With options, the price topped $70,000. But it didn't feel like a $70,000 car, and that was my problem with the Ultra Luxury version of the 2006 Lexus LS 430 sedan.
Seventy-thousand bucks is heady territory, a place where buyers expect more than fine quality and reliability, long the hallmarks of the Lexus Division and its parent company, Toyota Motor Corp.
Certainly, buyers of $70,000 cars expect comfortable rear seats. They should be able to ferry fussy family members and friends without hearing gripes about the back seats being "too small," or being "nicely upholstered, but a pain in the. . . ."
I heard such complaints from rear-seat passengers on different road trips through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.
I heard it from people with big and small bottoms, from folks old and young, male and female. I heard it so much, I decided to sit back there myself -- but not for more than 20 miles. They were right.
The leather was perfect. The stitching was impeccable. But the Lexus LS 430's rear seats and my rear end were in constant disagreement.
The bottom-oriented discord brought this query from my wife: "Are you sure this is a $70,000 car?"
I was sure. I had the sticker and all related pricing information. The base price was $56,525. The price as tested was $71,590, including $13,570 for the "Ultra Luxury" package "with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control," $800 for the "SP Euro-tuned Sport Suspension w/18-inch wheels," and a $695 destination charge.
But competition and technology have changed our perception of luxury.
Take those rear seats. More comfortable seating can be found in a Buick Lucerne or in a Lincoln Town Car for substantially less money. I've driven both, and have ridden in both as a rear-seat passenger. I find it almost impossible to sit in the rear seat of a Lincoln Town Car for more than five miles without falling into a deep, pleasant sleep. I should have that same level of comfort in a car costing $21,000 more.
Automotive savants may argue that the Lexus LS 430 is technically superior to the rivals I've mentioned. For example, there's the Lexus-trademarked Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which helps the LS 430 driver avoid bumping into the car ahead. There's the rear-view camera, traction and stability control. The list of the car's technological goodies is seemingly endless.
Versions of the same technologies can be found in numerous other cars at lower prices. Consider General Motors Corp.
Beneath all of the opprobrium heaped upon General Motors is a GM truth that I've come to appreciate: The electronic gadgets installed in GM cars usually work exactly the way they were intended to work. They are simple, intuitive and highly functional. I have never had an electronic GM key fob that failed. But the key fob accompanying the LS 430 did. It failed to open the trunk; and it worked erratically for the side doors.
And there is this: Children nowadays expect a car wearing a luxury label to have rear video entertainment as standard equipment. They carry video screens in their pockets and book bags. They have them in their classrooms, and in their bedrooms at home. They have them in their Honda, GM, Ford and Nissan minivans. They expect to find them in a flagship Lexus car.
But the lone video screen in the LS 430 was the navigation screen in the front cabin; and that didn't cut it with the younger set.
"Where's the DVD screen?" asked godson Kyo.
"There's only one screen," I said, pointing to the navigation module.
"That's it? Really?" Kyo asked. "This is a Lexus?"
I assured him that it was.
He didn't believe me.
"We have a DVD player in our [Honda Odyssey] minivan," he said with the kind of sarcasm that can only issue from the mouth of an 11-year-old.
Nuts & Bolts Lexus LS 430
Downside: The rear seats are uncomfortable. But that isn't why I think the Ultra Luxury Lexus LS 430 is overpriced. It's because the car world has grown more competitive, with many cars offering similar amenities found in the tested LS 430 for less. I mean, heck, this one didn't even have a rear DVD screen. Harrumph!
Ride, acceleration and handling: The LS 430 has excellent acceleration and superior handling. From the driver's seat, the car is an absolute joy, especially when its electronic suspension is set on the "Sport" mode. Unfortunately, not one of the nine passengers who rode in the car's rear cabin on various trips enjoyed the ride. Not one!
Head-turning quotient: Nearly everybody mistook the Lexus LS 430 for an S-Class Mercedes-Benz. That may be flattering to Mercedes-Benz, but it does little to establish an independent LS 430 identity.
Body style/layout: The Lexus LS 430 is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, large luxury sedan with a traditional notchback trunk.
Engine/transmission: The Lexus LS 430 comes with a standard 4.3-liter V-8 engine that develops 278 horsepower at 5,600 revolutions per minute and 312 foot-pounds of torque at 3,400 rpm. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually.
Capacities: The Lexus LS 430 has seating for five people. Maximum luggage capacity is 20.2 cubic feet. Fuel capacity is 22.2 gallons of gasoline. Premium unleaded is required.
Mileage: I averaged 24 miles per gallon mostly in highway driving.
Safety: Pre-collision system that automatically tightens safety belts, increases braking pressure and takes other defensive electronic measures to lessen the severity of an impending crash; Dynamic Radar Cruise Control; ventilated disc brakes front and rear; traction and stability control; side air bags, and head air bags for front and rear passengers.
Price: The Lexus LS 430 has a base price of $56,525. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $49,176. Price as tested is $71,590, including a total of $14,370 in options and a $695 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $61,423. Prices sourced from Lexus and http://www.edmunds.com .
Purse-strings note: The Lexus LS 430 is an overall fine luxury car with many worthy, less-expensive competitors. Compare with Acura RL (V-6 engine but more horsepower and better fuel economy than the LS 430); Audi A8; Infiniti Q45; and Cadillac STS V-8.