First Glance: Redefining the car that redefined luxury cars
Fast forward to 2006. Lincoln is adrift in a sea of mediocrity. Cadillac has had to undergo a complete change of personality to stay competitive. Mercedes and BMW have retained their iconic status, but it hasn't been easy. Acura and Infiniti, the other relative newcomers from Japan, have been successful, but not on the scale of Lexus - and now Lexus is promising the flagship to end all flagships, the new LS 460. Stuttgart, we have a problem.
The first thing youll notice about the new LS 460 is the styling (link goes to photo). Gone is the conservative and unremarkable shape of earlier LS models. Lexus' new design philosophy, dubbed "L-Finesse", gives the LS 460 a sleek, modern and somewhat menacing look. Unfortunately, it also appears to take a few pages from the BMW design book. That may not be a bad thing from Lexus' point of view, but to me the design comes across as an attempt to mimic the lines of the BMW 7-series rather than a bold clean-sheet redesign.
In the Driver's Seat: A flagship to end all flagships
The LS 460 is a showcase for the latest in automotive technology, from the radar-based cruise control system to the Advanced Parking Guidance System which helps parallel-park the car -- you control the speed and it does the steering. It even uses body heat sensors to maintain cabin temperature.
An available executive class seating option includes a host of luxury amenities for the well-heeled, including a rear seat DVD system and a multifunction shiatsu and vibrating massage system and power ottoman for the right rear seat.
On the Road: Power and handling befitting a leader
The lions share of that performance is due to a powerful, all-new 380hp 4.6 liter V8 engine and a world-first 8-speed automatic transmission. (Most cars have 5 or 6 speeds; Mercedes have 7.) Theres no hiding the fact that the LS 460 is a heavy vehicle -- 4244lbs for the base model, and 4332 lbs for L version - but handling was smooth, predictable and crisp. The rear-wheel-drive LS460 felt well planted and stable through tight switchbacks and gradual sweeping turns. An all-wheel-drive option will be added to the LS 460 in the near future.
Journey's End: Amazing, though not perfect -- but there's more to come
Nits aside, its abundantly clear that the LS 460 is one mightily impressive luxury sedan, especially in the extended wheelbase LS 460L variant. Lexus has a well-earned reputation for outstanding reliability and the relentless improvement of their products. As good as the original LS400 was, Lexus has come a long way indeed.
A hybrid version of the LS, the LS600h, is one of a raft of new Lexus vehicle introductions slated for the next few years. If they are as promising as the LS 460, Im sure that the executives at BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac have some sleepless nights ahead.