2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Grant Yoxon

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Sidebar: LS 460/460L option packages

Salzburg, Austria – For the global press launch of its new flagship LS sedan – the 2007 LS 460 and long wheelbase LS 460L – Lexus chose Salzburg, Austria, a city rich in musical heritage, the setting for “The Sound of Music” and the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Why a city in the centre of Europe? Salzburg bills itself as “‘the stage of the world’, the perfect place to emphasize the global direction of the Lexus brand,” said Lexus Canada Director Stuart Payne.

Those more cynical among us might surmise that outside of North America, the Lexus brand could use a little direction.

Despite being North America’s best selling luxury brand for the last six years – Lexus sold more than 312,000 cars and trucks in North America last year, up more than five per cent over 2004 – and despite topping quality and reliability surveys worldwide, the reality is that it is not doing so well in Europe.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

With BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi achieving sales of 631,850, 690,177 and 606,397 respectively, Lexus’ 2005 European sales of 20,987 vehicles are barely noticeable. And although Lexus’ sales increased 8.3%, BMW and Audi sales were up 10.1% and 9.1% over 2004.

The Europeans are selling well in Japan too, which has convinced Toyota to introduce the Lexus brand to fend off the competition in its home market.

Reasons given to explain Lexus’ underachievement in Europe include Europeans’ preference for diesel over gasoline or hybrids (Lexus now has a diesel in the IS 220d), the perception that Lexus is (or was) a cut-rate seller in a premium market, the class-consciousness or ‘snobbishness’ of European buyers, and the fact that Lexus is viewed as a builder of well-made, but boring cars.

When I reviewed the Lexus LS 430 in 2002, I wrote, “If you think a car that costs over $80,000 should attract a little attention, you might be disappointed with the Lexus LS 430. Conservatively styled, the ultimate luxury sedan from Toyota’s luxury division simply blends into the background.”

Lexus’ response to this characterization has been the concept of L-finesse, the current design philosophy that has guided the visual overhaul of all Lexus sedans. The L-finesse design language is less important than the results – a strong family resemblance, which until recently, was lacking across the Lexus model range.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

The 2006 LS 460 is the last of the Lexus sedans to receive the L-finesse treatment. Although more conservative than the re-design of the IS, ES and GS sedans, the LS now shares similar proportions with other Lexus sedans: a ‘slingshot’ shape with long hood and short rear deck, framing a long, sleek cabin.

The goal of L-finesse was to create cars that portray a greater sense of performance and power, yet appear warm and inviting, to be elegant without being understated, and to be as clearly recognizable as a Lexus as any BMW is clearly a BMW.

But the LS sedan is not just another Lexus, it is the flagship of the Lexus brand and the transformation of the LS from wallflower to belle of the ball involved much more than making the sedan visually appealing. The LS Sedan, after all, is the pinnacle of Lexus technology and its well-deserved reputation for quality.

To complement the styling, special attention was given to the exterior paint. To prepare the surface for paint, the body is buffed. In the past this involved an up and down movement. But for the 2007 LS 460, Lexus designed special buffing robots with three-dimensional movements so that curved surfaces and ends could be polished as well. During the application of paint and coatings, the cars are hand-sanded twice, which smoothes and enhances the deep mirror-like quality of the paint.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

High technology combined with the craftsmanship of skilled technicians is something that made LS 460 chief-engineer, Satoru Maruyamano, particularly proud. “Even though engineering and manufacturing processes are so advanced, we haven’t forgotten the human touch.”

Master machinists listen to each completed engine – a 4.6-litre V8 that is the first completely new LS engine in 17 years – with a stethoscope to search for minute yet abnormal noises and ensure that the completed engine is properly balanced.

The new V8 produces 380 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque, 102 horsepower and 55 lb-ft of torque more than the previous LS 430′s 4.3-litre V8. It is capable of moving the 1,980 kg (4,365 lb) LS 460 from zero to 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds and accelerating from 80 to 120 km/h in 4.7 seconds. It has an electronically limited top speed of 210 km/h – a speed which we easily attained on an open stretch of the autobahn (European models have a 250 km/h top speed). Lexus believes the new engine has the performance of a 6-litre, but the fuel economy of a 3.5-litre. Combined highway/city fuel consumption is estimated to be 10.8 L/100 km.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

The new engine is mated to the world’s first 8-speed automatic transmission, one more gear than the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Lexus insists that the additional gear has nothing to do with bragging rights, but improves performance, shift feel and fuel economy. And we would agree, as up-shifts were almost imperceptible.

Another first for Lexus is a multi-link suspension on both front and rear axles (the LS 430 used a double-wishbone setup). External restriction air springs smoothly absorb shocks and provide ride comfort with little roll sensation or vibration. Long wheelbase models can be further equipped with an air suspension control system. The LS also features an electric power steering system, while variable ratio steering, which enhances slow speed manoeuvrability and high speed stability, is standard on long wheelbase models. Standard tires are 235/50R18 all-seasons, while a 245/45R19 summer radial is available with the 460 L’s premium Grand Touring package.

Despite these improvements, the big Lexus does not excel on twisty back roads. It is best suited to highway cruising. Driving in excess of 200 km/h on the autobahn did not feel much different than idling along at half the speed. But it is no sports car and tossing the big sedan around on tight curves too soon after lunch will soon have you wondering if you might toss something else.

