All the comforts of home?Home should be this comfortable-and this quiet. For the 1995 model year, Toyota pinched, tweaked and, in general, refined its top-of-the-line Lexus LS400 sedan, a vehicle that started life, in the 1990 model year, as a $35,000 luxury machine and that has evolved into a $51,200 showpiece of what the Japanese can do when they put their collective minds-and lots of money-to good use. Original fears that Lexus would leave Cadillac and Lincoln licking their wounds have never materialized. Both U.S. luxury car rivals are doing just fine, thank you. Oh, sure, a few folks turned to Lexus rather than DeVille or Continental, but more turned to Lexus over Mercedes, BMW, Volvo or Jaguar. Some simply turned to Lexus from Camry, Toyota's previous top of the line car, after their income levels reached the comfort zone. While Lexus insists that the shape of the LS400 is new (although the intent wasn't to come up with a new design), if you just look at the sheetmetal, you'll have a hard time discerning many differences from the previous model. Most of the many changes for 1995 are under the skin. George Borst, vice president and general manager of Toyota's Lexus division, says luxury car owners, "value heritage, continuity, timeless design-not fashion. Our customers are financially savvy. They don't invest in items with rapid obsolescence." No bell-bottoms or Nehru jackets in Lexus owners' closets. Borst insists that Lexus owners are less concerned with dramatic new sheetmetal than with the fact that the '95 model is "faster, yet more fuel efficient, roomier yet easier to maneuver, lighter yet safer, while being more agile and smoother." Even though it's wrapped in a plain envelope, Borst says, the new Lexus LS400 does everything but make its own payments-and at $51,200 you might wish that were an available option. For 1995, the LS400 price was frozen at $51,200, same base price as the 1994 model. Option prices remained the same too. Only item that went up was a $10 boost in freight-to $480. (Only $10 more for freight? Obviously Lexus found a discount gas station. Be nice if the Detroit automakers could locate a similar low-cost pump.) Nonetheless, it still takes a few extra dollars to equip the LS400 in style-make that in "grand" style. Just about every item you need to add runs a grand or more, such as $1,900 for the traction control/all-season premium tire package, which is a necessity on a rear-wheel-drive sedan in the snow belt; $1,000 for the power sunroof; and $1,000 for the nifty compact disc changer housed, within easy reach, in the dash, rather than stuffed out of sight in the trunk. Add another $1,100 for the premium sound system and you have $5,000 in options-and a $56,200 sticker before adding one of the few under-$1,000 extras: memory seats, which, for a mere $750, self-adjust to pre-programmed locations for different drivers. Though the LS400 starts at $51,200, carpeted floor and trunk mats run an extra $110 and $63, respectively. Lexus owners may favor timeless design over fashion, but even a doctor, lawyer or commodities broker blanches at paying $63 for a trunk rug. In terms of value for the dollar, Lexus points out that you get a lot for your money, such as smooth, comfortable ride and handling, complemented by road-gripping 16-inch tires and an air suspension that automatically adjusts each wheel to cushion impact with the road. And the 4-liter, 260-horsepower, 32-valve V-8 is certainly quick yet quiet. The 4-liter boasts 10 more h.p. than in 1994, which cuts the zero-to-60-miles-per-hour acceleration time by a full second. Good news for those who want to lead the pack from the light, rather than cruise behind with the $20,000 riff-raff sedans and coupes. Kudos to Lexus for improving performance while still squeezing a couple extra miles p r gallon out of the V-8. The mileage rating moves up to 19 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway from an 18/23 rating in 1994. There are lots of noteworthy goodies in the car, such as dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control (although, as noted above, traction control and its ability to keep you in contact with the pavement regardless of the snow or ice, teamed with premium tires is a hefty $1,900 option. The interior cabin is spacious front and rear, and a special air filter removes such impurities as odors, pollen and dust particles that could interfere with your driving or riding pleasure. As a special touch, there's a tool kit/flashlight in a removable carrying case housed in the trunk, though we suspect most owners would prefer free carpeting in the cargo hold. The LS400 also comes with speed-sensitive wipers timed to slow down or quicken based on vehicle speed and a special time delay so you get one more swipe 6 seconds after they're turned off to remove any water filtering down from the roof line; and a recessed windshield designed to channel water over the top of the roof rather than along the side windows where it could splash into the cabin. Other novel features include a coil/torsion spring front-seat suspenion system to resist seat cushion lateral deformation during hard cornering; outside rear-view mirrors that automatically dim to prevent glare from the headlights of following vehicles; remote keyless entry that also will set off an alarm to ward off strangers approaching your car; a tilt steering wheel that automatically raises for easy exit when you turn off the ignition and then lowers again when you return and turn the key to "on"; and retractable dual cupholders in the center front- and rear-seat arm rests. "We forced Mercedes-Benz to have a cupholder,a major breakthrough in German engineering," Borst said. "Our car is at least one generation ahead of Mercedes, our cupholders are two generations ahead." How can you not admire a company that has its priorities in order? >> 1995 Lexus LS400 sedan
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches Length: 196.7 inches Engine: 4-liter, 260-h.p., 32-valve, V-8 Transmission: 4-speed automatic EPA mileage: 19 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway Base price: $51,200, plus $480 freight Price as tested: $57,173. Add $1,900 for traction control and all-season premium tires, $1,100 for a premium sound system, $1,000 for in-dash compact disc changer, $1,000 for power tilt and slide sunroof,$750 for memory system that adjusts steering wheel/seats, $110 for carpeted floor mats, $63 for a carpeted trunk mat and $50 for wheel locks. Pluses: Dual air bags and anti-lock brakes standard. Traction control available. Operation whisper quiet-to the point of being eerie. Quick yet qu iet 32-valve V-8 with better mileage than '94. Optional air suspension tunes each wheel based on road and driving conditions. Cabin air filter. Emergency tool kit in trunk. Minuses: At $50,000 plus, traction control should be standard. $63 for a carpeted trunk mat? If not for the value of the yen, would this be a $45,000 car? >>
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