toyota cars

Lexus LS460 test drive / car reviews

Also see the Lexus LS600H and LS430.

The Lexus LS (Luxury Sedan) has long set a standard for luxury cars. Smooth, quiet, and well-made, the LS set the luxury auto industry on its ear, and forced other automakers to invest far more into their vehicles.

Lexus LS460 front

We tested two LS460 models - the outgoing and the incoming. Both had exceptionally low levels of vibration and noise, and were clearly designed with the buyers first and cost-cutters second; both had numerous standard features including illumination of lights, seat belts, and door handles for easier night use, and neither had any rough edges to speak of. The main differences between the two were in the addition of the automated parking, and in the stereo/navigation system.

Since automatic parking has gotten quite a bit of attention in the press, we’ll lead off with that system, which can help with both parallel and parking-lot parking.

LS-460

To parallel park, the driver cruises about three feet away from the parked cars, then stops, goes into Reverse, presses an icon on the nav screen (which is now showing a feed from the rear video camera), and recenters the wheel as instructed. Then, after verifying or moving the target space (shown as a green rectangle), the driver is instructed to press the brake to stop; and can slowly back in, hands off the wheel. It took us a few tries to get it right, even using the color instruction card, but then we got the hang of it. The problems are the amount of space needed (you have to stay further from the parked cars on the curb than normal, which rules out parallel-parking on some streets, and you need a larger parking space than a good manual parker does), and the time it takes - if you go too fast, and too fast isn't fast at all, the system shuts down and leaves you high and dry. Pressing the gas pedal also knocks it out, as we discovered when trying to test it in a parking lot with a minor slope. The car ran out of steam, and if we tried to help it out, the system shut down.

Parking-lot parking is a bit easier; drive a few feet from the cars already in spaces (it actually doesn't need to see cars already parked, you can use it in a deserted area), stop by the middle of the desired space, turn 45 degrees away, go into reverse, press the nav-screen icon, adjust the green rectangle showing your destination (if needed), center the wheel, and let go of the brake. As with parallel parking, you need to keep the speed down, because if you go too fast - it shuts off and you have to finish manually.

In short, using the automated parking system is a fun gadget to impress your friends and relatives, once you've had some practice with it; and it's sometimes nice in a parking lot or on a deserted street, but it takes far too much time to use in serious traffic, too much space for the nasty sort of parallel parking where you might really want to use it, doesn't work on hills, and, in short, is even more of a toy than it sounds like. That said, it is an option, and you don’t have to buy it. Ideologically, we have no problem with self-parking cars; eventually Lexus will refine the thing and it'll work like a dream, and then we’ll lust after the gadget that lets us slip into that tiny space on 120th Street without bumping into the fore or aft cars and setting off their alarms.

Lexus LS460 center stack rear console

Moving on to more important matters, the LS460 is probably the most refined, quietest car we’ve ever driven, by a good margin, though it is not the most expensive. With speed close to that of an automatic-transmission Corvette, the LS460 never felt jerky or choppy in acceleration, and never showed a rough edge or unwanted vibration. The LS460 was, indeed, so smooth the normally-luxurious ES350 almost seemed rough by comparison; and the BMW 5-series isn't in the same league (but then, it's not really supposed to be).

The LS460 has dignified sporty-luxury-car styling which is perfectly consistent with the sporty luxury car underneath. Under the hood is a 4.6 liter V8 that pushes out 381 horsepower accompanied by gobs of torque, which can maintain a dead-silent, smooth idle at 600 rpm. The engine provides good power right off idle, and revs like a demon, but most of the time it isn't worked particularly hard, because it's pretty hard to use 380 horsepower for more than a few seconds without hitting an obstacle or going well beyond the speed limit. Sixty miles per hour comes up in little over five seconds, territory not long ago reserved for sports cars. Yet, the drivetrain is rarely anything more than completely refined. The engine makes little noise even under full power, and the noise it does make is appropriate to the car - deep and muffled. We were never at a loss for power or acceleration - not once. The air conditioning is strong and quiet, and had no discernible effect on power.

