How do you replace a car like the Lexus LS 400?
The Lexus flagship came out in late 1989 and forever changed the way most automakers build cars.
With a sticker price of $39,000, the original LS 400 offered unprecedented value, and it was smoother, quieter and better built than any automobile before it.
In terms of quality and refinement, many automakers are just now catching up to where Lexus was five years ago.
The 1995 LS 400, this week’s test car, continues the Lexus tradition of standard-setting quality, but its looks still leave something to be desired.
Indeed, if the original car had a fault, it was its bland, copycat styling that essentially ripped off Mercedes-Benz.
Apparently, though, the lack of an original identity didn’t hurt the LS 400, which knocked out Mercedes, Jaguar and BMW and surged ahead of Infiniti to become the best-selling imported luxury sedan.
In all, Lexus sold 165,014 first-generation LS 400s – an astounding number for an import.
That brings us back to the original question: How do you replace a car like the original LS 400, a car without serious weak points?
Toyota’s approach to the second-generation LS 400 is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Lexus officials insist the 1995 LS 400 is new from the wheels up, yet you would be tempted to think otherwise after a close examination.
The car still looks basically the same.
Even though the LS 400’s exterior design is new, the biggest changes are in the details. Lexus officials say the new car offers more room, more power and better fuel mileage than did the original.
After one week and 900 miles, I can tell you that, despite the new car’s unimaginative styling, the new LS 400 is sharper in most areas than the old.
It is, in fact, still one of the world’s best luxury cars.
Lexus engineers rebuilt the LS 400’s four-cam, 32-valve V-8 engine and made it lighter, more powerful andless thirsty. Horsepower is up from 250 to 260. That isn’t much of an increase, but because the car weighs less than the old model, the engine propels the car in a much more responsive manner, especially from a stop.
The old car was pleasing to drive; the new model is fun.
When you rev up the aluminum V-8, you can hear the precise whine of metric gears as the car gains speed. It’s a pleasing, expensive sound, one that gives the car a bit of character – something the original sorely lacked.
I found the LS 400 to have terrific midrange passing power. When you need to pass slower traffic on a highway, the transmission eases smoothly into the next lowest gear as the engine delivers a controlled, civilized blast of power.
All LS 400s come with a computerized four-speed automatic – essentially the same one used in previous models. The transmission’s shifts are nearly seamless; a button on the wood-covered console allows the driver to change the timing of the shift.
In the ”Power” mode, the shifts are delayed slightly and the car accelerates a bit quicker. The ”Normal” mode is intended for regular driving situations.
The new car seems to shift better under hard acceleration than the old model. A computer throttles back the engine at the precise moment the transmission changes gears. In previous LS 400s, you could feel the engine’s performance being slightly muted by the computer. You don’t feel such intervention in the 1995 LS 400.
The previous LS 400 was rated by the EPA at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. Our test car imbibed premium unleaded at the rate of 20 mpg in the city and an impressive 27 mpg on a 700-mile highway trip.
Except for the minimal noise that the LS 400’s tires make as the car rolls across the pavement, you hear virtually nothing most of the time you are behind the wheel.
The LS 400’s four-wheel independent suspension system can absorb the energy from the harshest bumps with ut any noise finding its way inside the car.
This level of refinement still is the standard by which all other luxury cars must be judged.
As with previous models, the 1995 LS offers semi-soft and sporty ride. The 3,650-pound sedan corners gracefully no matter how hard you push it.
Our test car felt lighter and far more agile than the LS 400 I tested in 1993. This was a welcome change. I don’t like heavy luxury cars, because they can become tiresome to drive. I never felt fatigued while driving the LS 400.
The 34.8-foot turning radius is impressive. It’s a breeze to make tight U-turns, and easing in and out of tight parking spaces is a cinch. The steering wheel turns smoothly and with a firm and balanced feel.
Braking is another area where Lexus engineers improved the 1995 model. The brakes on our test car bit quicker and harder, slowing the vehicle faster than in previous models. Four-wheel anti-lock discs are standard.
FIT AND FINISH
The interior is where you will find the biggest differences between the old LS and the new one.
Our test car came with the optional ($1,100) in-dash, six-disc CD changer. The LS 400 is the only car you can buy with the CD changer in the dash rather than in the trunk. Lexus engineers installed the CD player just above the glove box, making it easy to use.
Rear seat room has been increased by about 2 1/2 inches over the previous model. Now there’s plenty of legroom and foot room for three rear-seat passengers. Most of the added interior space is the result of a 1.4-inch stretch of the wheelbase.
The supple leather seats, by the way, are supremely comfortable and stylishly crafted. The headrests go up and down electrically, and the seat backs fold down all the way so that a passenger can recline.
Our test car came loaded with just about every option everything Lexus offers.
An optional ($750) memory system automatically moves the seats, mirrors and steering wheel to one of several set positions. The LS 400 also is outfitted with a full array of accessories, such as computer-controlled dual zone air conditioning, cruise control, automatic headlights and remote-control door locks.
There are a couple of items on the window sticker that are annoying. Lexus charges $173 for carpeted floor and trunk mats. On a car that is going to cost you more than $60,000 once all the taxes are paid, charging for the mats seems like a very petty thing.
Despite a sticker that has rocketed out of sight and styling that could induce catatonia in a herd of stampeding buffalo, the LS 400 is a Swiss watch among automobiles.
Truett’s tip: Toyota has overhauled the Lexus LS 400 luxury sedan for 1995. The new model is lighter and faster, and it has a sportier demeanor.