Lexus flagship LS 430 boasts 6-speed transmission, clubby interior

When Lexus, the upscale division of Japanese automaker Toyota, set out to restyle its flagship LS 430 luxury sedan, it hoped to draw even more men into the fold. The plan apparently has worked — at least judging from the male side of this duo.

The new LS 430 has such new details as exposed dual exhaust tailpipes, more dramatically sculpted headlights and the first-time availability of 18-inch wheels with low-profile tires. It doesn’t get an engine change, but it now boasts a performance-enhancing six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces a five-speed unit.

While the LS 430 has a base price of $55,125, our test vehicle cost $70,380 — largely due to the addition of an $11,320 options package which included a Mark Levinson audio/navigation system, air suspension, and front-and-rear climate-control seats.

Anita was less enthusiastic about the revamped LS 430 after the power trunk closer developed a taste for her fake nails.

HE: I think I’m gonna hate myself in the morning for saying this, but the LS 430 may be my favorite Lexus. Maybe it’s just a sign of encroaching old age, but I feel right at home behind the wheel. If it were my money, I’d probably spend it on a Jaguar, but I have to say that I like the Lexus a whole lot better than other luxury competitors like the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The LS 430’s leather- and wood-trimmed cabin has the ambience of an exclusive men’s club or a great library. You just want to settle in that spacious seat behind the steering wheel and stay there for a good long time. It makes me almost regret that I gave up cigars and brandy. The LS 430 is one of the most sophisticated-looking competitors in a very tough segment of the market. And, frankly, I don’t understand why you aren’t raving about it.

SHE: You mean outside of the fact that I could never reach the massive door to shut it once I got behind the wheel? Or that the steering wheel felt too big? Or that the styling seemed less men’s club and more stodgy to me? Oh, and the fact that it cost me 50 bucks to get my nails fixed after I got them crunched in the power trunk closer? I don’t know what I did wrong. I popped the trunk with the remote key fob and the top came up slightly. I went to give it a boost up and it came down on my left hand. I still don’t know how I managed to squeeze it out of there. I got a lot of sympathy once I made it over to the salon, though.

HE: Obviously, the Lexus isn’t idiot-proof. You probably should have read the owner’s manual before you tried fiddling with anything.

SHE: Forget about the cigars. Have you heard the expression “Put a pipe in it?”

HE: Gee, with throwaway lines like that, you could rent yourself out as a plumber’s friend. Since we’re getting technical, let’s talk nuts and bolts. I’m a big fan of the standard adaptive fro nt lighting system — headlights that turn in the direction of the steering wheel. It’s a great feature that really improves your nighttime vision. We had the optional “smart access” system that allows the driver to unlock and start the car simply by touching the door handle, if the key fob is in your pocket. And the optional navigation system now integrates Bluetooth wireless technology, which allows passengers to make hands-free phone calls through the system’s touch-screen control panel. I’m just not sure that a lot of buyers are going to swallow that $11,320 price tag on the Ultra Luxury options package that includes a lot of those high-tech features.

SHE: I give Lexus credit for including a lot of standard features on the restyled LS 430. New for 2004 are standard knee air bags for the driver and front passenger, along with side air curtains and bigger side air bags. That’s a cut above such products as the new Volkswagen Phaeton, which surprisingly lacks knee air bags. We probably should note that despite all the upgrades in the ’04 model, Lexus uses the same 4.3-liter double-overhead-cam V-8 engine that powered the 2003 model. So don’t expect any change in the horsepower department or in the fuel-economy numbers.

HE: Yes, but with the help of that new six-speed transmission, the 430 now can accelerate from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, compared to 6.3 seconds for the 2003 model. If that doesn’t thrill you, honey, you can hop in the back seat of the LS 430. The goodies in that $11,000 options package extend to the rear compartment, where you can enjoy adjustable seats that can be heated or cooled, swivel-type reading lamps and sunshades on the doors. You can sit there and recover the next time you get your fingers stuck where they shouldn’t have been in the first place.