Technologies used in this engine are far-ranging; there are four cams, two per cylinder bank, and both intake and exhaust valves are computer controlled in both timing and lift. The throttle is of course electronically controlled, as in throttle-by-wire, for torque management and to enhance the stability control systems. The old tuner trick of adding a fuel injector to the throttle body for when extra power is needed has been taken a step further, as the little V8 has both the standard sequential fuel injection and port injection, the latter to provide an extra burst of fuel when full thrust is needed without having to make any compromises with injector sizing at low engine speeds.

The V8 is hooked up to a standard automatic transmission, with eight forward gears. The transmission adapts to the driver, so if you switch from a driver with a very aggressive style to one with a very sedate style or vice versa, it can take some time to adapt and figure out the difference (Chrysler automatics have long suffered from the same problem). However, once adapted, it performed flawlessly, guessing gears with clairvoyance, and upshifting or downshifting imperceptibly most of the time. Indeed, it was sometimes hard to realize that this car even had an automatic transmission rather than a CVT, because shifts were so quick and smooth as to be hardly noticeable; one had to listen and feel for them, and even then the engine often didn't give much of a hint. Downshifts came as needed. The one quirk came when shifting into manumatic mode, which Toyota calls sequential shifting; then the system would choose a gear based on speed rather than simply keeping the gear you were already in, which would seem to make more sense.

In addition to the standard setting, Lexus provided power and snow settings. Power tended to prefer lower gears, as one might expect, and was a bit reluctant to upshift; we didn't use it except to experiment, because it didn't seem to be as smooth and seemed to waste fuel with little benefit, given how quickly the transmission downshifted. The snow setting starts out in second and seems to upshift more readily for better snow traction.

Lexus posts a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds for the LS460 - an incredible number for such a big, quiet sedan, and it is somewhat unlikely that the average driver could achieve it without practice and an ideal setting, but it’s an indication of the sheer power of the engine and speed of the automatic. Muscle lovers might be a bit disappointed, though; the LS is a luxury car, not a muscle car, and the feel of speed is damped down by the smoothness of the powertrain, so that it doesn't feel nearly as fast as it is. That is also praise indeed, for it takes considerable work to make 381 horsepower feel gentle, or for that matter to make an eight-speed automatic invisible.

Long highway trips at normal/fast speeds averaged 25-26 mpg; however, heavy acceleration around town could bring mileage down below 14 mpg. The beauty of the valve timing systems is giving the driver what they want - power or economy. The EPA rated the 2007 LS460 at 19 city, 27 highway.

Braking is excellent, with 235/50R18 V-rated tires providing traction and oversized, ventilated disc brakes clamping down on the rotors at all four wheels; braking is controlled electronically to prevent slip at any wheel, in conjunction with other traction and stability-control systems. An emergency braking system detects unusually fast hits to the brake and slams them on full for a moment, after studies found that most drivers in accidents never hit the brakes all the way (we accidentally activated the system, and it gave a momentary jolt beyond our brake-tapping desires). The spare tire, incidentially, is mounted on a full-sized 18 inch aluminum rim, just like the other tires.

Other safety systems include many airbags - a twin-chamber front passenger airbag, a standard one for the driver, front seat side airbags, knee airbags, and front and rear side curtain airbags. There are also pretensioners with force limiters for the seat belts, front and rear; and a sensor-activated pre-crash system which, among other things, moves the headrests to a better position and pretightens the seat belts. Accident avoidance systems include the usually stability control, antilock brakes, and traction control, taken to higher levels with more sophistication and more monitoring than unusual.

