There are some car stories out there that are so fascinating, they bear repeating-not just for those who lived and remember that time, but for those too young to recall. Here at The Garage, we are members of Generation X, who grew up with the notion that Japanese cars were great cars with exceptional reliability, but luxury? Not a chance. That changed in 1986 when Honda introduced Acura as an upscale brand, and the automotive world held their collective breath to see if North Americans would accept the notion of an upscale, premium Japanese car. They did, and the Acuras were, and are fine cars, but Toyota had far bolder plans. Forget about accepting the notion of accepting a premium Japanese brand. Toyota was creating the Lexus LS, and its sole mission was to target the vaunted, legendary Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Remember, Toyota’s most luxurious car ever sold here prior was the Cressida. To say the project was an ambitious one is putting it mildly.
And so the Lexus LS debuted in 1990, and was quite a success. Infiniti answered with its Q-Series, but that car failed to find as many buyers, and eventually faded away. Acura has yet to even try to compete against the LS. It is a remarkable success story of a company entering a very hostile market dominated by German marques of great distinction and provenance. At the time, Lexus was doing the unthinkable. Now, in 2013, the Lexus LS is completely accepted as a peer to the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and of course, its target, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. While the auto magazines out there continue to gush about its German rivals, the LS has generally been respected, but overlooked.
With a refresh for 2013, that needs to change. From the start, the LS has been described as a good looking car, but a little lacking in personality. Luxurious, yes, but memorable, no. With the spindle grill now seen across the Lexus line, the LS has finally, after all these years, seemed to have gotten its own identity at the top of the luxury car class. The inverted Lexus ‘L’s’ continue at the front end with daytime running lights. For once, you know that it is a Lexus coming up behind you. Curvy fender flares and a sculpted hood surface provide an air of elegance and seriousness befitting a car of this stature. Our test car, finished in Fire Agate Pearl, a sort of cigar paper brown that seemed to hint at the age of the ‘Mad Men’ television series. Offset with optional 19″ alloys, our LS460 had a level of presence and gravity unlike no other LS before it.
First and foremost, the Lexus LS was, is, and always will be a full-size luxury sedan, and it is the cabin that makes all the difference. Here, the LS excels. In a car of this level, when you settle in behind the wheel, you need to feel as if you are in a special car. Ultra-soft leather, muted metals, gorgeously finished and sculpted wood surround you. This is not simply a space for occupants to sit in to reach a destination, it is akin to observing fine furniture. Yes, the attention to detail and craftsmanship is that good. But it exists in a perfectly functional environment with seats offering exceptional comfort and support. Of course, the latest in technology and infotainment is right there, but Lexus presents it all in a very user-friendly format. Lexus understands that true luxury is to pamper and relax you, not intimidate, such as some of the LS’ chief German rivals often do.
The Lexus LS460 is motivated by a 4.6L V-8 rated at 386hp, paired to an 8-speed automatic. Buyers have the choice of rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, but the latter choice will cost you six horsepower. For a New Englander like myself, the assurance of all-wheel drive is the way to go. Lexus claims a 0-60mph time of just under six seconds. Some reviewers complain the LS does not offer as much power as some of its rivals. Notice I said ‘not as much’ instead of ‘not enough’. Having logged plenty of miles on the interstate and on country two-lanes, the LS460 had plenty of power in every situation thrown at it, and even offered a nice purr from the V-8 when pushed.
In speaking of the nature of the LS on the road, the operative word is ‘composed’. This may be a large, heavy car, but from behind the wheel you would never know it. The mark of a great handling large car is that it never feels large-the LS shrinks around you. On a Spring drive up to gorgeous Kent Falls, Connecticut, I was easily keeping up with an Audi S4 on the scenic, curvy roads of Route 7. He was pushing it, as was I, and I can imagine it must have shocked him how well I kept up, as my passengers were as cool as cucumbers. That said, I wouldn’t challenge the S4 to a lap at Laguna Seca, but it speaks volumes of the work of fine-tuning the LS’ handling that it never even broke a sweat with a spirited drive in the country with a pure-bred sport sedan.
While the Lexus LS was once a one-flavor for all car, several variations now exist. Rear or all-wheel drive, standard or long wheelbase, hybrid, and the more aggressively tuned F-Sport. Our test car was a standard wheelbase LS460 with all-wheel drive. As you could expect, the list of standard features is generous, including HID bi-xenon headlights, LED exterior and interior lighting, Safety Connect (similar to GM’s OnStar services), Navigation, a huge 12.3″ hi-res display screen, Lexus Enform to hook up with your smartphone apps, intuitive park assist, moonroof, leather seats, wood and aluminum trim, and premium audio, for a base price of $74,935USD. To that, our test car added Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross traffic Alert, the Comfort Package (ventilated front seats, power rear sunshade, heated rear seats, power trunk), 19″ alloys, Semi-Analine leather interior with Alcantara headliner, and a Mark Levinson 19 speaker audio system for a total of $82,010, including destination charges. Inexpensive? Hardly.
But remember-the bogey was always the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It was in 1990, it is in 2013. Don’t believe me that Lexus is still trying to beat Mercedes at their own game? Consider this. If you demand a V-8 powered S-Class with all-wheel drive, 19″ wheels, and the top-spec audio system-in other words, equipped just as our LS460 was-it will cost you a whopping $25,000 more. That’s something to consider. For the Lexus LS, the quality and luxury were always there. With the 2013 Lexus LS460, the persona and swagger this car has been begging for has finally arrived. And for the price Lexus is charging, Audi, BMW and Mercedes should take notice. The automotive media may have dismissed the Lexus LS, but you heard it from The Garage this is the ultimate evolution of Japan’s premier luxury sedan.