexus Australia senior executive vice-president John Conomos said he expected the majority of the required sales would come from current Mercedes-Benz shoppers.
"Mercedes-Benz buyers are the least loyal, we have found. They are the ones who will switch most," Mr Conomos said.
"We think also, with finer handling now, we will also invade some BMW territory." Wherever they come from, LS430 buyers will be ensconced in a car that takes Lexus's reputation for quietness, smoothness and complexity to a new level.
It has the lowest sedan drag co-efficient in its class at 0.26, engineers claiming the car generates no wind noise, and there is computing power onboard equivalent to four desk-top PCs.
But the flagship still does not go anywhere bold in styling terms. It is less conservative than the car it replaces, but that's about all: "The reason for that is very simple, it's what the customers tell us they want," Mr Conomos said.
Power comes from a developed version of the old 4.0-litre, all-alloy V8 engine that now produces 207kW at 5600rpm and 417Nm at 3500rpm. A new catalytic converter design helps it achieve ULEV pollution standards.
Claimed 0-100 km/h acceleration of 6.7 seconds outpoints its German rivals, while AS2877 fuel consumption figures are 11.5L/100km on the city cycle and 7.2L/100km on the highway.
The engine is attached to a five-speed adaptive automatic transmission, which Lexus claims is not only intelligent but intuitive.
This means it works in conjunction with the LS430's electronic throttle to provide smooth up and down changes, particularly on windy or hilly roads.
The underpinnings of the LS430 are all-new, the double wishbone suspension adapted to Australian conditions, with emphasis placed on high-speed stability. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels and 225/55 R17 tyres are a standard part of the package, while disc brake size and performance has been boosted.
The wheelbase is 75mm longer than the superseded car but the LS430's length has only gone up by 5mm. More interior space has been created and the size of the boot boosted to a massive 573 litres.
Features of the full leather and wood interior include a seven-speaker, 470-watt sound system with in-dash 6-CD player, 12-way power adjustable driver's seat and 10-way adjustable front passenger seat, steering wheel controls, climate control air-conditioning and climate control front seats.
Safety features are numerous, including park assist, anti-lock brakes, brake assist and brake force distribution, vehicle stability control, HID headlights, six airbags including full length side curtain bags and seatbelt pretensioners for all outboard passengers.
The only significant option is an $8500 rear seat enhancement pack that includes power-operated rear seats clothed in soft semi-aniline leather, a seat massager, two additional speakers and manual side and quarter window shades.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS: THE LS430 looks like the S-class styling submission Mercedes-Benz knocked back. But it drives like the S-class's quieter, better built cousin.
The LS has always been almost eerily devoid of noise and this car is no exception. The only real intrusion is some bump-thump from the larger 17-inch tyres fitted to the Australian-spec car.
The ride also does not seem quite as enveloping as the old car but the trade-off for tighter steering and a flatter attitude is worth it.
Whether it is a better drive than a Benz or BMW is a moot point. Only a back-to-back drive would tell us that, and even then it would be a tough call.
The V8 engine remains the hidden gem, woofling gently up towards 7000rpm without a suggestion of vibration or harshness. It works neatly and seamlessly with the auto transmission.
Flick the VSC button off and it is not too hard to provoke some tail-wagging oversteer - fun in the right environment but with an 1830kg kerb weight the LS430 can be difficult to catch, as one journalist could testify on the launch after a 140km/h spin. Thankfully, he was on a racetrack at the time.
Despite all the insistence about this being a better driver's car, there is no way this is a tearaway racer. The beauty of the LS is way below the skin, it is in the detail and in the peace it provides you.
A lot of that comes from the interior that, as you would expect, is a classy and comfortable environment, complete with high quality leather and wood trim off-set with a polished-metal look centre air-conditioning and audio display.
There is plenty of room front and back, and rear seat passengers get the luxury of their own air-conditioning stereo controls.
Maybe not an S-class competitor in looks then, but there is no doubt that the LS430 deserves to be taken seriously, just like the LS400 before it.
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