Controls were conventional and familiar, with an oversized speedometer and tachometer flanked by heat and gas gauges. The speedometer went to 160 mph, which, given the aerodynamics and power of the LS460, would be possible, had Lexus not put in a speed limiter which slows the engine at 130 mph! (Lexus claims that the LS460 without the speed limiter would go 170 mph, which is reasonable given its power and aerodynamics.) The tachometer went 1,000 rpm past redline to 8,000 rpm, a bit pointless since the engine is electronically rev-limited (you just can't go beyond redline).

lexus gauges

The displays were backlit, complete with a thin gauge outline around the two main dials, in a blueish-white color. Between the gauges as the gear indicator, showing either D or S and the gear (Reverse was shown in amber as a warning); above that was a status indicator, which after a while told us to change the oil (or, in its words, "Oil Maintenance Required"); and below was the odometer/trip computer status display. The upper display was shown in full color when providing the startup display, and normally showed outside temperature and compass heading. When a maintenance item came up (e.g. the need for an oil change, as controlled through the navigation system), an orange triangle appeared along with the service needed.

The cruise control on our test car was the same basic unit used on Toyota Corollas and for that matter Chrysler PT Cruisers, the floating-stalk variety that is easy to learn and operate; however, Toyota’s laser-guided cruise control is also available, letting drivers relax a bit more as the cruise automatically maintains a safe distance from the car in front. We tested this long ago on the Sienna and found it quite handy. The steering wheel itself is tilted or telescoped with a simple four-way switch; it can be set to retract itself when the engine is shut for ease of entry. Numerous other features can be enabled or disabled by a Lexus dealer; a full list of settings is in the owner's manual, in a single convenient table.

The center stack included the usual suspects, namely air, sound, and optional nav system. The climate control was of course digital, and showed the outside temperature along with the settings for driver and passenger; if you order the navigation system, the vents have to be set through that system rather than through physical buttons or knobs, which makes what should be a thoughtless process without any need to see what you're doing into somewhat more of an ordeal, first pressing Climate, then finding and pressing the appropriate control - fan speed or vent selection. The auto button is physical, as is the Off button and temperature controls. Related buttons are front defroster, rear defroster, and "fast filter," which puts the fan on high and routes air through a special filter to quickly change out all air in the car.

The stereo on our test car was controlled by the nav system; the modes were selected by actual buttons, as were seek and disc changing; and there were knobs for tuning and volume. Bass/treble and sound distribution had to be set by pressing Audio, then the virtual Sound button, then pressing virtual buttons on the nav system screen. It's needlessly complicated and awkward. The LS comes with a standard ten-speaker sound system with a digital sound processor, automatic levelizer, and six-disc changer with an auxiliary jack in the center console (next to a power jack) for iPods or other portable devices (as though a Lexus buyer would get a cheap MP3 player!). Our first test car, which came with a navigation system, included a digital sound processor (DSP) that allowed us to optimize the sound for the driver's seat, passenger seat, front seats, rear seats, or the whole car; it made a real difference in the music quality and we sorely missed it in the second car, where the DSP was limited to surround-sound.

One clever feature on our test car was a 30 GB hard-drive based stereo system, similar in operation to the Chrysler MyGIG setup, that provides a built-in iPod type system, allowing about 10,000 minutes of music to be recorded from CDs or DVDs; it records at four times actual speed, on average, and uses Gracenote to find the song titles and artist name (this usually works on commercial CDs and DVDs). The system seemed convenient and easy to operate; indeed, all it took was a single button press to record from a CD or DVD, and it even remembered to finish recording when we turned off the car before it was done. This is easier than the computer-oriented MyGIG system; and those who prefer using their iPods can still attach them via an auxiliary input jack (though control isn't transferred to the main system). Recalling recorded music is also easy, with navigation by artist or album.

The hard drive supplemented the normal six-disc CD/DVD changer, which seemed to operate quicker than most. The Mark Levinson stereo - part of the parking system package! - had excellent sound, especially with the surround feature on, though bass could get a bit boomy with satellite radio. The XM satellite radio system provided a good variety of diverse programming and fewer commercials than FM or AM radio; the Lexus’ system is notable for not dropping out, despite heavy tree coverage, with a single, very brief dropout in our entire 300 mile trip.

