The first Lexus LS 400 was a groundbreaking car when it appeared in 1989, and the luxury segment hasn't been the same since.
The current car is the fourth-generation LS, and in many ways it is just as significant as the first car in terms of defining the brand. The LS 460 has a magic-carpet ride. It has an uncanny smoothness regardless of the road surface, yet it handles with precision. The 380-horsepower V-8 can return in excess of 24 mpg at highways speeds.
For 2009, Lexus will offer all-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive versions have a drivetrain that is almost identical to the one used on the hybrid LS600h. A Torsen limited-slip differential distributes drive torque between the front and rear wheels. The front-to-rear bias is set at 40:60, but it can change to 30:70 depending on conditions. All-wheel-drive versions will come standard with air suspension, variable-gear-ratio steering and adaptive variable suspension.
The LS is available in two sizes, and all-wheel drive is optional on either. The standard model has a 116.9-inch wheelbase while the LS 460L has a 121.7-inch wheelbase. The long wheelbase provides extra length for a reclining rear seat that "transports its rear-seat passengers in an environment whose luxury features closely resemble those of a private jet," according to Lexus press materials.
The test car was a 2008 LS 460L, and its base price was $72,000.
Prices for 2009 start at $63,675 for the standard model and $67,200 for all-wheel drive. The long-wheelbase model begins at $73,585 while one with all-wheel drive starts at $77,110.
As you would expect from a car in this segment, the LS 460 is loaded with technology. The butter-smooth V-8 cranks out 380 horsepower, and it's mated to the industry's first eight-speed automatic transmission. The LS can also be equipped with a self-parking system.
The engine is all new, and it combines both port and direct fuel injection. Electric motors control the variable valve timing and electronic intake cam. Lexus said it is the first to use such a design. To reduce friction and vibration, parts of the crankshaft are polished mirror-smooth. During assembly, the engine is cranked by an electric motor as technicians measure for vibration.
According to Lexus, the paint process is a story in itself. The company invented six-axis robots, capable of three-dimensional movements, to polish the body before paint is applied. It took six months just to devise the software to make them work. Then, as successive layers of paint go on, the car is hand-sanded twice.
Attention to detail is evident when you slide behind the wheel. Out on the road, the LS is as quiet as a football stadium on Monday and as serene as Queen Elizabeth. It rolls so smoothly you would swear the wheels are hardly touching the ground.
But don't let the smoothness fool you. Stamp the throttle and the LS accelerates with authority, more like a sports car than a luxury sedan. That level of performance is certainly different from earlier models that were spirited, but not quite like this.
The LS 460 is capable of accelerating to 60 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds. The engine meets standards for ultra-low-emissions vehicles and is rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway. That's excellent for a car of this size and with this much horsepower.
Inside, the cabin's elegance is understated. The leather seats are deep and cozy, and they have a wide range of adjustment. They are, of course, heated and cooled. The optional power rear seat is heated and has a memory setting.
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