Lexus has made its stellar reputation in less than 20 years on the market by striving for "perfection" in its luxury motor vehicles.
That tradition carries on in the redesigned flagship LS sedan for 2007, now called the LS 460.
Toyota's idea of perfection still doesn't include the idea of remarkable exterior styling, however. So once again, we have a nearly perfect car with a rather bland exterior. Some who have seen the new LS have said it looks like a slightly larger version of the Toyota Camry, a midsize sedan that costs about a third of what you'll pay for an LS 460.
The good news is that many people looking for perfection in a motor vehicle don't care a whole lot about styling, as long as the styling isn't garish or just plain ugly, and the LS 460 is far from either of those.
It's neither stunning, like the new Jaguar XK roadster, nor odd-looking, like the now-discontinued Pontiac Aztek.
Rather, it has a neutral exterior that neither inspires nor repels consumers - just like the Camry and its Lexus counterpart, the midsize ES 350 (which itself also looks much like the new LS).
How damaging is neutral exterior styling to a vehicle's sales potential?
Well, I suppose that if the Camry were a little better-looking, Toyota might sell a few hundred thousand more, making it not only the best-selling car in America, which is has been for most of the past 15 years, but the best-selling vehicle overall.
The reality is that exciting styling doesn't always make a vehicle a hit. Many cars with remarkable styling never move beyond niche sales status, although there are some exceptions, among them the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Cars such as these often suffer the fate of fads, however, and have no staying power in the competitive automotive marketplace. Surprisingly, though, even without exciting styling, the LS 460 manages to have rather compelling curb appeal. Everywhere I went with our test vehicle, with its "starfire pearl" white exterior paint, people remarked, "Nice car!"
Yes, it is. It's a Lexus, after all.
The Lexus badging and the $61,000 base price (plus $715 freight) almost assures that kind of response, although the LS 460 has a lot more going for it than the Lexus name.
It is an elegant, nicely appointed, quite-responsive, quality motorcar, and for those with this kind of money to spend, it's actually a great value as well.
That's because Lexus resale values are among the highest in the industry, and the brand's legendary quality means you won't have to spend lots of time in the dealer's service department (a real problem with some other luxury brands).
The LS also is a showcase for Toyota/Lexus automotive technological advances. The most impressive of these is an optional system that parallel parks the car without driver input. This feature wasn't on our test vehicle, however.
Performance is certainly not an issue. The car's new 4.6-liter V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission can push it from zero to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds, which puts it in the same class with large V-8 sedans from BMW and Audi.
The LS is larger than before, as well. Since its original introduction in 1989 as the LS 400 (the "400" denoting the car's 4.0-liter V-8), this sedan has grown with each redesign. The original model was about the size of today's Lexus ES 350 (a close derivative of the Toyota Camry), and even the most recent model, although referred to as a full-size sedan, is not much larger than many of today's midsize sedans.
With this remake, the LS gets a two-inch longer wheelbase and is two inches wider, although overall length is just a half-inch more. The increased width and wheelbase allow for more interior space, however. This class of car is all about roomy and comfortable interiors.
Also, for the first time Lexus is offering an extended-length version called the LS 460L, which stretches the wheelbase and length of the car by 4.8 inches. The additional length provides a roomier back seat, with almost limousine-like legroom, and the seats both recline and extend.
The new LS also offers special features such as massaging seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that Lexus says receives three hours of buffing during assembly, and a climate-control system that can measure the body temperature of those sitting in the rear seat.
Coming this month is a gasoline-electric hybrid version of the regular-length LS. This will be the industry's - and Lexus' - second luxury hybrid sedan. The other is the GS 450h, introduced last year.
The name has changed from that of the 2006 model - the LS 430 - to designate the new engine size. The 4.6-liter V-8 is rated at 380 horsepower and 370 foot-pounds of torque, a 32 percent increase in horsepower from the 4.3-liter V-8 in the LS 430.
Even though it is much more powerful, improvements in engine technology give the LS 460 better fuel economy than the previous model. EPA ratings are 19 miles per gallon city/27 highway, up from 18/25 for the previous model.
Toyota developed an all-new, sophisticated chassis for the new LS, which was last completely redesigned in 2000. Where the LS has been criticized by some as too cushy, with handling not as responsive as some performance-oriented drivers would like, the new model is designed to have a "delicate balance between ride comfort and responsive handling," the company said.
The new suspension includes an electronic power steering system, as well as several other new technologies, including what Toyota calls the "next-generation" Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system.
Controlled by an onboard computer, the system virtually takes over control of the car from the driver in a panic situation to avoid going out of control and skidding, sliding or rolling over.
Luxury abounds inside the LS 460, but it's tasteful, not gaudy, as befitting a "perfect" car. These cars reflect the sophisticated tastes of the upscale consumers who buy them, and they incorporate the kinds of quality materials that would be found in high-end custom homes.
Among the features are seats "swathed in one of four tones of semi-aniline leathers matched to one of three coordinating wood-grain trims," Lexus says.
The long-wheelbase model, whose base price is $71,000, should appeal to an even higher class of buyer, and also will be purchased by car services that cater to the most well-to-do customers. It comes with a fold-away table in the rear that matches the interior trim, and is suitable for use as a work space. It can even hold a laptop computer.
Also available in the rear seat is a nine-inch LCD video monitor that folds down from the ceiling, connected to a DVD playback system. It's integrated with a new 19-speaker Mark Levinson navigation and audio system, designed to give a "theater-level entertainment experience," Lexus says.
The audio system is connected to a computer hard drive that can hold up to 4,000 songs, so once the songs are loaded onto the drive, there will be no need to bring along compact discs or even the iPod.
Another new feature is a power rear-door closer. After sitting down, passengers can close the door with the push of a button.
The new LS also comes with a power-operated trunk lid.
Our test vehicle came with several options that raised the final sticker price to $71,480, including freight.
Among the extras: the Mark Levinson navigation/audio/DVD system ($5,645); rear parking assist ($500); and a comfort package ($3,620), which added power rear seats with memory, rear-seat side air bags, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled seats (front and rear), a power rear sunshade, and headlight washers.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
2007 Lexus LS 460 The package: Full-size, four-door, five-passenger, rear-drive, V-8 powered luxury sedan. Highlights: Redesigned for 2007, this is the flagship sedan of Toyota's Lexus luxury division. It has a larger engine and more refinements for 2007, and a long-wheelbase model joins the lineup this year as well. A gasoline-electric hybrid model will be added this year as well. Negatives: Bland styling, high prices. Engine: 4.6-liter V-8. Transmission: Eight-speed automatic. Power/torque: 380 HP/367 foot-pounds. Length: 198.0 inches, 202.8 inches (L model). Curb weight: 4,244 pounds, 4,332 pounds (L). Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock. Electronic stability control: Standard. Side air bags: Side curtain standard both rows; front seat-mounted side bags standard, rear seat optional. Trunk volume: 18.0 cubic feet (12.0 with rear air, L model). Fuel capacity/type: 22.2 gallons/unleaded premium. EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city/27 highway, 18/27 (L). Major competitors: Audi A8/A8L, Mercedes-Benz S-class, BMW 5-series, Jaguar XJ. Base prices: $61,000; $71,000 (L). Price as tested: $71,480 (short wheelbase model with options and freight). On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).
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