The navigation system in our second LS was fully featured with new gadgetry; both had an optional traffic warning system, using XM Satellite Radio (installed in both our vehicles). The traffic warning system was sometimes accurate on our vehicle, but didn't warn us about one accident we went by, and did warn us about two more than turned out not to exist; the system holds promise for the future, but doesn't seem accurate enough to be useful at the moment, except perhaps in certain cities where traffic reports are noted by helicopter. There, monitored roads can be given status lines in green, amber, and red to show how each direction is flowing.

The system provided such niceties as allowing detours at a moment's notice to route around sudden traffic blockages, providing dual-screen mode (so you can see a big version and a small version at once), a touch screen to easily switch between North-up and direction-up modes or to zoom in and out, breadcrumbs, and all the usual features. Distance to the next turn was provided in large, clear type, with a picture of the turn type; and when coming up on an exit, the system showed a picture of a highway with arrows pointing in the right way, usually getting the number of through and exiting lanes right in a feat of detail that suggests unimaginable hours of research. The system was easy to use, allowing selection of business by phone number (not necessarily a very complete list), points of interest by category or name, and direct address entry, being smart enough to select towns by narrowing down to towns with particular street addresses.

Almost forgotten among all the other devices and gadgets and systems is the brake hold feature, which might be handy at times, but was annoying in stop and go traffic. Press a button on the wheel and the green HOLD lamp appears in the instrument panel; then after pressing the brake for a few moments, a yellow HOLD lamp appears next to it, and the car will hold the brakes for you for three minutes, after which it'll set the emergency brake! Tapping the gas releases it.

Behind the gearshift in our test car was the traction control shutoff, and behind that the heated seat control. Unlike many, it used a knob, which allows for quicker settings (and setting the seats without looking at the button), while also providing finer control. The LS460 went beyond the usual heat control and added seat cooling, very welcome in the summer and on long drives, and obtained simply by moving the knob counter-clockwise. The system appeared to work by gently blowing air conditioning through the holes in the leater. A plain venting setting was also provided.

switchesOther controls in the same block were the rear fan shutoff; a button to set the rear seats, which have recline and fore/aft controls, to their base setting, which also lowered the rear headrests for better visibility; and the control for the electric rear sunshade. This sunshade, also available on Toyota cars, is a dandy invention which both reduces heat from the sun and shades rear passengers from direct sunlight; it automatically lowered itself when the transmission was put into Reverse and raised itself back again when going into Drive. Not to be forgotten is that most rare and handy device for those who have kids or carpools, the rear seat heater. It's only fair when the driver can heat or cool his or her seat to let the people in the back warm theirs as well; and rear passengers got the same handy knobs as front passengers. Rear passengers also got both heat and air conditioning vents - large ones to distribute air quickly and efficiently throughout the vehicle. Again, when the driver gets powerful, fast-acting air conditioning, it's only fair to spread the wealth.

The trip computer, controlled from two steering wheel buttons, rotated through gas mileage since reset, range, distance since reset, gas mileage since the last tank fillup, and instant gas mileage, all presented legibly on a high-resolution backlit LCD display.

More pointless displays of technology include the electrically operated emergency brake, which can either be used manually (by pushing a lever back or forth) or automatically - activating when switching into Park and releasing when switching away from Park. The control for that is on the right side of the wheel; on the left side are a number of buttons including the trunk and gas cap release, and the mirror control. Both are worth special mention. The trunk release slowly raises or lowers the trunk, rather than just popping it open or closing it from the last inch or so. The mirror control can be used to automatically have the mirrors fold in when the car is locked. Needless to say, the mirrors also automatically dim - sharing information with the main rear-view mirror - and are heated along with the rear window.

