October 30, 2006
interior photos Grant Yoxon – exterior photos courtesy Lexus
October 30, 2006
Fuschl, Austria – Seventeen years ago, Lexus changed the luxury car market in a way no one expected: they introduced the best car in the world at a price roughly half of what the established German marques were asking. You can imagine the heel-clicking and tie-tightening that took place in German automotive boardrooms when the 1990 Lexus LS400 answered slews of questions no one had ever thought to ask and posed enough new ones to explode into the luxury car market. The car was lauded for its refinement, performance, quality and fanatical attention to detail. What other car could claim that there wasn’t a single visible screw head? What other car had aerodynamically shaped suspension pieces? What other car held the promise of state-of-the-art technology combined with trouble-free motoring? The answer was none.
Now, after 17 years, and comfortably the best selling luxury nameplate in North America, Lexus is getting serious. The old LS, ES, GS and other models were all variations of Toyota models sold on the Japanese and European markets. Four years ago Lexus entered Europe and just last year Lexus went on sale in Japan and China with the first-ever, Lexus specific model, the new GS.
Likewise the new LS is a Lexus-only offering and as their new flagship it goes far beyond any Lexus before it in terms of craftsmanship and innovative technology. Lexus made a big point of finishing key areas of the new LS by hand; the chrome on the exterior is hand-polished, the paint is hand-sanded and each engine is checked by a ‘skilled technician.
Lexi are known for their near-silent interiors but the old LS was already a tomb-like driving experience and it proved impossible to make any significant gains in interior quiet. What do you do when you can’t eliminate noise? Well, make it sound better of course. The door closing sound for example – already a Lexus strong point – was engineered and re-engineered until it sounded like the solid ‘thunk!’ of a chestnut bank-vault front-door on a Rosedale mansion. The engine, formerly barely audible, has been given a sonorous voice. The smooth V8 bellows and equally smooth sound from its glinting billet exhaust tips (artfully cut into the rear bumper I might add).
Once behind the solid door and listening to the gentle burble of the engine you will notice the steering wheel, your primary sensory input and source of feedback in any car. Lexus paid particular attention to the leather on the steering wheel. You’ll find that it is absolutely wrinkle-free, more like an Audi rather than a BMW then, and is as smooth as eel skin. Really, this is a good thing. The leather is in fact buffed twice…for three hours a shot. Think about it, 100,000 LSs a year, 6 hours for each steering wheel…that’s 600,000 hours of rim rubbing.
As a testament to just exactly how nuts the Lexus engineering staff is, it took six months just to develop new robots to buff the body in preparation of paint, and unlike just about other car in the world the paint is hand-sanded twice between the multiple layers.
The specific bits are a much longer body with vastly more interior space. The trunk can hold four sets of golf bags – a critical metric to potential customers. The 4.6-litre 380-hp V8 is new as is the eight-speed automatic gearbox. The LS wouldn’t be a d-segment car if it didn’t have a slew of gee wiz features and in this the LS does not disappoint. How many cars can you name have a phased antenna array behind the grille that lets the car follow others while cruising? How about a four-seat interior configuration with the right-rear seat getting an electric footrest and, get this, a seat cushion airbag. Imagine, if you will, that you are closing deals, consolidating companies, crushing the little man as you are rocketed down the highway by your trusty manservant. But it turns out Jeeves isn’t so trusty after all and he rear–ends some unsuspecting plebe who wasn’t traveling at your break-neck, fat-cat pace. Without the inflatable front edge of the seat cushion you would rocket forward, slipping under your seat belt, assuming you were wearing it, and out the laminated windshield – which, incidentally has an extra layer of plastic bonded in there to quiet the interior even further. Now that would suck. It has a Shiatsu massage feature too.
The icing on the cake, however, is the optional 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system which was designed alongside the car from day one. Apparently Phil Muzio (we have no idea who Phil is) himself worked on the system that, Lexus claims, would have come to market at $200,000 if it had been designed as a home system. Now that’s a great deal…you get a $200,000 audio system for a hundred-grand and they throw in a new LS460.
The high-end audio also incorporates a 30 GB hard drive which allocates 11 gigs for downloading mps or pirating music off the radio. It’s about time. There are also 8-11 airbags, depending on whether you order the side curtains and/or the ottoman seat and the front seat passenger gets a new but cheek-style airbag. Seriously, it actually looks like a giant ass.
Now that we think of it though, the icing on the cake isn’t the mind-blowing stereo but the parking assistance system that lets you drive up alongside a parking space, use the back-up screen to select the spot and then take your hands off the steering wheel and the car backs itself in! No, we are not kidding.
The LS460 is bland but that’s also what makes it so interesting. In fact the LS is truly only bland if you are bland and/or your life is bland. You see, the LS is a platform from which to experience things that are, dare we suggest, more interesting than cars. For example, the Mark Levinson stereo takes you deeper into your favourite music, it places you in the middle of talk radio and it will blow your mind should you stop to watch a DVD or take it to a drive-in. The car’s isolated interior lets you talk in relaxed tones with your wife, lover, children, clients, and friends. Between the stereo, the interior and the effortless power of the engine the LS is s vessel for traversing terrain, a means of traveling to new and exciting places. Unlike some cars in this segment that go too far one way or the other, the new LS is an ideal balance between technology and human interaction.
Bland then, but definitely not boring.
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