The all-new LS460 is Lexus' flagship model. For this test I drove the long-wheelbase LS460 L with Luxury Package and lots of extra goodies; features included radar cruise control, pre-collision assistance, air suspension, parking guide assistance and backup camera, rear power seats, smart-card key for hands-off start, power-assist doors and trunk. 4.8 liter 380 hp engine, 8-speed auto and multiple roadholding assists are included. The most advanced Lexus yet, it qualifies as the 2007 technology champion. $61,715 base, $85,947 as tested. EPA mileage: 18 MPG city, 27 MPG highway.
First glance: Gunning for Mercedes
Every morning the engineers at Lexus sit in a circle and gaze up at a star. A three-pointed star. It's the Mercedes-Benz star, glimmering somewhere over Stuttgart. Together they chant the words of an old pop song: "Anything you can do I can do better!" Mercedes proudly boasts of a century-long reputation for technological leadership, whereas Lexus has been in the hunt for a mere fifteen years. Relax, Lexus-San, you're winning. The LS 460 is the new king of technology. If it's not in this car, friends, you don't need it.
My test vehicle would park itself, parallel or backed into a space in my garage. It would activate a radar system that, together with cruise control, allowed me to motor along the highway without using the brakes as the LS460 kept a safe distance from the car ahead. Locking the vehicle, the heated outside mirrors retracted so they wouldn't get clobbered by someone else's carelessness. Cold day? No problem -- the steering wheel is heated.
My back seat passengers could modify the flow of cool and warm air in their compartment and we all benefited from a climate system that controlled pollen entering the cabin and reacted to smog. Those in the back were also treated to some sexy tricks that I'll explain in a moment. Touch screen navigation system? Of course. (Link goes to photo.) Rear seat entertainment system? Naturally. Hands-free Bluetooth phoning? You'd expect less?
Then there's the 380 hp V-8, 8-speed automatic transmission, and ultra-sophisticated air suspension. Ready to give up, Mercedes?
In the Driver's Seat: Good, but the back seat is better
The driver's seat? Whatdya mean, driver's seat? I'm having more fun in the back! I've adjusted the seat, altered the backrest angle, stretched my legs in this roomy, roomy interior, set the climate control to my preference, and pushed a button that raises a screen to block the sun on the back of my head. And now I'm getting a massage through the right-hand rear seat with a choice of shiatsu or stretch. Lexus calls it the "rear seat relaxation system."
I'm about to switch on the "rear seat entertainment system" so I can watch a DVD and you want me to drive? Oh well, time to get serious. Don't worry, you can warm your tush on that heated front seat and amuse yourself with the navigation screen while I try to figure out what to do with all those buttons and switches.
Okay, I'm kidding. The 5-seat model I tested didn't have a built-in masseuse or entertainment system, which are exclusive to the 4-seat Executive Class Seating Package, though it did have all the rest; I had a little fun here because I wanted to make you aware of what's available with the LS460. Up front, however, the selection is even more dazzling. I can apply the steering wheel heater, learn when the tires need rotating and even check the current pressures. While preparing to play an MP3 disc I'll set the automatic sound leveler, which reacts to outside noises and adjusts the volume on the 12-speaker system.
Be aware that I used a hands-off proximity key to get in and had no need to slam the doors. After a gentle nudge, they shut themselves.
On the Road: Whether you drive fast or slow, LS460 is brilliant
There are two ways to drive the LS460: Just sit back and drive as you would with any other car, or take advantage of the impressive aids to handling and performance. I began with the former, coming home on a long and winding road (why am I hung up on song lyrics with this car?) where, to my surprise, the big Lexus was more than capable in the curves and less surprisingly, with 380 hp, could power past any of the road rats that got in my way.
Pushing hard activates a vehicle dynamics system and vehicle stability control, while severe braking draws on electronic brake force distribution. The suspension is self-levelling and helps reduce body lean in turns. I could have self-shifted through those eight gears but it was pointless with such an intelligent transmission. In spite of all that power and all those gears the LS460 accelerates like a 747; slow to get rolling but once the initial movement begins an adrelinin rush takes over. The 4.6 liter V-8 features "the world's first electric motor driven variable valve timing and electronically-controlled intake cam." Just some of the magic that takes place under the hood.
Truth is, you'll forget about that stuff as you motor along, enjoying a whisper-quiet ride and given sightlines that are much better (and safer) those in the wedge-shaped, pillbox-windowed cars other manufacturers find so trendy. The LS 460 is a pleasant, friendly drive provided you can ignore the distractions of those bells and whistles.
Journey's End: Yearning for the simple life
What was the self-parking system like? As a means of entertaining onlookers, amazing. As a practical assist, no big deal. You cannot motor up to the nearest gap and expect the car to take over. It takes practice to get the vehicle lined up for parallel parking, more so to achieve the 45-degree angle when backing into a side-by-side space. I scored 1-out-of-4 in parallel, 1-out-of-5 in garage parking. But considering how few drivers are wise enough to back into a parking space this particular feature can be an advantage. It consists of radar imagery that, combined with the rear view parking assist, does make backing into tight spaces easier.
It is impossible to list every feature this luxury sedan offers but I was impressed by the crystal projector headlamp glass, a beverage cool box in the back seat area, and the knowledge that a master technician uses a stethoscope to search for abnormal noises and assure engine balance before the car leaves the factory. I'm also hugely embarrassed to admit that while beefing about the distraction caused by a vast number of buttons, switches and other techno-tricks, I was informed at the end of my stint that many can be voiced through the built-in Bluetooth system. I didn't know what Bluetooth meant. Still don't.
The LS460 is in many ways a magnificent auto, but a 650-page owner's manual? To conclude with the lyrics of yet another old song, "Give me the simple life." -- Philip PowellNext page: Pros, cons, who should buy it, and specs