The LS460 now includes a standard keyless ignition system which eliminates the key for a big black key fob. The doors instantly unlock when you touch the door handle, and lock when you press a button that's on every door; the car starts itself when you press the Engine Start button (no need to hold it until the engine catches). If the battery fails, you can open the door using a hidden mechanical key, and start the car by touching the fob against the start button. In a rare failure of ergonomics, there's no shelf or ledge to hold the key in plain sight if you don't happen to have it in your pocket or purse.

On the roof, in front of the unusually large sunroof, was a console with the front dome light, two LED spotlights, the dome light controls (on/off/door-controlled), the sunroof, and Lexus Link, otherwise known as OnStar. The technology is the same, but Lexus uses a different group of people to staff their call center. The system is easy to use and has an emergency call button that uses red lettering to make itself obvious. There was also a sunglass holder in the overhead console; unlike most, it kept the button separate from the drop-down portion, making it easier to use.

Speaking of lights, both front and rear had dome lights and LED-type spot lights; the rear dome lights were activated by the rear door, the front lights by the front door, instead of having both go on at once, in a pointless display of technology. Both rear passengers had pull-down mirrors with their own lights; the driver and front passengers also had sliding mirrors in the sun visors, with lights. It should be mentioned that not only did every switch and button have its own backlight, but seat belts did as well - so you could easily attach them at night - as did the floors and the door handles, a soft, gentle backlight that subtly guided people to the right place. This was clearly a car where ease of use triumphed over build costs.

The driver's seat on our test car had numerous controls, with the base of the seat moving separately from the back; the headrest going up and down electrically; and the usual up-down, fore-aft, and lumbar controls (with a total of 16 adjustments, we’re told). It would have been hard not to find a comfortable, supportive position with all the options we were given; and the seat held us nicely in place around sharp turns. The front passenger had most of the same options other than separate base/back controls, with 12 in total. The driver had three memorized seat settings; rear seats had one memorized seat setting; the passenger front seat, none.

newport

Depending on the model, rear seats can recline to a surprising degree, and move fore and aft; there are two recline controls, one for the full seat back, and the other for just the top third of the seat back. These functions are controlled by buttons in the console between the rear seats, and cannot be disabled from up front, a substantial shortfall for people with children between the ages of four and fourteen. There are a variety of different options for seats, with fixed rear seats available - and, on extended wheelbase models, ottomans as well.

Another lockout problem concerns the rather clever seats on the side of the front passenger seat, designed to allow rear passengers to move the front seat forward if nobody is in it. The problem is that the built-in lockout was not working in our test car; it's supposed to disable the controls if someone is sitting up there, and it did not. Also, speaking of lockouts, the power window lockout not only stopped passengers from raising or lowering windows; it also stopped the driver from doing it, which we've only seen before on Korean cars.

Storage spaces included a small pullout drawer on the left side of the wheel, foldout map pockets in all four doors, and a glove compartment with two shelves, one for the owner's manual and small objects (the owner's manual, incidentally, had over 650 pages, including color pictures showing maintenance procedures and a troubleshooting section, and did not include instructions for the navigation system). The center console/armrest cover lifted up and then slid back; inside was a shallow shelf and then a deep storage area, and the shelf could also slid up and back a little to put larger items into the storage area. The rear seat console also had a covered storage area, with two pushout cupholders. All storage compartments opened easily, with dampened motions, as befits a no-rough-edges luxury sedan.

Visibility was unusually good, with standard high-intensity discharge headlights and auto-levelling foglamps, powerful window defrosters for both front and side windows, and a relatively small blind spot, where designers did not cut costs by putting a blank panel where a window should be (and was). The side mirrors were, as noted earlier, heated and had automatic dimmers; their positions were, along with seat and steering wheel positions, included in the driver memory system. An adaptive front lighting system provided extra illumination around turns without blinding other drivers as the Lincoln system did, while daytime running lights are standard but could be shut off at the dealer (this system sensibly used the amber lights at a high intensity, rather than wasting power and blinding traffic with the high beams). Rain-sensing variable intermittent wipers were also standard, and did a good job of clearing the windshield only when needed, and at an appropriate intensity, going into high gear when the rain came pummeling down.

