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by Paul Williams
Photos by Paul Williams and Grant Yoxon
It’s been almost 15 years since Toyota introduced the luxury Lexus brand to a somewhat sceptical public. But they hit the target right away and now find themselves mentioned along with German and perhaps British competitors whenever a luxury car purchase is considered.
The 2004 LS 430 continues what has become a tradition for the big cars from Lexus: an evolutionary, conservative, loaded-to-the-gills, rear-drive flagship embodying all that this company represents.
My $94,935 test car was delivered with the Sport Package with Navigation system, one of seven option packages that can be selected for the LS 430. The lavishly-equipped car looked unassuming and impressive at the same time.
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Let’s start with styling. If imitation is the finest form of flattery, there can be no mistaking Mercedes’ influence in the appearance of this car. From the rear, especially, the form of the three-point star is recognizable in the high fenders, wrap-around taillights, and shape of the trunk. But it’s not only Lexus using the German lines as an exemplar. Look at the back of the new Honda Accord sedan and you can see the same contours, albeit in a mid-sized, family car. When something works, others are quick to develop their own versions.
Although the sides and front of the LS 430 don’t flat-out copy the bigger Mercedes models, there’s an obvious similarity in its confident stance and substantial presence. The LS 430 eschews flashy gee-gaws and gaudy ornament in favour of simple, classical lines. Pull up to the hotel in one of these cars and two doormen will rush to assist you.
Inside, it’s all about leather and wood and rich carpet on the one hand, and gadgets on the other. The proliferation of knobs, buttons, and switches, coupled with the very functional touch-screen control panel, is in stark contrast to the unadorned exterior. The driver’s manual for the Lexus LS 430 is over 500 pages long, and that’s not including another 160-page document that explains the navigation system.
The control panel allows you to manage the navigation system, the climate controls and audio, although some controls for the climate and sound are duplicated in the centre stack and on the steering wheel. When reversing, the screen doubles as a video monitor so you can see what’s behind you.
You soon find that almost everything in the Lexus LS 430 that can be powered, is. But often it’s not only powered, it’s memory-keyed as well. This includes the tilt/telescope functions of the steering wheel, the side anchors for the safety belt, the louvers for the dash-mounted air vents that gently pivot from side-to-side, refreshing you with fresh air, the 14-way powered driver’s seat with three memory settings and the 10-way powered passenger seat.
Then there are the power mirrors, windows, trunk, automatic door closers, power door locks (with key lockout protection), laser cruise control system, rain-sensing windshield wiper – you get the picture.
Once comfortably positioned in the car, the fine tailoring of the cabin becomes more apparent. The leather and wood-rimmed steering wheel, the walnut wood panelling on the facia and doors, the high-quality fabrics and surfaces, the big, clear instruments, all communicate to the driver that this is a premium automotive environment, well beyond the “near” luxury segment. No, you’ve definitely arrived when you’re tooling around in one of these.
The list of standard equipment includes automatic climate control with dual zone control, premium audio with six-disc CD changer in dash, leather seat surfaces, power driver and passenger seats, heated front and rear seats, auto up/down power windows, electronic analog gauges, auto-dimming rear view mirror, wood trim, leather door trim, cargo net, remote power door locks, 17″ aluminum alloy wheels, moonroof, adaptive front lighting system, and fog lamps.
For safety, there are front/side/knee airbags, anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability system, and traction control.
An optional Premium package includes a Mark Levinson 240-watt sound system, smart key system, laser cruise control, automatic door closer, DVD-based navigation system, perforated leather seat surfaces, semi-aniline seat material, and heated and air-conditioned front seats.
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The Sport package adds: Euro-sport suspension, performance summer radial tires, and 18″ chrome wheels. As well, you can add front and rear air suspension, rear seat massage settings, and rear-seat climate control.