It is unlikely LS 460 buyers will be too concerned, as those interested in the sporting aspects of driving will likely have something more suitable in the garage.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

But the LS 460′s interior environment is exceedingly comfortable and luxurious, whether you drive yourself or you have someone else do the driving for you. Standard amenities on short wheelbase (SWB) models include 10-speaker audio system with 6-disc in-dash CD changer and steering wheel controls; dual zone climate control, heated and air-conditioned front seats; power rear window sunshade; power windows with auto up and down and variable speed control for all windows; heated wood and leather wrapped, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel and smart key system with push button start.

The long wheelbase LS 460L adds 120 mm of legroom to the rear seat area and is available in five trim levels. The base model includes everything available on the base SWB model, plus navigation system with back-up camera, Bluetooth capability, four-zone climate control, rear power seats, rear seat side airbags and power trunk.

The list of optional extras will leave you salivating (see side bar). Highly recommended is the Mark Levinson 19-speaker audio system. This is a DVD system that allows you to watch video on the navigation screen when the car is parked. We tried it out and the sound quality is unlike anything we have ever heard. It left us wishing we could transform the windshield into a wide-screen TV.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

Technical add-ons that you might want to consider: dynamic radar cruise control and advanced parking guidance system. This latter feature uses the vehicles parking sonar sensors to control steering while the driver controls the speed of the car using the brakes. The driver sets the boundaries and parameters with the navigation screen, sets the system, then lets the vehicle park itself either parallel or reverse into a parking spot.

Dynamic radar cruise control allows the driver to set the speed and distance from traffic ahead. If the gap closes, the system will slow the vehicle, even apply the brakes slightly, and will alert the driver if more braking is required.

Dynamic radar cruise control is packaged with a pre-collision system that detects objects in the path of the vehicle and retracts the front seatbelts, pre-sets the brake assist so that increased braking is applied the moment the brake pedal is depressed and, if equipped with air suspension, firms up the suspension to reduce dive.

Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, a safety system that integrates and manages brakes, steering, stability control and engine torque, and anticipates and corrects for potential skids and slides is standard.

The LS 460 SWB has eight standard air bags (2 front, 2 side, 2 air curtains and 2 knee bags), 10 when equipped with the optional rear side airbags and 11 if equipped with the retractable ottoman included with the LWB Executive package.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

Unlike some of its competitors, the Lexus LS 460 retains many push button controls to supplement on-screen controls. The centre console layout was designed to permit both driver and passenger to access audio and climate controls. It is more intuitive and similar to the vehicles most of us are used to driving. One need not spend hours with the owner’s manual before driving off in the LS 460.

Seats are wide and comfortable with a wide range of adjustments available to fit any body. The driver’s seat is 14-way adjustable while the passenger seat can be adjusted in 10 different ways. Both are heated and air conditioned, while rear passengers have heated seats.

It is difficult to find fault with the interior appointments, a hallmark of Lexus. Everything fits well; everything – leather, plastic and wood – feels nice. It is solid, nearly vibration free and well insulated – the perfect environment to listed to your favourite music with concert hall realism on the stunning Mark Levinson audio system.

2007 Lexus LS 460/460L luxury cars lexus first drives
2007 Lexus LS460. Click image to enlarge

The new LS 460 and 460L bring a new level of performance, sophistication, styling and craftsmanship to Lexus’ flagship sedan. Whether it is enough to push the marque forward in the difficult European market remains to be seen.

Even here in Canada the competition is stiff. In 2005, Lexus sold 114 LS 430s in Canada, but Mercedes-Benz sold 195 S-Class sedans, while BMW sold 189 7-Series. Audi trailed with a not insignificant 101 A8s. So far this year, the new S-Class is leaving everyone in the dust with 585 sales through the end of May.

The Lexus LS 460 no longer blends into the background, but will luxury car buyers notice?

The LS 460 and 460L go on sale in Canada in October. Prices will be announced closer to that time. A new hybrid version, the LS600hL will be introduced for 2008.


Option packages

LS 460

Premium Package: navigation system and Mark Levinson audio system with 19 speakers.

Technology Package: adds 4-zone climate control, pre-collision system, rear seat side airbags, rear heated and air conditioned power seats with power recline, slide and memory system, power assist doors, power trunk, clearance and back-up sensor, dynamic radar cruise control and advance parking guidance system.

LS 460L

Ultra Premium package: Mark Levinson, 19-speaker audio system rear seat audio control, premium leather, rear cool box, rear side window sun shades and ‘escaine’ roof head lining.

Premium Grand Touring package: adds sport tuned front and rear air suspension, 19-inch wheels and tires, larger front and rear disc brakes and electric variable ratio power steering.

Technology package: adds dynamic radar cruise control, back-up sensor, pre-collision system, advanced parking guidance system and a wallet-sized smart key.

Executive package: electric variable ratio power steering; front and rear adaptive variable air suspension; rear seat DVD entertainment system with fold-away nine-inch LCD monitor, audio and DVD remote control and two sets of headphones; fold-out table and arm rest with built-in 12-volt power supply; a rear right seat retractable ottoman with integral seat cushion air bag; rear seat massage function; and wallet-sized smart card.

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