To all the people who have asked me during the past few months: Yes, I have driven the car that parks itself.
Actually, the Lexus LS 460 L is so loaded up with exotic technology that being able to park itself is no big whoop. Here's a luxury craft with an eight-speed automatic transmission (the most ever), 11 safety air bags (the most ever), 19 audio speakers (definitely a lot) and an absolute host of electronic safety, performance, drivability and convenience features. If I tried to list all the goodies on this optioned-up test car, I'd run out of space.
Still, the auto-parking feature has gotten all the attention, mostly because it's a first and because many people would be terrified to parallel park this enormous sedan. The 460?L is the lengthened version of the Lexus flagship, and it measures about 17?feet long.
The self-parking feature is fiddly, however, and requires proper placement of the car and adjustment of the system to keep from backing up onto the sidewalk. Believe me, I know. It also requires that the parking spot be at least six feet longer than the car, or about the size of the Queen Mary's berth.
With a space that big, I could whip this baby in myself with one arm over the seat back, New York cabbie style. And you can't just let it park on its own while the driver naps or reads a magazine. You have to keep your foot on the brake and actually pay attention to the process. But as a conversation piece, the self-parking feature is hard to beat.
PERFORMANCE: The 460?L can get up and go, despite its considerable heft. The refined V-8 puts out 380 horsepower and hurries the huge sedan to 60 in 5.4 seconds, according to Lexus. The engine and transmission are a technology lesson in themselves. The small but powerful V-8 has variable valve timing with electronic sensing, an electronically controlled fuel-intake system and sequential fuel injection. The eight-gear transmission seems like overkill, perhaps motivated by one-upsmanship against Mercedes-Benz's seven speed. But it operates flawlessly. The combination of high-tech engine and transmission no doubt results in the EPA mileage, a decent 18 city, 27 highway.
DRIVABILITY: The passengers may be impressed by the limousine ride, but the driver will miss any semblance of sporty response, ala Mercedes, BMW or Audi. The LS is dull to drive, with a lumbering blandness. The air-suspension adjusts, but the settings could be labeled: mushy, mushier and mushiest. The Lexus does corner nicely on its multi-link suspension, enhanced with electronic stability control.
STYLING: The all-new styling is pleasantly aerodynamic, giving LS a more aggressive look, but it pales next to the sleek and edgy designs on the big Mercedes or Audi sedans.
INTERIOR: Absolutely gorgeous, with wood, leather, suede and plenty of space in the back seat. The test LS had the optional rear-seat upgrade for two pampered executives instead of three, with a fully equipped console. Every option known to civilization is packed in here, including an amazing Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system. How about a voice-actuated navigation system with real-time traffic monitoring, Bluetooth and backup camera? You'll find it here.
BOTTOM LINE: Technologically advanced, lushly appointed, supremely comfortable and with a sterling reputation for reliability. Still, somewhat lacking in pure panache.
Lexus LS 460 L
Vehicle type: Four- or five-passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive. Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 380 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, 367 pound-feet torque at 4,100 rpm. Transmission: 8-speed automatic. Wheelbase: 121.7 inches. Overall length: 202.8 inches. Curb weight: 4,332 pounds. EPA rating: 18 city, 27 highway.
Base price: $71,000. Price as tested: $85,720.
OPTIONS -Luxury package, with upgraded leather, heated and cooled power rear seats, rear side air bags, $2,780.-Upgraded Mark Levinson audio system with 18 19 surround-sound speakers, DVD audio and video, $2,530. -Pre-collision system and radar cruise control, $2,850. -Adaptive variable air suspension and variable ratio steering, $2,120. -Rear-seat upgrade package, $1,625. -Lexus Link commun??ications, $900. -Self-parking system, $700. -Intuitive park assist, $500. -Shipping, $715.
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