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Expert Reviews 2 of 4
By Alan Vonderhaar
March 16, 2002
I gave a low whistle when I looked at the bottom line of the window sticker when the Lexus LS 430 arrived in my driveway.I exhaled sharply again when I studied it more closely and saw that a single options package had added more than 12 grand to
the base price - that, I believe, is a record.With a bottom-line tab of $71,453, the Lexus flagship sedan is solidly in luxury territory; in fact, its makers are wont to compare it with the Mercedes-Benz S Class machines, which start around that price
and roar up to $117K when powered by a 12-cylinder engine.When the big Lexus debuted, in the last decade of the last millennium, it was offered as a budget-conscious alternative to the big Benzes. Over time, it grew in prestige as drivers discovered
how well built it was, and how pleasant the relationship with dealers could be.The third generation of the flagship debuted last year, totally redesigned. The switch from LS 400 to LS 430 designation denoted that the engine, along with wheelbase and
height, had increased in size, even though overall length remained a garage-friendly 196.7 inches.The LS 430 is essentially still a bargain-priced Mercedes killer, if you can live with it in standard form. And you might.For a base price of $54,980
(freight included), you get a splendid automobile, differing only in trivial ways mechanically from what you get at the "ultra luxury" level. It comes with the same 4.3-liter, 32-valve, double-overhead-cam V-8 and five-speed automatic transmission. The
only significant difference is that at the $70K level, the tires are upsized to 17-inchers from the "base" 16 - but those are available as a separate option on the base car, too.I'll take a deep breath here, and recite what you get in the $12,485
ultra luxury package: Mark Levinson audio upgrade (a name to conjure with in audiophile circles); navigation system; Lexus Link (an OnStar equivalent); power moonroof; dynamic laser cruise control; air suspension; four-spoke wood and leather steering
wheel; laminated, water-repellent side glass; power rear window and manual rear door sunshades; "intuitive parking assist"; rear seat adjuster with power slide and memory; heated rear seats with massager; front climate-controlled seats with heat/cool
options; rear air conditioner with microfiltration; headlamp washer and power door closers (a power trunk closer is standard on the cheapo).Now imagine all that grafted onto a car that in base trim has a full load of goodies; you might feel recklessly
self-indulgent if $70K is other than walking-around money to you.The pampering provided to the rear cabin passengers reflects Lexus's view that some owners will hang out there, with Jeeves doing the driving. Must be awful not to be able to afford a
proper Roller or a limo.This mindset is reflected in the interior ambience taken as a whole - this is a place for relaxed, extremely comfortable transport. It is not, like the bi
g Benz, a substitute for a small aircraft - a way, in Germany at least, to make that 100-mile commute in well under an hour.The LS 430 is very satisfying, if not inspiring, to the driver. It carries out orders unflinchingly and with the insouciant
ease of a practiced manservant. The feel borders on the American conception of luxury, neither demanding the degree of driver involvement nor rewarding it in the same way the German cars do (thinking here of the S Class as well as the 7-Series BMW and
Audi A8).I suppose you could say that while it's nearly as able as they are, it doesn't make as big a deal about it. Plus, with its lavish applications of extreme-quality materials - wood, leather and suede - it is more like a living room than a
cockpit. So the choice among the high-end temptations comes down to a matter of taste. I, for one, prefer to feel a bit more in the loop, but at the same time, when driving this high-end stuff, am generally frustrated by the conditions
imposed on their usage by our legal (viz., speed limit) constraints.The LS 430 is electronically governed to 131 mph for political reasons and to allow them to get away with more-compliant "H" rated tires. But even 131 would dig you into a very deep
hole here in the U.S.Better you should get your thrills sprinting from 0-60 in a few ticks over 6 seconds in an elegant, dignified machine that weighs two tons empty.The engine is equipped with a variable-valve mechanism that spreads the torque
over a wide range of rpms, with the peak - 320 foot-pounds - coming at a lowly 3,400 rpm. Horsepower peaks at a snarling 5,600, well before the 6,350 redline. Lexus has let horsepower take a back seat to the more usable torque number, although 290 horses
constitute an impressive stable.The oats will be in the form of 91-octane, of course. The EPA estimates the LS 430's hunger at 18 mpg city, 25 highway. Driving it more like a sports car, I measured a consumption of 23.3 in mostly rapid-shifting
circumstances.The car is rear-drive, so it's quite possible to get some wheelspin with excessive throttle application, but standard features include a not-overly-aggressive traction control system to keep smoking to a minimum.The LS 430 also has
those emergent musts, Vehicle Skid Control and Brake Assist.The former should actually be named yaw control; using accelerometers and sundry other sensors, it communicates with a microprocessor which has been programmed to determine whether, at any
given instant, the driver - as measured by the direction in which the front wheels are pointed - is asking for a more-rapid turn than the vehicle - as gauged by the relative speeds of the four wheels - is capable of supplying. If so, the microprocessor
wins, and calls for a bit of braking on the appropriate wheel. If that style of intervention is insufficient, it also has the authority to cut power.This is one of the best implementations I've experienced. I had to get far beyond the reasonable
envelope of lateral Gs to sense the power reduction (this by keeping the throttle depressed while turning sharply), and the earlier tapping of the brakes was insensible.Speaking of brakes - let us speak in reverent tones. Good-sized discs front and
rear produce deceleration which belies the mass. The Brake Assist gizmo senses an unusually rapid and forceful stomp on the brake pedal and shaves a few milliseconds from the time otherwise required to go to full actuation. In a panic situation, that
might shave a crucial few feet from the stopping distance.The tester even had the optional chrome wheels and "W"-rated performance tires - good for 168 mph - stiffer, and, with 17-inch diameter and 225/55 profile, offering a bit more contact patch t
han the standard 225/60/16s. Even so, ride quality was superb, with harshness-filtering particularly notable.The audio system was grand, and just as impressive were the high-intensity-discharge headlamps, which shone a beam worthy of such a capable
zoomer.That big package includes ultrasonic parking indicators, both visual and audible, a nice touch, but not utterly necessary given the relatively compact size of the car and the decent sightlines.This is the first I've seen of the
laser-assisted cruise control. By measuring the distance and closing speed relative to the vehicle ahead, it can override the cruise control as needed.I must admit, I find cruise control per se rather unnerving when there's any other traffic; this
deal is absolutely spooky. I'm not ready to relinquish control of so vital a function to a splinter of silicon. Bad enough all those air bags - front, side and front/rear curtains - are sitting there ready to explode without my say-so.
One last plaudit: The LS 430 has an extraordinarily low drag coefficient of 0.26 (0.25 with air suspension), which contributes to the hushed atmosphere at any sane speed.The feds have no en able to bring themselves to smash an LS430 yet, but the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has. The car got top marks in every category and was called a "best pick" in the large luxury category, as were archrival Mercedes' smaller car, the E Class (no test data for S Class, but one would assume . . . ) and
Lincoln's LS, BMW 5 Series and several others. That's one argument for spending the big bucks.In addition to the mega-package, the tester had upgraded leather interior trim ($2,100), the tires/wheels mentioned ($1,800), and two other noxious nicks: a
$41 trunk mat and $47 wheel locks. C'mon, Toyota, give a sucker a break. All that abandon led to the $71,453 bottom line. Payments on such would be $1,449, assuming 20 percent down (which would be the tab for a decent subcompact), 10 percent financing and
48 coupons. You might point out to your spouse that Lexi hold their value well."The Gannett News Service"