The interior was bright and airy; our first LS was a rich-looking beige with natural-wood trim, and our second was a more modern, austere brownish light gray with gray-died wood trim. We preferred the first, but we realize there are those who think wood is too old-fashioned, and prefer the high contrast, techno look of the second. Overall, the interior looked quite upscale but not overdone. Lexus was generous with the wood, though we have to wonder why they went through the expense of using real wood for gray panels. The wood and leather steering wheel was standard, unlike some competitors which require a "luxury package" for these amenities. Our particular vehicle did have a heated steering wheel as part of the comfort plus package; the button was clear, but we didn't use it, having tested in summer.

interior - LS460

With all the many gadgets, it’s easy to forget the Lexus’ most important features, aside from its remarkable powertrain. First is the sound insulation; the engine is almost too quiet, with practically no indication of running at idle or even at highway speeds, and without much noise at, say, 4,000 rpm, either. The outside world is thickly insulated through heavy window glass; bumps and jars make no noise inside the rarified cabin of the LS460. This car upholds Lexus’ reputation for the relentless pursuit of perfection; even the turn signals are given an artificial noise so drivers will hear them. The stereo has a much easier job than in most cars, without having to fight other noises. Some wind noise and road noise intrude, but not much, and not to an unpleasant degree. Interior switches and motors are also quiet, with windows silently rising up (all fully automatic, with one-touch open and close, and jam controls to prevent injury), and seats quietly moving forward or backward at the touch of a button.

Second, the ride is quite smooth, with nasty, bumpy roads toned down to a high level of civility; the ride is a bit floaty in back, but up front it has just the right mix of road-feel and road-insulation. It’s not hard to envision owners of Cadillacs from the company’s prime getting into this Lexus and feeling some envy. What’s more, there is an optional air suspension that provides a choice of sport and comfort modes, with the sport mode reportedly providing superb cornering. If you don't get the air suspension, Lexus doesn’t just slap a plastic panel over the hole where the switch would be; they provide a different trim plate to cover up even the idea that you’re missing a switch.

Third, the cornering is excellent. Steering feel was not sport-tuned but it was sporty enough; point the wheel and the car goes where you want it to. The electric steering took away some of the mechanical feel which helps to make a “driver’s car,” but a standard power steering system comes with the air or touring suspension. Swerving rapidly or pounding on the gas while turning brought a little tire squeal, a characteristic of the Potenza radials rather than the vehicle itself, but control remained with the driver and the vehicle's many stability and traction control systems. A special touring suspension includes a conventional variable-ratio power steering system, which replaces the electric steering on our vehicles and provides a more BMW-like level of sportiness. Braking is also excellent - not only stopping short, but thanks to various computer systems, stopping straight, and doing so even on dirty or wet roads, within the limits of traction.

Fourth, the LS is spacious inside, though reasonably sized outside; there was plenty of room in both front and rear, with good headroom in all four seats, and an 18 cubic foot trunk whose lid moved up and down smoothly and silently. The rear seats didn't fold forward in our test car, but there was a small trunk passthrough for skis or other long objects. Those who need more room can get the LS 460 L, the long wheelbase version, which has an optional ottoman, cool box, more sunshades and more vent ducts, dual-zone rear heat/air controls, shiatsu massager, and nine-inch roof-mounted DVD screen, a unique setup for a standard production vehicle.

Fifth, the LS clearly was designed with the customer first and the cost-accountants second. Every button is illuminated, the seat belts and door handles are illuminated, and items that got cost-accounted out of normal cars are still present in the LS. Nobody sells a car based on whether the seat belts are easy to see at night; that's an after-sale amenity, not a marketing or sales item. It bodes well for owners that Lexus attended to such details, which are easy for bottom-line-minded managers to wipe out as unnecessary for sales.

