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Expert Reviews 1 of 13
By Mike Hanley
March 15, 2007
Lexus' new LS 460 flagship sedan has captured a lot of attention for one feature in particular: its ability to park itself. I'll detail the Advanced Parking Guidance System later in this review, but even if you don't choose this optional system, the LS 460 improves upon its predecessor in numerous ways and remains an exceptional choice for car buyers looking for a personal sanctuary on wheels. Ride & Handling Cars.com Senior Editor Joe Wiesenfelder once dubbed the LS a "cloud on wheels," in reference to its plush ride quality. The new LS 460 remains a comfortable long-haul cruiser, as evidenced by a fatigue-free round trip between Chicago and Detroit, but it's not comfort at all costs. The standard suspension has some firmness to it, and it's especially evident when driving on concrete highways; they can make for a choppy ride. The optional air suspension available on the extended-wheelbase model is impressively smooth riding. It has three modes — Normal, Sport and Comfort — and drivers looking for a firmer ride need only select the Sport mode.
Regardless of which model you choose, the LS 460 feels like it's just starting to wake up at 70 mph and suggests it could sustain triple-digit cruising speeds with ease. Like other high-end luxury sedans, the LS 460 brings more capability to the table than most owners will ever take advantage of in their everyday commute.
The sedan's steering wheel spins freely with little hint of friction, and while the car goes where you point it, the emphasis here — as with the car as a whole — is on preventing the road from disturbing the driver, so feedback is minimal. The system's power assist is pretty high, so you'll never be taxed turning the wheel. The long-wheelbase model's optional variable-ratio steering system changes how much the front wheels turn for a given spin of the steering wheel in order to change steering properties at various speeds. However, it's hard to tell the difference between the standard steering system and this one. Going & Stopping There's not much to dislike about the LS 460's drivetrain. The 4.6-liter V-8 makes a robust 380 horsepower and 367 pounds-feet of torque. It's an incredibly smooth engine; there's not a hint of vibration and, at lower speeds, relatively little to indicate there's anything of a mechanical nature under the hood. It remains unobtrusive even on the highway, unless you open it up — warn your passengers before you floor the gas pedal, though, because you'll throw them back in their seats; the acceleration is rather astonishing. Lexus says this full-size sedan can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.
The V-8 drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Lexus one-upped Mercedes-Benz and its seven-speed automatic by going with eight speeds, but it probably won't be long before other luxury brands come out with their own. Gear changes are barely perceptible under most driving conditions — they're heard more than felt. The seventh and eighth gears are overdriven, which keeps engine rpm low on the highway — at 70 mph, the tachometer shows about 1,700 rpm — and contributes to the sedan's respectable gas mileage estimates of 19/27 mpg (city/highway) for the regular-length model and 18/27 mpg for the stretch version. These figures rival the 2006 LS 430's 18/25 mpg rating even though the LS 460's new engine makes 102 hp more than the V-8 in that model.
The all-disc antilock brakes feature Lexus' new Electronically Controlled Brake system, but they aren't especially satisfying to use because they lack linearity. Smooth stops are possible if you're delicate with the pedal, but achieving them requires a lot of concentration; that shouldn't be necessary, and it isn't in competing cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The LS 460's brakes are powerful, though, and have no trouble stopping this big car. The Inside While nice, the interior of the now-retired LS 430 was showing its age and being shown up by newer designs from competitors. The LS 460's new cabin is more contemporary and puts it near the top of the luxury sedan pack in terms of material quality and ergonomics.
Unlike the leading German luxury car manufacturers, Lexus has not developed a knob-based control system for managing accessories like the audio and navigation systems and vehicle settings. While Audi's Multi Media Interface, BMW's iDrive and Mercedes-Benz's Comand become easier to use with time, they introduce some issues that the LS 460 manages to avoid by staying the course with tried and true dashboard knobs and buttons. While the dash isn't as clean as a BMW's, the Lexus' learning curve is much shorter. Besides, even once you've learned one of the knob-based control systems, there are some things — like changing the radio station — that buttons are always better at.