The engine in the LS 430 is a 4.3-litre V8 with dual-overhead camshafts, “intelligent” variable valve timing, and electronic throttle control. It makes 290 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque and is one of the smoothest-running engines you’ll ever experience. At idle and when cruising on the highway, the motor is silent. Only when accelerating will you detect the mild sound of an engine at work.
And it will accelerate. Although weighing 1814 kilograms, the LS 430 will propel you from 0-100 km/h in 6.0 seconds, which is remarkable when you consider that only a few years ago, previous generations of a smaller, lighter, V8-engined Ford Mustang GT took almost 8.0 seconds for the same task.
Contributing to the LS 430’s smooth and rapid acceleration is the new six-speed automatic transmission, whose operation, like the engine’s, is almost imperceptible.
Your passengers will appreciate the comfortable seating, long legroom and tall headroom both in the front and in the back. Rear seating is notable for the vast amount of space, easily accommodating three adults. I hesitate to tell you that I fit four large wheels and tires in the rear passenger compartment (in pristine plastic bags, let me hasten to add!) and an additional four big tires in the trunk while I was using the LS 430. I suspect you could fit five golfers and their gear in this car without problem.
However, although it’s a spacious vehicle, it absolutely doesn’t feel big or cumbersome to drive. On the contrary, it’s almost nimble the way this car responds to the accelerator, steering and braking inputs, especially with the sport suspension.
Standard suspension is a double-wishbone type with gas shock absorbers and coil springs on all four wheels. Front and rear stabilizer bars and an anti-vibration subframe contribute to this vehicle’s poise. Anti-dive and anti-squat technology keep it balanced in aggressive starting and stopping manoeuvres. Traction control is standard, as is vehicle stability control.
Quibbles? Only a few. One has to do with the navigation system, which for the most part is easy to operate (despite the ominous size of its instruction manual), and contains several hundred-thousand useful points of interest (among them hospitals, police stations, restaurants, gas stations, parks, theatres), and their phone numbers. These you can dial through the car’s voice-activated Bluetooth system and your compatible cell phone.
The problem comes with the actual navigation. On a trip to Toronto, my pleasant-sounding female navigation “guide” had me unnecessarily keep to the slower, collector lanes 30-kilometres from my exit, even directing me into construction areas that were down to one lane. On another occasion she would miss intersections completely, sending me into back roads or a complicated roundabout route. Every once in a while she’d announce something like, “The freeway is on the left,” which upon observation was certainly true, but the significance of which was known only to her. Full of facts she may be, but she’s not the best communicator.
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Another quibble has to do with personal taste. I just think chrome wheels are tacky on a car like this. I know they’re popular in California, where they like shiny wheels of generous diameter, but the standard 17″ alloys look more appropriate on an LS 430 in my opinion.
And the grille? Maybe it’s a bit big, but it’s distinctive.
For the long journey or the daily commute, the Lexus LS 430 is an excellent vehicle in which to spend your time on the road. Although it may not wow you with the latest in dramatic design, like a good suit it will stand the test of time. Resale values for Lexus products continue to be high years after initial purchase, further confirming public and dealer recognition of their high calibre. You can expect that today’s LS 430 will still be around in 2018, just like 15-year-old LS 400s are available now. All in all, this is a splendid car.
Technical Data: 2004 Lexus LS 430
|Options||$10,100 (Sport package with Navigation system)|
|Price as tested||$94,935|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger full-size luxury sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive|
|Engine||4.3-litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves, VVTI|
|Horsepower||290 @ 5600 rpm|
|Torque||320 lb.-ft. @ 3400 rpm|
|Tires||(Sport package): P245/45R/18 performance tires|
|Curb weight||1,810 kg (3990 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2,925 mm (115.2 in.)|
|Length||5,015 mm (197.4 in.)|
|Width||1,830 mm (72.0 in.)|
|Height||1490 mm (58.7 in.)|
|Trunk space||570 litres (20.2 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City 13.2 l/100 km (21 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.6 l/100 km (33 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||6 yrs/110,000 km|