The 2007 Lexus LS460 retails for $61,715. That includes the V8 and eight-speed automatic, all the safety systems we spoke of, high intensity discharge headlights, auto-levelling foglights, rain-sensing wipers, tool kit and first aid kit, leather, seat memory, power front seats, wood trim, cruise, folding mirrors, single-touch moonroof, ten-speaker stereo, dual-zone automatic climate control with smog sensor and air filter, garage door opener, personalized car settings, and floor mats.

Our test car ran to a somewhat higher $73,602, the difference being large enough to buy one of those new Chinese cars coming soon. The major cost item was the advanced parking guidance system, the self-parking feature, which included the Mark Levinson 19-speaker DVD-compatible stereo with 30 GB hard drive, as well as the navigation system, Bluetooth wireless cellphone system, XM satellite radio with traffic capability, and the invaluable life-saving backup camera - all of which sold for a combined price of $6,345. Those with less demanding parking assistance desires could settle for the little sensors on the front and rear bumpers, which only ran to $500.

We also had the Comfort Plus package, which added many of the gadgets our kids drove us crazy with; for $3,620, one gets power rear seats witih memory, rear seat side airbags, the heated steering wheel, front and rear heated and cooled seats, power rear sunshade, and headlight washers. Then there was the single-touch trunk and power door closers - press a button and they slowly close themselves, stopping at the slightest resistance for safety's sake - at $395. The Lexus Link system (similar to OnStar) was $900, and provides a center staffed with Lexus personnel instead of those lower-class GM folk. Finally, there was a surprising extra of $227 for items we thought would be standard on a car of this caliber, especially given its other gratuitous features: trunk mat, cargo net, and wheel locks. The cargo net was actually two cargo nets, one stretched across the floor and the other in its traditional place by the trunk opening, while the wheel locks are practically mandatory on a vehicle with eighteen-inch alloy wheels.

The Lexus LS460 is unquestionable an amazing vehicle, even considering its lofty price tag. The drag coefficient is 0.26, low even for a sports car, and tied for first place among four-door sedans; yet it looks like what it is, a luxury car. The engine is capable of good mileage, considering the vehicle weighs 4,400 pounds - just a little more than its predecessor, the LS430 - yet it yields 381 horsepower - yet it is almost silent, and idles at a low 600 rpm. The Lexus sells for less than similarly equipped Mercedes models, but appears to be far more reliable and durable, and like the Mercedes goes through a firm inspection by humans - only it's to find and eliminate any unwanted noise or sounds that might have gotten into a single vehicle, rather than to replace “building them right the first time.” The Lexus is fairly large inside, but seems small outside; and for all its power and cornering, safety was a major concern, with eight standard airbags, a precollision system, and advanced accident avoidance systems. With the long wheelbase model, it can be optioned out to provide the pointless luxury items of a Maybach, again, without the reported reliability issues of that $350,000 vehicle.

Those who like their cars luxurious need look no further than the LS series. Those who really prefer a more sporty sedan may prefer the BMW lineup, which trades off smoothness for aggressive cornering, and provides a more direct driving experience. Taking off the rough edges enhances luxury, but it does eliminate much of the "driving enjoyment" that comes of feeling the engine and the road, and revelling in the feel of acceleration. Indeed, the more luxurious the car, the less acceleration is felt, as transitions are smoothed out; so that we've known some people with powerful sport sedans to go out in their stick-shift Neons for a quick fun drive, with their vibration, harshness, and slower 0-60 times. A car like the Dodge Charger R/T is considerably slower than the LS, but feels faster as the transmission firmly changes gears and the engine speed picks up in its peak torque range; the LS transmission is rarely felt even under hard acceleration, and the dual variable valve timing, quad cams, and dual fuel injection system keep the engine working hard throughout its range.

But for the ultimate in luxury - where luxury is defined as not only having comfort, but also rarely having to sit in a tow truck - we don't think you can beat the Lexus LS460 ... except with the LS 460 L, the long wheelbase version of the same car.

Also see the Lexus LS600H and LS430.