The heated, leather front seats are wide and provide good support that's welcome on long trips. The cushioning is on the firm side, but it's not uncomfortable. Stout side bolsters do a good job holding you in place when taking a corner aggressively. The driver's seat has three-position memory, and cooled front seats are optional. Even though the sedan is rather low-slung, visibility is good. Tall occupants may find the car short on headroom, though. I rarely have the need to use a car's auxiliary interior lights, but Wiesenfelder found the ones in the LS 460 especially dim.
The LS 460 spoils rear-seat occupants with its spacious accommodations. The long-wheelbase LS 460 L is even roomier, but you don't have to choose that trim level to comfortably carry adults in the back — the standard-wheelbase model does just fine. If you really want to live like a blue-chip king, LS 460 L buyers can opt for the Executive Class Seating Package, which transforms the rear cabin into a mobile den with features like a cool box for keeping food and drinks chilled, a power-reclining right-side seat with a massage feature and leg rest, a DVD entertainment system with a flip-down 9-inch screen, and dual-zone climate control. A chauffeur is not included, but you might as well hire one so you can enjoy this $12,000-plus option. Safety As of publication, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had only subjected the LS 460 to its frontal-offset crash test; it received a Good overall rating, the best possible. Standard safety features include side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and an electronic stability system.
Rear-seat side-impact airbags, front-and-rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and Lexus' Pre-Collision System are optional. PCS can ready the LS 460 when a collision becomes imminent by priming the brake system, tightening the seat belts and stiffening the air suspension (when equipped). Cargo Regular- and long-wheelbase models have an 18-cubic-foot trunk. The rear-seat backrests don't fold, which is common in this class, but there's a pass-thru to the rear seats that can be used for transporting long, skinny items inside the car.
The standard trunk's size is competitive, but long-wheelbase buyers who choose the Rear Seat Upgrade Package or Executive Class Seating Package get a trunk that's only 12 cubic feet — smaller than a Toyota Corolla's — and no pass-thru. The culprit is the rear air conditioning system included in those packages. Advanced Parking Guidance System Lexus' optional Advanced Parking Guidance System can parallel park the LS 460 or back the car into a parking spot. The system takes care of the most difficult aspect of parking — deciding when and how much to turn the steering wheel to make a maneuver — but it requires that the driver remain engaged in the process.
APGS is pretty easy to use. To parallel park, you pull up in front of the space and put the car in Reverse. An image from the rearview camera will appear on the navigation system's dashboard screen, and pressing the parallel park icon on the screen activates the system. Once activated, a box appears on the screen that the driver can position as necessary so that it overlays the parking spot. A green box means it is properly aligned, while a red box means there's a problem with the spot and the vehicle will not park; Lexus says pressing the OK button on the screen will describe the issue. Pressing the OK button when the box is green starts the parking maneuver. The driver remains responsible for controlling the car's speed with the brake pedal — it'll disengage if you go too fast or press the gas pedal — and finishing the parking maneuver by pulling the car forward if necessary after it's in the spot. The system's other maneuver — backing into a parking space — functions similarly.
Wiesenfelder found that APGS' Achilles heel is that it's easily foiled by inclines — even modest ones. As mentioned, stepping on the gas defeats the system, so if there's not enough power at idle to push the car backward up a slope, you won't go anywhere.
The coolest thing about APGS is watching the steering wheel spin on its own as you back up the car; it's a surefire way to impress your friends until the next novelty comes along. Drivers who despise parallel parking and avoid it at all costs are sure to love APGS, but I don't see accomplished parallel parkers considering it. APGS is bundled with the LS 460's optional navigation system, which costs $3,815. If you're considering the LS 460 L, which already includes a navigation system, APGS costs $700. To get APGS, you must also opt for the $500 Intuitive Park Assist, which lets you know — via audible and visual warnings — how close the car's bumpers are to nearby objects. LS 460 in the Market With a starting price north of $61,000, the LS 460 is fairly expensive. Compared to some of its prime rivals, though, like the Audi A8, BMW 750i and Mercedes-Benz S-Class — which range in price from around $69,000 to more than $85,000 — the LS 460's base price looks more reasonable. Brand heritage is an important intangible in this section of the luxury car market, though, and BMW and Mercedes have it. Lexus doesn't have that kind of renown yet, but it's well on its way there by producing cars like this.